Tue
Aug 2 2011 3:53pm

“People who like this sort of thing.” Being a review of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns

Prince Honorious Jorg Ancrath—’Jorg’—is the nastiest bastard in the kingdom. He’s fourteen years old, and he’s led a brutal band of brigands since he was eleven years old and ran away from his father’s castle. Now he’s decided to go home and claim his rightful place as heir from his equally nasty murderous bastard of a father, a process complicated by dark magic and Jorg’s desire to kill a whole lot of people.

A whole lot of people.

“People who like this sort of thing,” as Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, “will find this the sort of thing they like.” I can think of no quote more apt for Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns: Book One of the Broken Empire.

Well, actually, that’s not quite true. I could also quote the Minstrel’s song concerning brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail — you know, the one that goes, “His head smashed in and heart cut out, and his liver removed, and his bowels unplugged, and his nostrils raped and his bottom burned off and his penis-”

Yep. It’s that kind of book. Sort of like Joe Abercrombie’s books, or R. Scott Bakker’s, except with rather fewer characters who approach decentness. Or sanity. Or anything like a single redeeming virtue. Before I was halfway through reading Prince of Thorns, I caught myself referring to it as “the bloody teenage psycho book.” Jorg is a rapist, an unconflicted murderer, a character who comes across as a sociopath dialled up to the max living in a world of (male) sociopaths.

And having said that, kudos to Lawrence for writing a teenage stone-cold rapist/killer with such a compelling voice that I did not throw the book against the wall and proceed to cuss him out with prejudice. Because, since the story is told from Jorg’s point of view, the reader ends up spending all their time in the stone-cold killer’s head. Lawrence succeeds in making his character — not likeable, nor, save occasionally, sympathetic, but in a bizarre, twisted way, understandable.

There were moments when I almost enjoyed reading Prince of Thorns. Jorg’s assault on Castle Red, which has oddly sympathetic monsters—monsters far more sympathetic than the protagonist—and some very effective, creepily-depicted necromancers. The necromancers under Castle Red are the best thing about the book, in my opinion. (I have to admit, I was rooting for them.)

“I guess the skull hit her in the bridge of the nose, because that’s where the mess was. No blood, but a dark stain and a writhing of the flesh as though a hundred worms wriggled, one over another...

...The necromancer took a breath, like a rasp drawn over ironwork, rattling in her throat. ’That,’ she said, ’was a mistake.’ [p 228]

I also found it interesting that this is not, as it looked at first glance, a medievalesque world, but a post-apocalyptic one. And that the necromancers—and some other magic-users—have some unpleasant interest in Jorg’s fate.

I wanted to like the book. Decent premise, interesting setting — hell, I’m even willing to suspend my disbelief about a fourteen-year-old brigand leader. I’ve suspended my belief about less likely things, after all.

But. Goddamnit, but.

Not only is Jorg a son-of-a-bitch, without anything resembling a shred of honour or principle in his whole body, and not only is he surrounded by like-mindedly murderous sorts, but the whole book is — what’s that marvellous phrase? Oh, yes. Sausage fest. A complete and utter sausage fest. Women exist to be raped, used, or otherwise projected upon by the various demons haunting Jorg’s id.

There is one passage emblematic of this, which I found particularly disturbing. It concerns Jorg’s first experience in a whorehouse, and it’s creepy. Not in a good way:

“The combination of a woman and time on my hands wasn’t one I’d tried before. I found the mix to my liking. There’s a lot to be said for not being in a queue, or not having to finish up before the flames take hold of the building. And the willingness! That was new too.” [p 173]

In my experience, you have to be either especially clueless, or trying very hard, to achieve that level of misogynist creepy.

I’m not going to stand here and insist on high feminist standards in every work of fiction I read (much as I’d appreciate it if more books had them). I don’t have very high expectations to start with. But a certain indication that the author sees women as people, and doesn’t leave me trying hard not to throw up because I can’t see very much in his book that undermines his protagonist’s view of the world — from where I’m standing, that indication is a minimum requirement.

While I didn’t like Prince of Thorns very much at all, that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad book. Problematic, but not necessarily bad. If you like bleak, bloody, and gruesome novels about cold-blooded unprincipled sociopaths who achieve their murderous dreams, then this book will be perfect for you. I wish you joy of it, because for all its flaws, Prince of Thorns has some damn good writing.

Me, I need to go scrub out my brain.


Liz Bourke is reading for a postgraduate degree in Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. She also reviews for Ideomancer.com.

