Mark Lawrence is one of my favorite new writers. I say new because I only started reading him in 2015. He's rapidly approaching Jim Butcher and Peter David levels of providing me with some of my most-consistently entertaining novels. Rare is the author who I look at and say, "Well, I'm going to enjoy what he writes no matter what it is." This is a fairly hefty bit of praise after three novels.
The Broken Empire Trilogy was an exceptionally good piece of writing even if I didn't exactly like where it finished. The rich complicated story of a prince turned murderous bandit turned military conqueror in a post-apocalyptic Europe really spoke to me and it's one of those rare series I'm probably going to read again. But could lightning strike twice?
It's a painful truth of the business that a lot of authors really only have one story in them and they spend their entire careers retelling it. Some of the best authors run their creation into the ground rather than quitting while their ahead. The knowledge there was a sequel to The Broken Empire series, except involving none of the previous characters, mood, or themes was a difficult sell to me. Was it better to leave well enough alone? So, what do I think?
Prince of Fools is really-really good. Exceptionally so, in fact.
Part of what I think makes the book work better than it can is Mark Lawrence goes out of his way to make a protagonist as unlike Prince Jorg as possible. Prince Jalan Kendeth, aside from being royalty, has almost nothing in common with his predecessor. Jorg was a hardened, tortured, genius Byronic hero who passionate dreams to rule the world. Prince Jalan, by contrast, is a soft spoiled rake whose dreams extend to living a life of excessive luxury without ever having to lift a finger to earn it.
And he's hilarious.
The novel follows Prince Jalan as events separate our anti-hero from his life of pampered luxury when a literal curse forces him to travel with a hardened Viking warrior back to Snorri's undead-ridden homeland. Snorri is exactly the opposite of Jalan in almost all respects: a devoted family-man and courageous warrior who is probably smart enough to realize his companion is worthless but too decent to bring it up after being accidentally saved by him.
Prince of Fools is, essentially, a buddy comedy and reminds me of a weird combination of the Flashman novels with The 13th Warrior. One might even say it's a Bob Hope and Bring Cosby road movie except Bob is played by Heath Ledger and Bing by Travis Fimmel. It's strange to have a series so outrageously funny set in the same world as one so outrageously grim but Mark Lawrence's comedic talents should not be underestimated. I was rolling on the floor laughing when I read poor Jalan's attempts to seduce the Queen of Ancrath within minutes of having been groin assaulted by her sister for the same.
Despite the hilarity within, there's actually quite a bit of dark and tragic material as well. We get a glimpse into how the Dead King from Emperor of Thorns ran his empire and it is a terrible heartbreaking tale. I'm actually rather annoyed the books are dealing with a villain already "dealt with" but the fact neither Jalan or Snorri is going to destroy the Dark Lord is a point in the book's favor. This is a book about dealing with the affects of a Sauron-like figure's rule rather than overthrowing it. I won't spoil the book but the resolution to one of the major plots was expected yet moving.
Individuals interested in the world-building of Mark Lawrence's 100 Kingdoms will note that he gets into the backstories and cultures of several new kingdoms. Norway has reverted to paganism as well as its Pre-Medieval Viking culture yet it's arguable they're more advanced than anyone short of the most die-hard users of Builder-tech. I wasn't a huge fan of all the cameos in Ancrath City but, bluntly, they all turned out to be set-ups for hilarious jokes so I can't complain too much.
In conclusion, I recommend fans of The Broken Empire Trilogy pick up the first book of The Red Queen's War. There's a couple of injokes and references which newcomers won't get but I'd argue the book works entirely well on its own. It took me a bit to get into the narrator's worldview given he's such a colossal asshat but I rapidly grew to love him and suspect others readers will too.