Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book Reviews: The Prince of Thorns, The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics

Prince of Thorns
by Mark Lawrence
This book was a gift from my brother. I didn't love this book. I may or may not read the sequels. My biggest issue was that the story is told in first person by a teen sociopath. Many stories use themes of young men and women who have been viciously wronged, sinned against or had something stolen from them. They then turn to a life of crime and outlawry. Sometimes they have a fair end they're trying to obtain by foul means. Sometimes they only rob those who are political enemies. Sometimes they have just devolved morally until a previous comrade or moral guide shames them into returning to righteousness. Tolkien used this trope in his Turin Turambar stories in The Silmarrilion. GRRM uses this both in the Brotherhood Without Banners and with a few other characters I can't name yet for spoiler reasons. This trope is played for laughs in the The Pirates of Penzance and in The Princess Bride. Michael Moorcock and Robert E. Howard both used this in their Elric and Conan stories. In some legends Robin Hood was a loyal noble retainer to King Richard III or a brave Saxon resistance leader against Norman invaders. This is an OLD storyline both in fiction and reality. But to my memory few or none of the stories I mentioned above opened with the protagonist and his friends completing a rape and slaughter campaign against poorly armed peasants. We didn't have the "hero" musing about how he'd prefer sex with a willing woman or cursing the fact that he has to wait in line to "enjoy" an unwilling teen girl. We didn't have heroes stripping and despoiling the dead or killing a person because he didn't like the man's tone of voice. No hero mocked a farmer as he died or questioned him about the location of any hidden gold or daughters.

Now we can argue that this behavior is the reality of how armed groups of men behave when they have no powerful state, leader or organization to restrain them. If you give someone unchecked power of life and death over other people it's a good bet that various bad behaviors will occur. Human beings are mixes of angels and devils. And war is no place for angels. 

In real life, war criminals were often feted and rewarded. American soldiers sexually mutilated Native American women and took trophies. British settlers in Australia shot aborigines for sport. From boredom and sadism, Spanish conquistadors set mastiff war dogs on Taino children. And so on. So I can't say that the attitudes on display in The Prince of Thorns have no basis in reality. I just found it very difficult to sympathize with the protagonist.

This book skips back in time to tell the story. When it opens the "hero", Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath is almost fourteen. Jorg leads a murderous bandit band of older men. When Jorg was nine, his convoy was attacked by soldiers belonging to the rival Count Renar. His brother was murdered. His mother was raped and murdered. Jorg nearly died himself but was wounded and trapped in a thorn patch where he witnessed the atrocities against his kin. For reasons that become apparent later, Jorgs's father the King did not take vengeance against Count Renar, thus losing the support of his father-in-law and the love of his son. After being rescued Jorg wanted revenge. He ran away from his castle, but not before releasing a number of imprisoned ruffians, who became the core of his band of brothers. They now roam the lands, looting, robbing and raping, while Jorg seeks a way to kill Renar as well as punish/impress his father, who very ominously from Jorg's POV has remarried. The King of Ancrath appears ready to disinherit Jorg and pronounce his new wife's child as heir. All of this is told piecemeal as to give you some sympathy for Jorg. He has nightmares of his mother's screams and his brother's blood.

Jorg plans to get back into his father's good graces or failing that, deal permanently with his father. Jorg's goals are complicated by his father's adviser, a foreigner named Sageous, who influences the King and knows more of Jorg than he should. Sageous isn't the only wizard with big ideas, either.

Like Moorcock's Runestaff series this story is slowly revealed to take place in a post-apocalyptic world. There was a "Time of a Thousand Suns" which seems to refer to nuclear Armageddon. Humanity has reverted to medieval level technology. There are still chemical and nuclear weapons lying around. Some people have been genetically and physically warped by these weapons. Magic is real although some of it is likely science. This was a quick read at just over 300 pages. This book has black humor. For example, Jorg having been manipulated into a sword duel with a skilled knight twice his size, ends the duel by simply shooting the hapless knight in the face. Jorg is not completely given over to evil, just mostly. He has a soft spot for a few younger children. My brother says that the sequels make Jorg more heroic. I may see. To be fair, Alex in A Clockwork Orange, who was similar to Jorg, became sympathetic by the writer's trick of being contrasted against and used by worse people. Maybe that is what will happen in the sequels. 

The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics
edited by Alan Aldridge.
This is a book that is truth in advertising. What you see is what you get. If you are a serious Beatles fan or just someone who is interested in art you may want to pick this book up. It was originally published in 1969 but was republished in 1999 and 2012. Although I don't think many people would say that the Beatles were among the greatest musicians of all time they were in my opinion excellent songwriters. So what could be better than viewing some great pop art circa 1969 that was influenced by the Beatles lyrics and/or seeks to captures the artist's impression of a song or a particular turn of phrase. Additionally this has little blurbs by the Beatles or their wives, relatives, or girlfriends discussing what was the story or meaning behind a particular lyric or what made the writer think of xyz or how the lyrics came together. Of course sometimes the writer doesn't really know why he wrote a certain lyric and can only discuss what was going on in his life at that time. For example McCartney speaks with regret of his initial attempt to boss around Starr because he felt he was a more accomplished and professional musician than Starr was. This is a lovely book that captures the majority of the Beatles discography. It has all the hits and most of the lesser known songs as well. The art is definitely of the time and feels like a trip down memory lane for those people who are familiar with late sixties, early seventies pop art. Some of the art, not shown here, is honestly erotic. For example the artwork inspired by Lovely Rita Meter Maid, might make many men decide to park illegally somewhere. Other art, is dreamy and out there, as befits Beatles songs like A Day in The Life. All in all good stuff and something that may make you appreciate the Beatles more.

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