53 comments
bex
1. somewheresouth
Fantastic review. Unfortunately, so good I'm almost tempted to go read the book, and it doesn't sound like it's got the least amount of Maribou Stork Nightmare-like introspection, and therefore is just a whole pile of creepy. Bum.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
2. Jane Johnson - Voyager
Liz is of course entitled to her own opinion, but I did find this rather a bizarrely skewed review, until I realized that it's appearing on the website of a rival publisher who failed to win the book at auction. Funnily enough, all of Mark Lawrence's editorial team in the UK and US are women, and none of us (hope you don't mind my speaking for you, Ginjer?) found the book misogynistic. Yes, it's grim and nihilistic in places, but also beautiful, uplifting and laugh-out-loud funny; and in the end Jorg emerges as - at the very least - an anti-hero (and develops further in the second novel, as the onion layers of his persona are peeled back one by one). He's a damaged boy, and for very good reason. This is dense, clever, beautifully written and highly rewarding fantasy for readers with a strong stomach, a love of language and the desire to read something a bit more challenging in the genre. But don't take my - or Liz's - word for it: read it for yourself and see what you think.
James Goetsch
3. Jedikalos
I hate books like this with a passion. Thank you for the warning. I will definitely avoid it.
Linden H
4. Lynd
Lawrence succeeds in making his character — not likeable, nor, save occasionally, sympathetic, but in a bizarre, twisted way, understandable.



I can't decide if that makes me want to read this or not. I'm leaning towards "not," but this statement reminds me of Donaldson's Gap Cycle, where you spend books inside the heads of extremely twisted men. By the end, you find that you actually understand them. Subequently I enjoyed the books (or at least found them sufficiently compelling to read all of them), though I don't know if I could ever re-read them...
rick gregory
5. rickg
jane - given the extent to which tor.com has publicized things from other publishers your insinuation reflects poorly on you rather than Tor.com.

Liz - I'm not sure I follow your issue. It's OK for Jorg to be a murderous psycho, but he should respect women?? I'd expect nothing less than his take on women given his take on people in general (judging from this review, it's that people are things to be disposed of in whatever way is needed). It's interesting that you don't have an issue with rampant killing but the rape disturbs. They're both offshoots of the 'people are things to be done with what I wish' attitude.

And I *might* accept a 14 year old brigand, but an 11 year old? Nope.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
6. romsfuulynn
@Jane Johnson - What planet are you from? Don't editors get the "Don't respond to reviews" memos?

I was considering looking at a sample if there was one available, but your ill considered and inapropriate defense leads me to figure there are a lot of books out there.

The "we're his editors and didn't have a problem" is borderline. The slam against the reviewer doesn't make her look bad, but it doesn't make me think well of you. And lots of editors will buy things they think will do well, even if they don't like them.
Ron Hogan
7. RonHogan
"I *might* accept a 14 year old brigand, but an 11 year old? Nope."

And yet the existence of child soldiers is an established fact in this very world right here. Though I would agree with you that the likelihood of an adolescent brigand who was an exploiter rather than one of the exploited might well strain credulity.

Meanwhile, as a contributor to Tor.com I suppose I may be somewhat biased, but I find the insinuation that the website deliberately set out to slag a book because Tor lost it at auction offensive. I don't know how it is with other contributors, but beyond the occasional "Hey, we're going to have a theme week, you want in?" or "Hey, we need reviews of these upcomig titles" email, the ideas for my Tor.com articles start with me, and if the editors like them, they accept them without giving me ANY idea what they'd like me to think about the book.

So I'm fairly certain Liz Bourke comes to her disgust with the misogyny she sees in Prince of Thorns honestly, and based on her description it sounds like it might well be a study in misogyny and sociopathy the same way American Psycho was a well-crafted look at a repellent personality, rather than an elaborate masturbatory fantasy on the level of Gor. But I'll have to read the book some day to make up my mind about that.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
8. dmg
@Jane Johnson - Voyager

I describe myself as only a casual reader of Tor.com, but my overall impression of this site, and its commentators, is publisher-agnostic; that is, a good book is a good book, no matter its provenance. A more detailed search proves this point to be correct and true.

Your argument would have been better served had you allowed the book to speak for itself. To wit, I picked up a copy, and began reading...

Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead. Even before Rike had finished taking fingers from hands, and rings from fingers. I leaned back against the gallowspost and nodded to the birds, a dozen of them in a black line, wise-eyed and watching.

The town-square ran red. Blood in the gutters, blood on the flagstones, blood in the fountain. The corpses posed as corpses do. Some comical, reaching for the sky with missing fingers, some peaceful, coiled about their wounds. Flies rose above the wounded as they struggled. This way and that, some blind, some sly, all betrayed by their buzzing entourage.

“Water! Water!” It’s always water with the dying. Strange, it’s killing that gives me a thirst.

A brilliant opening. I love the clever inclusion of the time element in the clause, "even before the injured became the dead," which helps the opening transmute to a dynamic process from the typical static snapshot. Well done.

Equally well done are the two final sentences in my quoted snippet, "It’s always water with the dying. Strange, it’s killing that gives me a thirst." An excellent contrapuntal effect, one that compells me to keep reading. (Were I reader of fantasy.)

