Prince of Thorns was one of those books I had to buy. For a book reviewer, who gets plenty of free reading options, that’s a significant factoid — especially for a debut author. But, Mark Lawrence’s debut had such an incredible amount of buzz it demanded my attention.
Reading him for the first time left a strange taste in my mouth. His protagonist is completely unlikeable, loathsome even. And yet… two words that demonstrate the kind of talent Lawrence possesses as a writer. Despite all of Jorg Ancrath’s despicable qualities I want so much to know his story. If you haven’t given Prince of Thorns a try, or you’re on the fence about reading King of Thorns (my review will be done soon), hopefully this post will set you on the righteous path, a direction wantonly ignored by Lawrence’s boy king.
Mark Lawrence leads off Debut Authorpalooza 2012.
It would have been much worse if I were writing it now after seeing the reception that Prince of Thorns received. Firstly I would feel all those fans of book one at my shoulder, wanting book two to blow their minds. Secondly I would have had a vociferous minority of critical voices nagging at me, scratching away at the back of my thoughts, and quite possibly cramping my style. Most likely by me going out of my way to irk them further!
It is much easier to write well when you’ve nothing to lose. If you make a three-point basket while fooling around (and no, I never have) everyone turns round and says ‘do it again!’ at which point, under such scrutiny, most normal humans would be lucky to get a shot within a yard of their target. If you write a book that a bunch of people love – it’s the same thing – the pressure is on and your writing muscles tighten up. People are watching, expecting, and all of a sudden you’ve got something to lose. You can lose their interest. It’s nice to have people reading you, saying good things . . . you have to be pretty laid back not to care if that goes away.
Fortunately I wrote King of Thorns before Prince of Thorns hit the shelves. I wrote it in six months and carried on to write book three in another six. Even so, the pressure was on. It’s in my nature to feel a duty to those people I’ve made a commitment to or who have placed trust in me. My publishers had staked some small part of their reputations on me. They had read me, praised me, paid me, and bet on me. With that praise ringing in my ears, and their dollars backing it up, I sat there looking at my first blank page and thinking that for the first time in my life it mattered what I wrote. If I wrote nothing, or wrote poorly, I would be letting people down. It changes the game.
My solution was to pretend none of it was happening – to push it all from my mind and write as if it were just me same as always. To a large part I succeeded in the illusion. I was helped by the fact that my deadline was nearly two years off and so if I screwed up I would have time to tear it up and start again.
So I wrote as normal, letting the words take me wherever it was they wanted to and not sweating it. I had great fun and the story flowed out.
One thing I noticed immediately is that my book two (and likely book two’s in general) are very different beasts. Your main characters are well defined. Your world is laid out. The flavour and tone of your story are scored deep. On the negative side, many of your opportunities for surprise and novelty have gone. On the positive side, you already have living breathing characters to whom your reader is attached, your explanation-to-story ratio has tipped decidedly in favour of story.
I made two firm decisions when I agreed to a three-book deal. Firstly it would be a trilogy, not a series. There’s a power in knowing when to stop. I’ve seen too many great characters/worlds/ideas carry on past their prime and sully glorious opening books with a long and drawn out death rattle where characters become caricatures and the story ends not with a bang but a whimper as it’s abandoned by disenchanted readers. Secondly I would not simply turn the handle and roll out book one again with the furniture swapped around. Book two would be an evolution.
And so, here we are with the release of King of Thorns hard upon us and me wondering what the hell its reception will be like. King of Thorns is a more complex, more epic, and in some ways more sophisticated book than Prince of Thorns – will the readers delivered to its doorstep by book one be ready for all that? Reviewers so far have been extremely positive.
Let’s see what the wide world makes of it!