I originally read Prince of Thorns in 2011. I just re-read it (3/15) for the Group Challenge for the r/Fantasy discussion group. My original review left a lot out, so here's a new review.
“Tell me, tutor,' I said. 'Is revenge a science, or an art?”
The world has been left a deserted wasteland after the night of a thousand suns a millennium ago, and what was left broke into a hundred feudal kingdoms ruled by a hundred feudal, bloodthirsty, greedy kings, and one emperor who rules them all. Bands of robbers roam the land, and each king engages in a brutal game of power.
Jorg is the son of one such king, and as a child, witnesses the barbaric murder of his mother and younger brother, left for dead in a bed of briers that held him tight. And that broke him.
Now he's the definition of an anti-hero searching for vengeance, but without a shred of conscience. As what we would still consider a child, he leads a band of brothers -- yes, Robin Hood really reflected here for me -- but doesn't really flinch at the idea of them dying. He kills his friends, he attacks his family, theft and rape and murder don't really shake him.
But in the midst of all of this, he's also examining himself and the world around him through the lenses of his education, stretching from Plato to Sun Tzu to Nietzsche, and thinking about concepts like free will and morality. I really think the concept of free will versus the guiding hand are going to be following in the remaining books, and I'm curious to see what will happen.
Trigger warning for my friends: if you bat an eyelash at any sort of brutality -- bloody mayhem, rape, murder, swearing, whatever, steer clear. This book has been extremely controversial for how dark it is, but I think it's got an interesting redemption in some of the underlying story themes. And sometimes you just want a great big old violent frolic anyway.