Based solely on the opening paragraphs, this book is different from most available fantasy novels, extruded from a common wellspring. And the story too differs from most others. Which makes this novel a good bet for readers who seek something other than the same old, same old. And for a better argument than the fact, however true, that a few women readers, and editors at a rival publisher, like it.
Liz Bourke
9. hawkwing-lb
@Jane Johnson:

Happy as I am that Tor.com occasionally publishes my reviews, my opinions are my own. I have never received any editorial direction urging me to change or slant my opinions for a book review.

This is the first book I've reviewed for this site that I found myself disliking - and personally, I'm relieved that the Organising Powers around here are willing to publish critical as well as glowing reviews.

I tried to point out the things I found good about Prince of Thorns. Based on my own gut reaction, I could have been even less complimentary - but that would be unfair, not to mention unprincipled.

As a reader, I can't see that anyone could find this book beautiful and uplifting - but then, I find it hard to believe that anyone actually likes television programmes like Coronation Street, so the evidence suggests that tastes differ wildly.

I don't think Prince of Thorns a bad book in terms of technical competence. But it is a very particular kind of book, and one that not everyone will like. Even people who like things which are a 'bit more challenging in the genre.'

(Personally speaking, I don't think continual dwelling on murderousness is all that challenging. I find it just as unrealistic as your old-fashioned quest fantasy. The likes of The Dragon Waiting, or A Companion to Wolves, or The Steel Remains, or Dragon in Chains, or Mélusine, which take one's expectations about the way the world of fantasy works and either undermine or upend them - I find that far more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding to read, than a study of the more unpleasant sides of human nature. And speaking of unpleasant sides of human nature, I find the growing gritty-to-dystopian subgenre in second world fantasy - and the assumption that this is both 'new' and 'realistic' - to be an interesting development, and one which I find myself thinking about often.)

@rickg:

I didn't expect Jorg to respect women. I did hope for the book to undermine his worldview, and it doesn't. The level of murderousness is something I also found deeply unpleasant, but in that case, there are hints that the book does not always agree with its protagonist.

@RonHogan:

The lack of women with agency and the whole 'rape yay!' vibe from the protagonist may have been the straw that broke this camel's back. Although I didn't find it to be a masturbatory fantasy. Well, not unless people have masturbatory fantasies about killing whole bunches of people...
Jane Johnson - Voyager
10. Foxessa
Reading this piece about this novel, recollecting of the number of sf/f novels I've read in the last three years featuring amoral at best protagonists and antagonists, the Jacobean Vengeance dramas come to mind. These are sensationalist, over-the-top theatrical works the feature murders, mutiliation, insanity, supernatural events, bravura style, vivid imagery and bold rhetoric, the more bizarre the merrier. Quite like Tarantino and Scorsese in film.

In their own way these kinds of works are as mannered in their violence as other forms are in the choreography of romance.

Love, C.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
11. Foxessa
As far as the topic of accusing the reviewer of negative bias to salve the supposed wounds of this site's publisher -- I too weigh in on the side of those who find it risible at best and offensive at worst. That is not how Tor.com rolls. I am not a contributor but I am a constant reader and have been since the site went up.

Love, C.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
12. redhead
hmm, on a slightly friendlier note, I finished Prince of Thorns the other day and LOVED it. loved the way it was written, loved the world the story existed in, loved the foreshadowing and all the other subtle bits that maybe I'm reading a little too far into.

Is Jorg a nice guy? nope. is he a friendly guy? double nope. I loved that Lawrence's writing made me happy to spend my time with the bastard. well, I don't want to meet him in a dark alley (or even a well lit one), but I sure as hell want to read more about his misadventures.

but then again, I'm a huge fan of Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie, so I suppose that says something about my anti-hero obsession.
Liz Bourke
13. hawkwing-lb
@Foxessa

I'm not up on the Jacobean Revenge tragedy genre, but my impression is they're All About the madness and the blood. Madness! Blood! Death! Insanity!

...Mind you, I've only been exposed to a very small sample. Perhaps this has skewed my impressions.

@redhead:

"People who like this sort of thing will like this sort of thing," sez I, and I'm happy to be proved right. (Despite what Jane Johnson appears to believe. Not that I'm touchy about the imputation of deliberate bias, of course. Not in the least.)

(Myself, I think Lynch's Locke Lamora falls more on the likeable but unprincipled rogue side of the antihero line... But rogue or antihero, I'm still looking forward to seeing a third book featuring the man.)
Lisa Spangenberg
14. Medievalist
@Jane Johnson - Voyager

Wow.

Publisher's big mistake.

You've lost all the high ground if your authors do a public flounce, hissy fit, or Amazon melt down. You know, like the one you posted.

I'm now permanently scared off ever reviewing any title from Voyager.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
15. Laure Eve
Well, it was actually dmg's post that scored it for me. That quality of writing already has me intrigued, and I'm now going to take the opportunity to read the book whereas I was never before planning to, back when it sounded, to me, kind of average.

