My first inclination was to open this review with "Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns is a young surly bastard of a first novel." Direct, fairly obnoxious and blatant in a sensationalist attempt to grab attention from the onset I thought it was a nice opening salvo. Then, I began to doubt myself and thought about changing it — only to realize it doesn't matter what I say here.
What matters is that Mark Lawrence has written a brutally good first novel, and you should read it.
Written as the first book in "The Broken Empire" series, Prince of Thorns is set in a land without a unified ruler, but is instead fought over by about a hundred petty kingdoms with their own petty rulers and tyrants. Without any real way to govern the whole expanse the land is basically fair game for plenty of villains. None are more brutal and fearless than Jorg, a gang leader since barely a teenager, who commands the respect of the toughest mercenaries.
The fact that any word or deed that irritates or angers Jorg could (and usually would) end up in some random and colorful death for the guilty party — might have something to do with his leadership skills.
Driven by nightmares rooted in a deep tragedy that found him as a very young boy shown clearly the brutality of life and death, we eventually discover that he is, in fact, a prince.
If his gang of bandits found out they would probably try to hold him for ransom, but Jorg pushes those fears aside and decides that it is time to end his years on the road and put the "talents" he has discovered along the way to good use and reclaim his inheritance.
It turns out a prince is more likely to achieve the vengeance he believes will wash away the pains of that tragedy of long ago, but nothing is ever as easy as it seems and the plans of princes and kings are often little more effective than pissing into the wind.