2019 is the year of the prince!
Throughout 2018, I asked friends and contacts what they thought made a good princess. You can find the answers to those questions here
This year, I will be asking authors from a variety of genres as well as a host of others from editors to academics, what they think makes a definitive prince.
This month we are joined by Anna Smith Spark. Anna is the author of the critically acclaimed, David Gemmel and BFS Awards shortlisted grimdark fantasy series Empires of Dust: The Court of Broken Knives (2017), The Tower of Living and Dying (2018), and The House of Sacrifice (summer 2019) published by HarperVoyager in the UK/worldwide and Orbit in the USA/Canada.
Her favourite authors are M John Harrison, Mary Renault, and R Scott Bakker. You may know her by the heels of her shoes.
1. A prince has to win the trust not only of his people but of his chosen princess - and very quickly! What three qualities would you need a prince to show before you’d be won over to their cause?
Style. A prince has to have a certain je nes sais quoi. Any idiot can run up gambling debts, drink raw meth, and commit parricide. A successful prince needs to do all that with éclat. Witticisms have their place here. Romantic soul searching: “why me, am I bad for doing this?” Reading poetry, having an incestuous desire for his sister, a dash in the way he tosses his hair after he’s killed someone.
Debauchery. A good prince needs to drink himself into a stupor on a regular basis, possibly also mainline hatha, milk of the poppy, or whatever our chosen fantasy world’s word for heroin is. Must somehow keep looking like Jim Morrison before he started seriously drinking and mainlining heroin, not afterwards, obviously. And must be done in a tragically soulful self-destructive I–hate-myself-and-want-to-die way. That’s the one great failing in Prince Hal. He may drink like a fish, lead his troops to glorious victory with one of the best war speeches ever made anywhere, and hang an old friend without a blink, but he fails the test at the last hurdle for being wasted and happy. Outrageous.
Youthful beauty. So, you think you’re Brad Pitt? See Jim Morrison comment in (2) above. Links to style but subtly different. Pouting full blow-job lips, cheekbones you could cut yourself on, snake hips. Black curls for preference, although I’m pretty easy provided the hair is long enough. Drunkenly weeping into a gutter then stabbing your mother in the back metaphorically and literally is just… different when you look like a movie star. This was Richard of Gloucester’s great mistake, of course: if he had looked like Brad Pitt, I’m pretty sure he’d have gotten away with it. If you want proof, bring a prince to mind – Marith, say, to pick a name at random, or Phillippe in Versailles, whom I seldom think about more than, oh, twice a day – then replace his face with that of your best mate’s dad. That swashbuckling swordsmanship, that blood and puke soaked coat, that existential I’m-rich–I’m-powerful-I’ve-got-lovers-literally-throwing–themselves–at-me-woe-is-me grief… give him a straggly grey beard and nostril hair and it’s all for naught.
2. All princes are armed, but what is the best weapon or weapons for a prince? (Magical weapons are allowed).
A sword with a name. Not necessarily a magic sword – although magefire licking down black steel is never not a good look – but definitely special enough to have a name. Excalibur/Caliburn. Narsil. Dragnipur. Marith has the sword Sorrow, named in a fit of drunken melancholy. A sword with a name is beautiful and poetic and dead pretentious, just like all the best princes.
A cunning, ruthless henchman with no moral qualms and a near-inhuman ability to kill enemies, creditors, abandoned mistresses, our prince’s own dad. Remarkably useful in all kinds of combat situations. Beneath that gruff exterior, also often has a great way with children and animals or top-notch cordon bleu cookery skills that can prove helpful. Kind of like a penknife. Joffrey Baratheon has the Hound. Jory Ancrath has Sir Makin. Kelhus has Cnaiur. Marith sort of has Tobias. In real life/Shakespeare, Richard of Gloucester had the Duke of Buckingham and James Tyrrell; Cesare Borgia had Michealetto.(1) A very select group of princes – Achilles, Alexander the Great, Nero, Mordred – had their mum as a cunning, ruthless henchman with no moral qualms. This adds a whole other Freudian dimension to their character that’s totally appealing in a mother them/shag them senseless way but tends not to end well for anyone concerned.
(1) Pedants may suggest that Cesare Borgia wasn’t a prince because he wasn’t the son of a king. He was, however, both a Prince of the Church and the inspiration for Machiavelli’s The Prince. That’s, like, out-princing everyone. (2)
(2) Pedants may suggest that I only dragged Cesare Borgia into this so that I could “Prince of the Church.” Obviously, I did.