The level of violence and the treatment of women also piques my curiosity, but then again I suppose I might be a strange sort of girl.

And not that it needs pointing out again, but I thought the review quite fair, which is hard to pull off when you genuinely don't like what you're reviewing. It actually made me want to read it, j suppose precisely because I am that sort of person. And the writing sample clinched it.
M F
16. Madeline
In terms of 10-year-olds leading raiders, it has happened at least once:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_and_Luther_Htoo

They were believed to have mystical powers. I'm curious what Jorg had that people followed him, but that's about all about this book that sounds interesting to me...
Adam Whitehead
17. Werthead
The book is about a misogynistic psychopath. To this end, it has to depict him being a misogynistic psychopath. Which makes for hard and uncomfortable reading, but doesn't invalidate the worth of the book (and depiction does not equal approval). Given the nature and tone of the book and the trilogy I severely doubt that Jorg will come to a happy end (and whilst he achieves his 'murderous dreams' in this book, there's still two more novels to come) and I'm interested in how his story turns out. Compared to a number of rather stale fantasies published recently, this book takes risk and tries something different, and more or less pulls it off. But every time you do take risks you risk people being offended. Mark Lawrence seems to be treading the same water as Scott Bakker in that sense of doing something new that some people will find very interesting but will annoy a lot of others.

I found this to be a rewarding and dark fantasy novel, easily the fantasy debut of the year. The only real problem I had with it was the somewhat hyperbolic press comparing it to George R.R. Martin when it bears no resemblance whatsoever to that brand of epic fantasy. It reminded me more of what Paul Hoffman was trying to do - and failed catastrophically - in his terrible Left Hand of God books, but done right. Comparisons to Bakker and Abercrombie's hard-edged fantasies are also more appropriate.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
18. RandomDude
Main problem with the review above is the confusion of author voice with character voice. If people can't make that distinction, then what is said about a book doesn't have much value.

I'll be giving this book a shot soon, so I'll see how it goes.
Mani A
19. sn0wcrash
@RandomDude

To be fair, the review clearly states

because I can’t see very much in his book that undermines his protagonist’s view of the world


Personally, I'm of the opinion that it's a bit too GrimDark for my taste (aSoI&F - fine, First Law Trilogy - probably the far end of my tolerance). Miss.
Liz Bourke
20. hawkwing-lb
@Laura Eve:

Thanks. I was doing my best to be fair to a book that is, in terms of technical competence, quite good, but rubbed me completely the wrong way.

@Werthead:

Like I said! If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'll like.

It's rather further out on the grotesque and brutal end of the scale than I'd prefer to read for pleasure, but- happily! - fantasy is a big enough genre to encompass many different tastes. From Mark Lawrence and GRRM through Richard K. Morgan and Elizabeth Bear all the way over to Charles de Lint and Mercedes Lackey and the land of happy endings.



Something I feel compelled to say at this point, because I'm getting a little defensive about justifying my opinion:

My visceral dislike of this particular book is by no means intended as judgement upon either the quality of the writing - which is, as I took pains to mention, quite good - or the moral fibre of people who enjoy their fantasies on the grotesque and brutal side - that would be like judging people for preferring their steak rare or charred all the way through, or for preferring not to eat steak at all. As in everything, one woman's meat is another man's poison.

As a person of the female persuasion, I was and remain quite irritated by the absence of women with agency in Lawrence's book. But Prince of Thorns is by no means alone in its glory in suffering my irritation. I've been vocally annoyed at many a book that appealed to me a great deal more than Prince of Thorns (albeit in somewhat less well-frequented fora) for being Stupid about Women, or for lacking their presence entirely.

Tastes differ, and Prince of Thorns is the opposite of well-suited to mine. I can only hope my review pointed out the reasons for that with sufficient clarity to give other people an idea of whether or not this is the sort of book that's well-suited to their tastes.

Because that's my job, here. Whether or not I liked the book, and whether or not I expect anyone to agree with what I think of it, my job's to show my reasons for the opinion that I hold of any particular book.

After that... Well, we're reasonable people who can make up our own minds, right?
Jane Johnson - Voyager
21. Baldwin
"...for all its flaws, Prince of Thorns has some damn good writing." The damn good writing must have been elsewhere in the book; I didn't see any in the excerpts used in the review.
Liz Bourke
22. hawkwing-lb
@Baldwin:

In my opinion, Lawrence is more than competent as a prose artist. (Trust me, if he wasn't, I never would have made it through to the end.) I'm happy to acknowledge his skill, even though I dislike his art.

The first excerpt is a bit too short for balanced judgement, imo, and the second excerpt was not intended to illustrate his writing skills so much as his protagonist's worldview.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
23. Julia Sullivan
“People who like this sort of thing,” as Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, “will find this the sort of thing they like.”

