King of Thorns is the second novel from one of my favorite debut authors of last year, Mark Lawrence, who wrote a more than interesting sociopath character in Prince of Thorns. The second book of the Broken Empire trilogy will be followed by Emperor of Thorns in summer 2013.
To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…
The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.
A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg's gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.
Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.
In the first recounting of Jorg's life, we discovered a highly perturbed young man channeling his anger and emotions into unrestrained actions. The teenager, now turned King, grew up and his motivations (while some remain like vengeance) stir him toward the salvation of one of his new-found brothers, the defense of his newly acquired dominion, the search and study of the knowledge of the builders, family reunion and marriage. The themes may seem more human, less selfish, but all of this is a mean to an end, tools keeping him ahead in the game of the hundred wars, in the name of retribution, abnegation toward being pushed and the megalomaniacal pursuit of the ultimate rulership.
The age of this narrator telling us about the bloody path he took from being thrown in a bush of thorns to the seat of his uncle sovereignty was a factor of irritation for some readers. Indeed, he's a young character but why is it so bothersome? Couldn't a youth achieve everything Jorg did, especially when thinking about his unnatural coming of age? Anyway, as I mentioned, now he's almost all grown up. Imagine someone that dangerous at thirteen or fourteen years old with dedication as an accomplice, necromancy creeping in, a brotherhood of loyal and merciless killers and rule over a small nation, instilling fear inside everyone's heart. That ought to give an author headaches when it comes to creating protagonists that are able to rivalize with such a powerful character.
Undeniably, from time to time, the young man will find himself in front of such nemeses, but in the end, could it be that he is his sole enemy? The fact that he knows it makes him almost unbearable for his partners but instills in him the confidence needed to prevail in every situation. In King of Thorns, Jorg is facing a considerable threat and as it was the case in Prince, that tale is not narrated in a continuous timeline, meaning that many chapters are flashbacks from four years earlier, creating opportunities for Jorg in the future that are explained at the right moments. The story told in the "present" time couldn't have been that captivating if it weren't for the possibility for Jorg to pull out several aces, gruesome and brilliant ones.
To protect himself, some of his memories were extracted from him and he rediscovers them from time to time by opening a mysterious box. Taking into consideration the main narrative, the flashbacks, the memory resurgences and extracts from the journal of his love hurting interest Katherine Ap Scarron, the tale could have become a jumble. Surprisingly, it flows smoothly, creating a pattern that kept my interest on the verge of exhilaration throughout the book.
Another great feat achieved by Mark is the cruel twist of emotional response he creates for the reader. Empathy is something in easier reach in King of Thorns but then, the author, intentionally or not, plays with it. When reading the book, there was times when I was on the verge of treason toward my feelings for Jorg but that aspect actually creates monumental reaction to some serious events.
The narrative is simply a paradise of introspection for the reader in search of a breakdown of human behaviour in circumstances where a psychopath in search of equilibrium finds out that the only way to survive is to charge. These bursts of action can even be pretty cool but the reasons behind it could be disturbing for some. Jorg explains his point of view about everything. Moreover, the epigraphs at the end of the chapters about Red Jorg's brothers are still present and they add to the peculiar lore of the characters surrounding the man. The only element lessening that exploration is the realization that others influence the king of thorns' mind .
I felt more comfortable the second time around with the author's world. The wonder and feeling of surprise when discovering the nature of the broken empire has faded by now but there are still enough curiosities to keep a reader's appetite more than satisfied. If there were some reproach I could address to the author, it would be with the easy way out of an impossible situation where magic is involved.
So, if you liked the first book and ask yourself if Jorg still delivers, the answer would simply be "Hell yes!". If you couldn't stand Jorg... well he's still Jorg...
Technically, the Ace cover art by Jason Chan is cool looking again, Jorg's still wearing a hood but that depiction fits the character so well you can't blame him... in fact, you should not blame him, he would probably take your head off if he's in the mood! A more detailed map in comparison with Prince is included (and available here). The hardcover edition of the book stands at 567 pages. The audiobook is narrated by a more than convincing James Clamp and last 13 hours and 30 minutes.
King of Thorns review score :
Characterization............. 9 /10
World building............... 8.5 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 / 10
Story.............................. 9 / 10
Writing........................... 9 / 10
Overall (not an average) 9 / 10
Prince of Thorns review
Mark Lawrence page