It’s all about the execution.
I always feel awkward trying to summarize the plot to a novel or movie because I always make it sound kind of stupid. Almost everything sounds stupid when you try to break it down to a brief sentence, and anyway, at the end of the day, it’s not the basic story setup that’s going to decide whether a book’s any good or not — it’s how well the author pulls off what they’re trying to do.
To me, that was the big difference between PRINCE OF THORNS and TOME OF THE UNDERGATES. Both books are centered around anti-heroes with the stress on the “anti” and less on the “hero,” and both were highly recommended to me by Fantasy-Faction.com. But while I found the characters in TOME OF THE UNDERGATES annoying, I really enjoyed PRINCE OF THORNS, and liked the way Lawrence changes our perception of Prince Jorg, our main character. Admittedly, Jorg is kind of a ridiculous name for our main protagonist, but once you get past that, the story is awesome. When we first meet Jorg, he’s the brutal leader of a gang of thugs, and as the story progresses he proves several times that he’s fearless, intelligent and as cold and calculating as the very best villains you’ve ever rooted against.
We also learn about Jorg’s past, and each new insight teaches us a little bit about the character and why he is the way he is. By the end of the book, we learned that the rules the story was governed by weren’t the rules we expected, and that there are villains behind the villains.
Lawrence draws strong characters throughout the story, including Makin and the Nuban, and I even found myself liking Rike, who makes me think of a stupider Black Dow from Joe Abercrombie’s books. Jorg emerges as an antihero, a bad guy we can’t help but root for because of the traits I’ve already listed and the sense of humor that pervades the book. That’s where TOME OF THE UNDERGATES swung and missed for me. PRINCE OF THORNS hit it solidly on the barrel.