Though frequently misattributed to Lincoln, the quotation is actually from Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson, Chapter 11 (the speaker is a servant of Clio, the muse of history):

'But when, one day, Pallas asked her what she thought of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, her only answer was "Ostis toia echei en edone echei en edone toia" (For people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like).'
Liz Bourke
24. hawkwing-lb
@Julia Sullivan:

Thank you! It is always good to receive new and more accurate information.

(...And I'm surprised to find that I can actually parse that Greek. Who says there's no value in a Classical education?)
Jane Johnson - Voyager
25. Julia Sullivan
Well, now I feel silly---it was apparently original to the humorist Artemus Ward (or someone working for him), per Ralph Keyes. Thanks, G.M., for sending me an almost instanteous email with a citation and everything!

So per the above, Ward's press materials in 1863 included the fake "testimonial" "...I should say that for people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like. Yours respectfully, O. Abe."

Ward manufactured a sufficiently believable, if jokey, fake-Lincoln quote that it has been assigned to Lincoln in the hundred and fifty years since!

Having spent way too much time in my life reading Lincoln's pre-Presidential writings, I can assure you that Lincoln never blurbed a book (it wasn't common practice in the mid-19th century) and didn't write anything we would consider a "book review" where a phrase like that would be appropriate. The "people who like that kind of thing" story first shows up in a turn-of-the-century "Reminiscences of Lincoln" book that is about as accurate on Lincoln as Parson Weems was on George Washington.
Liz Bourke
26. hawkwing-lb
Edited to remove double-post

@Julia Sullivan:

That makes me rather happy I stuck the alleged in there now. :)
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
27. tnh
Don't feel bad. There are heaps of dubiously attributed quotations like that. I once heard a lit crit reference editor recite a set of quasi-rules for who gets credited with whose misattributed quotations.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
28. Mishell B
"But a certain indication that the author sees women as people," etc.

This is the only thing that bothered me about this review, honestly: your speculation as to what goes on in the author's mind. If you want an indication that the author sees women as people, look to the dedication, and maybe do some research into what it means.

You are allowed to hate books that are full of violence and lack female characters or principled heroes. For my part, I don't need to see myself in a book to like it. And it would have been beyond implausible for a 14 year old male psychopath in a pseudo-medieval setting to be hanging about with "strong women." He actually does meet one--much to my surprise after reading your review!--and has no bloody idea what to do with her. Because he is fourteen years old.

What the author does to undermine Jorg's viewpoint in this book is probably too subtle for many to grasp, especially as it amounts to threading a needle while being pelted with sewage. But if you do take the trouble, you can see the deep sadness behind the glee, seen in the way the Nuban silently gets up and leaves while Jorg is ranting evilly, the way Jorg himself has to physically push away his naturally occurring compassion in a deliberate attempt to stick to his guns (er, sword).

I know this book won't be to everyone's taste. But I'd rather readers turn away from it because they hear it's bleak and violent (evident in every positive review of it as well) than because they think the author is as twisted as his protagonist, or that there is no way to tell the difference. There is, but you have to have a strong enough stomach to see the subtleties behind the sewage.
Liz Bourke
29. hawkwing-lb
@tnh:

I'll be sticking more 'allegeds' in any future doubtful attributions, myself, I'm sure. (Although it would be interesting to see the quasi-rules...)

@Mishell B

I want to be clear: I said I desired the indication that the author sees women as people. Nowhere did I state that I believed the author did not.

I would also like to correct your assumption that I was looking for 'strong' women. I was hoping for women with agency - as I am in every book I read. I'm very tired of finding them only in miniscule numbers, or primarily in the object position.

I'm also very weary with defending the legitimacy of my perspective, in that there are no reasons to avoid demonstrating female agency in one's work except: 1) I didn't want to; 2) I didn't think it mattered; 3) I didn't think about it.

In Prince of Thorns, you see agency and strength where I see a cypher. That's a difference of perception. On the other hand, counting the lady, the necromancer, the monster, and the brothel girl, there are four speaking female parts in the book entire. One can come across women with agency in any setting, no matter how brutal or medieval. It's not hard to indicate their presence. So subtlety doesn't cut any ice with me, these days.

You are allowed to hate books that are full of violence and lack female characters or principled heroes. For my part, I don't need to see myself in a book to like it.

Your permission, Sir or Madam or Gentlebeing, is doubtless charitably meant. Of your courtesy, however, I should like to draw your attention to the small detail of your phrasing, which less kindly persons might interpret after the manner of patronisation. Personal taste is not, to my mind, a matter for allowing or for grudging.

Too, a person of less charitable disposition might be inclined to take umbrage at the suggestion that one needs to see oneself reflected in a work of art in order to enjoy it.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
30. jennygadget
@ Mishell B

I can't speak for Liz, but...

Liz said she wanted an indication that the author sees women as people, not that she wanted "strong women." Not only do those mean different things but, quite frankly, a "strong woman" is often the opposite of what I interpret Liz as saying is absent from the book.


