Book Review: The Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner

Prince of Persia imageFor years I’ve heard of Prince of Persia as a video game, but as I don’t play games I didn’t know much about it. When I was given the chance to review the new graphic novel inspired by the video, I knew I wanted to take a look. Graphic novels in general are something relatively new for me. I think of them as like picture books for older readers. So many times when my daughters were young we would read a picture book over and over again, and each time we would see something we missed in the illustrations when we read it before. Or, we would look for some of our favorite scenes.

As with picture books, illustrations carry the story in graphic novels too. There’s often not much back story that can’t be found out through dialogue and pictures. Which means graphic novels, while they can be read quickly, are more enjoyable when they are read slowly.

This is definitely the case with Prince of Persia. The action takes place in the kingdom of Marv during two centuries, the 9th and the 13th. The two story lines are similar in some ways: a restless population, both good and corrupt rulers, the people looking for a savior. If you race through it all, it can be confusing, even though the different time periods are depicted in different color tones. As I read I found myself going back a few times to clarify what was happening in one place or another. That’s when I realized I needed to slow down.

While Prince of Persia readers may definitely call to mind scenes from The Arabian Nights and Disney’s Aladdin, this isn’t a book for very young children—violence includes quite a few severed heads and tongues. But the story, once you grasp it, has a few twists that make it enjoyable. It could be fun for mother-daughter book clubs to read this graphic novel, go together as a group to see the movie, The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, then gather to talk about both. The movie is rated PG-13 for violence, so consider that when deciding to take on both adaptations.

Jordan Mechner, creator of the Prince of Persia, had this to say about the novel, the video game and the movie.

Can you talk about translating your video game to the graphic novel and the forthcoming movie? What stayed the same, what had to change?

JM: It might seem on the surface that a video game story should translate fairly easily into a movie screenplay or graphic novel, but in fact games demand a totally different approach to storytelling. For a writer, this makes games one of the most difficult of all forms of literary source material to adapt.

Graphic novels are read; movies are watched; video games are played. The story of the video game “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” was tailored to support the needs of the game play and give the player the best playing experience—whereas in movies and other linear storytelling formats, the story is primary.

The game story, as proud as I am of it, wouldn’t make a completely satisfying reading or movie-going experience. It works well in concert with the game play, but taken on its own, no matter how well embroidered, it would be a pale echo of the game. That’s why, to write the movie screenplay, I took the characters and plot elements form the video game and rewove them into a new story line that is better suited to the cinema. For the graphic novel, we took an even more radical departure—it doesn’t follow the plot of any of the games, or of the movie.

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