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Prince of Fools
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Prince of Fools

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Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: HarperCollins/Voyager, 2015
Ace Books, 2014
Series: The Red Queen's War: Book 1

1. Prince of Fools
2. The Liar's Key
3. The Wheel of Osheim

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic
Dark Fantasy
Heroic Fantasy
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Synopsis

Hailed as "epic fantasy on a George R. R. Martin scale, but on speed" (Fixed on Fantasy), the Broken Empire trilogy introduced a bold new world of dark fantasy with the story of Jorg Ancrath's devastating rise to power. Now, Mark Lawrence returns to the Broken Empire with the tale of a less ambitious prince...

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister-unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen's grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth-drinker, gambler, seducer of women-is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it's all a rumor-nothing that will affect him-but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war-and the Red Queen controls the board.


Excerpt

Chapter One

I'm a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play, or bravery.

I've always found hitting a man from behind to be the best way to go about things. This can sometimes be accomplished by dint of a simple ruse. Classics such as, 'What's that over there?' work surprisingly often, but for truly optimal results it's best if the person doesn't ever know you were there.

'Ow! Jesu! What the hell did you do that for?' Alain DeVeer turned, clamping his hand to the back of his head and bringing it away bloody.

When the person you hit doesn't have the grace to fall over it's generally best to have a back-up plan. I dropped what remained of the vase, turned and ran. In my mind he'd folded up with a pleasing 'oofff ' and left me free to leave the mansion unobserved, stepping over his prone and senseless form on the way. Instead his senseless form was now chasing me down the hall bellowing for blood.

I crashed back through Lisa's door and slammed it behind me, bracing myself for the impact.

'What the hell?' Lisa sat in the bed, silken sheets flowing off her nakedness like water.

Uh.' Alain hammered into the door, jolting the air from my lungs and scraping my heels over the tiles. The trick is to never rush for the bolt. You'll be fumbling for it and get a face full of opening door. Brace for the impact, when that's done slam the bolt home while the other party is picking himself off the floor. Alain proved worryingly fast in getting back on his feet and I nearly got the door handle for breakfast despite my precautions.

'Jal!' Lisa was out of bed now, wearing nothing but the light and shade through the shutters. Stripes suited her. Sweeter than her elder sister, sharper than her younger sister. Even then I wanted her, even with her murderous brother held back by just an inch of oak and with my chances for escape evaporating by the moment.

I ran to the largest window and tore the shutters open. 'Say sorry to your brother for me.' I swung a leg over the casement. 'Mistaken identity or something…' The door started to shudder as Alain pounded the far side.

'Alain?' Lisa managed to look both furious with me and terrified at the same time.

I didn't stop to reply but vaulted down into the bushes, which were thankfully the fragrant rather than thorny variety. Dropping into a thorn bush can lead to no end of grief.

Landing is always important. I do a lot of falling and it's not how you start that matters so much as how you finish. In this instance, I finished concertinaed, heels to arse, chin to knees, half an azalea bush up my nose and all the air driven from my lungs, but with no bones broken. I fought my way out and limped toward the garden wall, gasping for breath and hoping the staff were too busy with pre-dawn chores to be poised and ready to hunt me down.

I took off, across the formal lawns, through the herb garden, cutting a straight path through all the little diamonds of sage, and triangles of thyme and whatnot. Somewhere back at the house a hound bayed, and that put the fear in me. I'm a good runner any day of the week. Scared shitless I'm world class. Two years ago, in the 'border incident' with Scorron, I ran from a patrol of Teutons, fi ve of them on big old destriers.The men I had charge of stayed put, lacking any orders. I find the important thing in running away is not how fast you run but simply that you run faster than the next man. Unfortunately my lads did a piss-poor job of slowing the Scorrons down and that left poor Jal running for his life with hardly twenty years under his belt and a great long list of things still to do – the DeVeer sisters near the top and dying on a Scorron lance not even making the fi rst page. In any event, the borderlands aren't the place to stretch a warhorse's legs and I kept a gap between us by running through a boulderfield at breakneck speed. Without warning I found myself charging into the back of a pitched battle between a much larger force of Scorron irregulars and the band of Red March skirmishers I'd been scouting on behalf of in the fi rst place. I rocketed into the midst of it all, flailed around with my sword in blind terror trying to escape, and when the dust settled and the blood stopped squirting, I discovered myself the hero of the day, breaking the enemy with a courageous attack that showed complete disregard for my own safety.

So here's the thing: bravery may be observed when a person tramples one fear whilst in secret flight from a greater terror. And those whose greatest terror is being thought a coward are always brave. I, on the other hand, am a coward. But with a little luck, a dashing smile, and the ability to lie from the hip, I've done a surprisingly good job of seeming a hero and of fooling most of the people most of the time.

The DeVeers's wall was a high and forbidding one but it and I were old friends: I knew its curves and foibles as well as any contour Lisa, Sharal, or Micha might possess. Escape routes have always been an obsession of mine.

Most barriers are there to keep the unwashed out, not the washed in. I vaulted a rain barrel, onto the roof of a gardener's outbuilding, and jumped for the wall. Teeth snapped at my heels as I hauled myself over. I clung by my fingers and dropped. A shiver of relief ran through me as the hound found its voice and scrabbled against the far side of the wall in frustration. The beast had run silent and almost caught me. The silent ones are apt to kill you. The more sound and fury there is, the less murderous the animal. True of men too. I'm nine parts bluster and one part greed and so far not an ounce of murder.

I landed in the street, less heavily this time, free and clear, and if not smelling of roses then at least of azalea and mixed herbs. Alain would be a problem for another day. He could take his place in the queue. It was a long one and at its head stood Maeres Allus clutching a dozen promissory notes, IOUs, and intents to pay drunkenly scrawled on whores' silken lingerie. I stood, stretched, and listened to the hound complain behind the wall. I'd need a taller wall than that to keep Maeres' bullies at bay.

Kings Way stretched before me, strewn with shadows. On Kings Way the townhouses of noble families vie with the ostentation of merchant-princes' mansions, new money trying to gleam brighter than the old. The city of Vermillion has few streets as fine.

'Take him to the gate! He's got the scent.' Voices back in the garden.

'Here, Pluto! Here!'

That didn't sound good. I set off sprinting in the direction of the palace, sending rats fleeing and scattering dungmen on their rounds, the dawn chasing after me, throwing red spears at my back.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Lawrence


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