Also, it's no more fair to say that Liz is trying to claim what the author is thinking than it would be for Liz to do so. That Liz stated that she did not see in the text an indication that the author sees women as people is not the same thing as accusing the author as not seeing women as people. And, quite frankly, as a potential "reader" rather than potential "friend of the author" it's the former I am concerned with, not the latter.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
31. Mishell B
The "you" in "you are allowed" was the general "you," but I should have used "one" to avoid ambiguity. Sorry about that.

In the same way that Liz read condescension into my tone and was annoyed by it, I read assumptions about the author into an otherwise reasonable review and was annoyed by it. That's the internet for you. Tone and intent are misconstrued more often than they're read accurately.

It is true the only female roles in this book are very minor ones. That didn't bother me (female, by the way) in a book about a medieval gang of brigands, but I suppose I can understand why it would bother others.

I guess if I have a remaining beef it's this: the review actually made me expect to dislike the book (which I had not yet read), because I can't stand transparent authorial misogyny. But the book itself wasn't what the review led me to believe, and didn't push any of my buttons. So anyone bothering to read the comments can take that for what it's worth. It is possible to be female, not under the heel of the patriarchy, and still enjoy the book. :-)
Liz Bourke
32. hawkwing-lb
@Mishell B:

And I'm sorry for being snarky and defensive about it. (Touchy, me? Never - Well, maybe sometimes....)

I think it's pretty cool that people can come to the same book and walk away with different readings. The same thing that breaks this camel's back someone else might not even notice. Doesn't mean either of us are wrong! Just that we're getting different things from the experience.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
33. Bastard
"In my experience, you have to be either especially clueless, or trying very hard, to achieve that level of misogynist creepy."

Well, isn't the book narrated in 1st person by a 14-year old psycopath?

What we're finding here is a clear case of the problem residing with the reader rather than the book. But as you mention, the book is for people who like this sort of books, etc. And certainly you're not the only one who has found this to be a problem with this book, since I've seen a couple of reviews having problems with how women were depicted.

I don't know, I always have to roll my eyes when I read reviews about how X gender is portrayed, etc. It almost always comes out as frivolous to me and ends up finding faults in books where there's really not that much of an issue. But I can understand why some readers would have problem with it...

For example, I've recently complained about My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland and the lack of female intereaction in that book, even though the main character is female. And I seem to be the only one that has noticed, at least I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere yet. And I found it very odd, we have a female narrator, with female co-workers, etc. and yet we only have like 3 short total scenes in which we see her interacting with a female? Weird, and no female friends? I found it a bit troublign because it seemed to me like the story should have included these sorts of interactions because of who the narrator was and what makes sense.

That book to me was a total saussage fest, yet no one seems to have a problem with it.

Now let me just say, that I thought My Life as a White Trash Zombie is an awesome book, and very much worth the read. But still find this to be qutie peculiar.

Now that I mention that, I just can't find a book about a 1st person narrator who's 14-years old and a psychopath and has no female character with agency, as you put it, to be troubling. Just can't find the fault in the book in this case, but more with the type of reader one is. And I think you illustrated a bit of that in your review, but since a lot of attention in the book was brought to this issue, I thought I should share my opinion on the matter.
Stephen Dunscombe
34. cythraul
The combination of a woman and time on my hands wasn't one I'd tried before. I found the mix to my liking. There's a lot to be said for not being in a queue, or not having to finish up before the flames take hold of the building. And the willingness! That was new too.

I'll admit, taken out of context, I'm impressed by this passage - if it's a deliberate measure to show this character as monstrous. And I... augh; I'm sort of horrified by the idea that it's not.

There was a line in Michael Connelly's The Poet, which was about the hunt for a pedophile. The narration jumped back and forth between hunters and hunted, and in one scene, the pedophile is in line to buy ice cream at a park. The girl serving the ice cream - a young teen, IIRC - gives him a smile that he interprets as flirting. He's disgusted - because, after all, "she was nearly old enough to have children of her own." I shuddered so hard I nearly dropped the book - exactly, I'd bet, as Mr. Connelly intended.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
36. Mark___Lawrence
Fascinating review. I've had numerous sales off the back of it. Also numerous examples of bad-mouthing and bad ratings that have turned out to be by people who have _only_ read this review and not the book.

In the interest of balance:
http://mark---lawrence.blogspot.com/2011/11/that-book-with-all-rape.html
Liz Bourke
37. hawkwing-lb
@Mark_Lawrence:

People have very different tastes. It is a sad fact of life - one man's meat, etc.

(And I'd argue that the sexual violence of the world you've created is more pervasive than you acknowledge in that blog post - just as the sexual violence of the world we live in is more pervasive than most people care to acknowledge, hence the term "rape culture." But I'm one of those humourless hairy-legged feminists...)
Jane Johnson - Voyager
38. Mark___Lawrence
And I would argue that it isn't.