3. Disney princesses often have an animal companion to share their trials with. If the same applied to princes, what kind of animal would be a good choice for a prince?
A dragon is the only possible choice. Huge, red or black, fire-breathing, speaks in riddles in the ancient tongue of the Dead Gods. In an ideal scenario, our prince keeps it chained in a dungeon beneath his fortress, pops down every now and then to torment/reward it with the dripping flesh of close family members. Can be ridden into battle for extra cool points, although, like pro cycling, I always wonder about possible long-term effects on the rider’s private bits.
4. The Disney princes were a pretty unmemorable bunch. What kind of prince - or saviour-hero - would you like to see in future Disney movies?
When Disney bought 20th Century Fox, various people pointed out that the Queen from the Alien franchise was now a Disney Princess. So, this totally makes the aliens Disney Princes, right?
5. The focus on princesses is often what they wear, but what would be a good look for your ideal prince?
Three outfits for our Disney Prince Fully Posable 12-Inch battery-powered Fashion Doll:
Court dress. Black. None more black. Beautiful black embroidered jacket, very very very tight black leather trousers, sword hanging elegantly at the left hip. See every description of Marith ever in all three Empires of Dust books, and also various chaps on the dance floor at your local goth night. Fair maiden’s handkerchief in one pocket, whore’s calling card in the other, brandy flask and loaded dice in a pouch on the belt, accessorised with his beloved older brother’s head on a spike in his bedroom, next to the flail and the handcuffs.
Armour. Black, spiked, a helmet with a crimson plume of nodding horsehair, a two-headed dragon picked out on the breastplate in rubies the colour of dried blood (3). Spattered to the eyebrows with gore and entrails from wood elves, paladins, glitter-pooping unicorns, defenceless kindly comic yokels, etc.
The ever-popular morning-after ensemble. Vomit-stained shirt, rapidly fastened breeches, liver damage, syphilis virus coursing through his bloodstream.
(3) Rhaegar Targaryen spoiled this one by turning out to be Mr Nice Guy, BTW, which I’m pretty damned irritated about. Yes, I know about the postmodern grimdark moral complexity radical political rereading of the canon. But you can’t dress a bloke in black armour with a dragon picked out in rubies, call him Prince Rhaegar Targaryen the Dragon Knight, give his house the words “Fire and Blood,” and then make him nice. It’s upsetting and wrong.
6. Which fictional prince is your favourite, and why?
Marith, obviously and unarguably. Marith is the prince of my dreams, the hero of every story I’ve ever told myself, the face I see in the dark as I try to sleep. I don’t sleep very well.
Young Jorgy Ancrath is pretty sweet, also – true story, I was in a very dark mental place for several years, suffering from appalling post-natal depression which led me to think that as a mother I should only ever read improving books about child rearing. Then, one day, I was in a bookshop and Jorg met my eye from the cover of Prince of Thorns; it was love at first sight. I bought the book, now I have the agent and the publisher too. So, Jorg means a lot to me.
I always rather like Mordred. There’s a lovely description of him in The Candle in the Wind: “sumptuous in his black velvet, with one cold diamond beaming the rushlight from his scarlet badge. Anybody who had not seen him for a month or two would have known at once that he was mad.” He is, of course, the first and greatest tragic romantic fucked-up rockstar. I read T H White when I was 12, and it had a bit of an impact.
Achilles, the death drive incarnate, “racing over the plain, his bronze breastplate gleaming like Sirius, the star of harvest, brightest of stars in the dark of night. Orion’s Dog, men call it, glittering brightly yet boding ill, bringing fever to wretched mortals.” Some people might recognised a certain line I wrote in homage to that.
Erik Killmonger. Gods, the heady mix of beauty, right-on politics, and the epithet “killmonger.” Be still my heart. I don’t usually go for princes in modern day clothing, but a new entry crashes straight into the top ten.
Cu Chulainn (4).
Anamander Rake (5).
(4) Prince! His mother is the daughter of the king of Ulster.
(5) Prince! He’s the Lord of Moon’s spawn, and his mother is Queen of High House Dark.
Copyright 2015-2019 Charlotte Bond
"Northern Lights over Low Row" Copyright Sandra Cockayne