Just not with you, because arguing with reviews is pointless.

Before vanishing forever though I will note - both for the record & as an example of the dangers of any form of engagement - that I have never referred to feminists in any post, comment, or email. Your reply carries the implication I use or ascribe the derogatory phrase you use. You have already sent me unsolicited email apologising for the implication that I must be like the character I describe. (I made no complaint anywhere about it & had not contacted you). Although your professed regret didn't extend as far as you changing the passage you were apologising for, it should perhaps have warned you against making further implications of the hairy legged variety above...

Over and out.
Liz Bourke
39. hawkwing-lb
You must and will suppose (fair or foul reader, but where's the difference?) that I suppose a heap of happenings that I had no eye to eye knowledge of or concerning.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
40. Ginger
Well. The author's kind and pleasant manner have induced me to purchase a copy of this book.

Wait -- my sarcasm flowmeter's stuck at FULL SPRAY.

(Liz: your review was fantastic: helpful, clearly written, not at all snarky about a difficult situation, and I commend you for your courage in responding to the critics.)
Liz Bourke
41. hawkwing-lb
Ginger, you flatter me, for which thanks.

(On some consideration, did I think it were useful, I should care to point out that I don't consider being humorless, hairy-legged and feminist a derogatory description. The truth, after all, is not an insult.)
Jane Johnson - Voyager
42. Verboten
Whining about a negative review? Classy. Actually I wish I'd read this review before reading the book. I really dislike this tendency towards using sexual violence as something edgy or 'realistic' in fantasy and then defending it with the fact that 'if you're not bothered by the violence why are you bothered by the rape?' bullshit. In my life I am very unlikely to ever meet a murderer or someone who has been wounded by a sword or crippled by magic. One in four of the people I meet will be victims of sexual assault. People I know and love are rape survivors and reading this kind of material upsets me because it is not cool or edgy to glorify something that milli0ns of people have suffered through, it is not cool or edgy to present a problem that affects millions of lives and then refuse to examine the consequences. If I'm going to read a book with rape in it I want it to be about the survivor, how and if they deal with it, not the monster who did this to them.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
43. The Wife
Not being a regular reader of the fantasy genre (my purview is bad romance novels), I wouldn't have been inclined to read this book to begin with. This review would most likely have put me off it on its own. It was ultimately the response by both a publisher rep AND the author that sealed the deal, however. The publisher's accusations of bias were an underhanded attempt to discredit a review that in no way deserved discrediting. The author's response was a more subtle attempt at doing the same. And both do nothing but make the review seem more deserved than it might have initially been.

Mr. Lawrence, because a reviewer takes the time to (very kindly) acknowledge that an oft repeated misinterpretation was not the intended reaction, that does not grant you the right to make underhanded implications to discredit that reviewer. Based on the reviewer's responses here, and the content you mentioned, it's clear that time was taken to make sure that your feelings weren't hurt -- probably in an effort to avoid this exact same situation. All mentioning it really exhibited was your own pettiness.

Readers see this a lot in the Romance genre. Authors (typically women) get very protective of their work. And throw some of the most impressive tantrums! Thank you for so adequately illustrating that mantrums are just as common in other genres. *snort*
Jane Johnson - Voyager
44. Rabble-Rouser
I loved this book and it is in fact my new favorite. People need to give the book a chance and try and understand the main character rather than dismissing him based on just his actions. If you tried to understand Jorg and kept in mind that he is evolving as the book progresses rather than slapping a label on him based off your gut reaction you might actually enjoy the book. If you are looking for a good book try it out and step outside your comfort zone for once, but if you can only take it for face value I feel sorry for you and go back to the YA section and stop complaining about a book after only reading the sample.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
45. Cel
I appreciate such a well-written review, and now I know to stay clear of yet another (by all accounts well crafted) example of rapey fantasy grimdark. Sorry about all the sexism in the comments.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
46. LostOcean
Hey thanks for the review, nice how you had both positives and negative argument. It think I can survive the negatives, so looking forward to reading the book.
Thank you :)
Jane Johnson - Voyager
47. Wedge
This book was good....no it was bad....no it was good. This was one of those books I just can't decide upon. I will read the sequel but it can't be darker.

As for responding to a review of your own work, it seem juvenile and unprofessional that the editor did so, the author at least made a point. But why oh why would you respond when everyone knows your view is slanted and unbalanced and more importantly you should know you can't win!

I considered the book worth the read, just, and a 6.5/10.


Ps all aspiring authors no one likes rape for rapes sake
Jane Johnson - Voyager
49. Lucius the Eternal
Hello there.
One of my buddies had told me NOT to read this one, and being the curious sort I am, I decided to check out some reviews, and I must say that I love yours!

I have not started the book, but as it turns out I love "this sort of thing", and look forward to picking the book up and giving it a chance(I personally think that every book deserves a chance, regardless of how many dislike it for however many reasons).

Thanks for the review, and keep up the good work!

-Lucius the Eternal
Bridget McGovern
52. BMcGovern
As a moderator, I'm going to jump in here to direct people to our Moderation Policy--feel free to disagree with the review, but keep your comments civil and constructive. Attacks on the reviewer and blatant rudeness will not be tolerated.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
53. Adamselene
One of the best books I´ve ever read. It's strange how you start to understand the protagonist as the book progresses. Nice review though and I also understand how someone would feel this way about the book. To each his own.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
54. Amosh
I find it a bit misleading to claim that Jorg achieves all his dreams, as this is only the start of a trilogy. In addition to this, his character may well be changed over the course of the novel, an in fact it is if you look into this book. At the beginning he truly delights in killing, viewing the death in the original scene with pleasure. This becomes much less true at the conclusion.
Adressing the issue of a lack of women with agency, I wonder how many women in a medieval style world, if it is supposed to be similar to the real period, actually would have agency. In most cases, they would not be able to act upon the world in any meaningful way without the support of their husbands or fathers. Even so, the story does contain a strong woman, with agency, who wrongfoot's Jorg and displays the lies in his delusions and behaviour. This acknowledges the ability of some strong women of having an effect upon the world, despite the circumstances they are in. Finally, and please don't attack me for this, but I feel there has been a bit too much emphasis on the strong female character in the fantasy genre. So much focus is put upon it that it would lead you to believe that all women are either stubborn, headstrong, efficient, and with a very grudging capacity for love and romance, or vapid, pitiable, weak and a class down from the strong women. So I welcome a book which portrays women in a way that is affected by the world they are in and it's values, as they are in real life, rather than one which adheres ridigly to the genre's stereotypes. If a world is brutal and misogynistic, women will necessarily be affected by that, whatever their temperament or ability.

And also, the author has as much right to give an opinion about a review as anyone. You don't have to believe their opinion though. I think it was a cheap shot to imply that he was in some way insulting you. But, hey, each to their own.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
55. kiwifan
Hey Tor.com,

Any chance we can get a re/reread blog for this series like Song of ice and fire/malazan/wheel of time has? I am about to start this series and would love a blog to follow :-)
Jane Johnson - Voyager
56. db105
Although the reviewer does make an effort to be fair, I still feel that this review is more about the reviewer's biases than about the book.

The reviewer doesn't like certain kinds of stories. That's fine, we all have our biases and our preferences, and I'm sure many people will share them. (It is useful to distinguish between biases and problems with the story, though.) But, complaining about the lack of strong female characters in a book about a band of brigands in a pseudo-medieval setting? Should I complain about the lack of male characters in a book set in a nunnery? Then again, of the three strongest characters in the trilogy two are female (Katherine and Miana), although it's true that this review is about book 1 and we'll see much more of those female characters in books 2 and 3.

Also, the review makes it appear that the book is filled with descriptions of rape, when in truth in the whole trilogy there are perhaps two or three very brief references to rape, and there are no graphic descriptions at all. If we remember again that this is a book about a band of brigands in a brutal, pseudo-medieval setting, I find the complaint unreasonable, unless your idea of medieval outlaws is Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Then we get to this passage in the review, which illustrates what's wrong with it:

"I don’t have very high expectations to start with. But a certain indication that the author sees women as people, and doesn’t leave me trying hard not to throw up because I can’t see very much in his book that undermines his protagonist’s view of the world — from where I’m standing, that indication is a minimum requirement."

Leaving aside the disturbing inability to distinguish between the author and the story, the main character is a product of the experiences he has gone through, and the book is narrated by him, in first person. You should not be surprised then that what he is telling us doesn't undermine his view of the world, at least not blatantly.

Yes, the main character is often despicable and bloodthirsty, and he has no sense of honor. If he fights a stronger enemy do not expect him to fight fairly and let himself be killed. He is a complex and very disturbed person, but he is not a psychopath. He is not a good person but neither is he (except perhaps at the very beginning of the story) evil. He is an understandable product of his upbringing and his experiences. He matures a lot throughout the story and he does not kill for pleasure (although he kills a lot). His oponents are often more despicable than him (with the notable exception of the Prince of Arrow, and then it is not Jorg the one who seeks that confrontation). He is also capable of love and of making great sacrifices for the people he loves.

This is an interesting and original fantasy tale and, while it certainly is not for everyone, it should not be so lightly dismissed. It certainly deserves a less biased analysis.
Jane Johnson - Voyager
57. Zorrance
Well, from Mark Lawrence's little childish temper tantrum in the comments I guess I know now to avoid buying anything by Mark Lawrence, strictly on principle, and that I should recommend the same to my friends and family.

Thanks, Mark! If not for that, I might've assumed that you *weren't* a horrible churlish manbaby and then boy, would I have egg on my face!

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