Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath vowed when he was nine to avenge his slaughtered mother and brother—and to punish his father for not doing so. When he was fifteen, he began to fulfill that vow.
Now he is eighteen—and he must hold on by strength of arms to what he took by torture and treachery.
King Jorg is a man haunted: by the ghost of a young boy, by a mysterious copper box, by his desire for the woman who rides with his enemy. Plagued by nightmares of the atrocities he has committed, and of the atrocities committed against him when he was a child, he is filled with rage. And even as his need for revenge continues to consume him, twenty thousand men march toward the gates of his castle.
His enemy is far stronger than he is. Jorg knows that he cannot win in a fair fight. But he has found, in a chamber hidden beneath the castle, ancient and long-lost artifacts. Some might call them magic. Jorg is not certain—all he knows is that the secrets they hold can be put to terrible use in the coming battle…
One of my favourite books of 2011 was Mark Lawrence’s debut novel Prince of Thorns. While hotly debated and often maligned for it supposed misogyny, I found Lawrence’s story of this black-hearted prince and the forces that made him who he was and which manipulate his actions still fascinating. Not only did Lawrence tell a fantastic story, he also told it in wonderful prose. Unsurprisingly, I was looking forward to reading King of Thorns, which however I didn’t get to read until this past week. Discussing this second book in the series will inevitably lead to spoilers for the first, so if you haven’t read Prince of Thorns yet and want to remain unspoiled, best click away now!
King of Thorns returns us to the post-apocalyptic version of our earth; an earth so far into the future that it is hard to discern the number of years that have elapsed since our time beyond ‘a lot’. The world-building in the book is great. While the world and map as we know it is clearly reflected in the different peoples and the names of cities, nothing can be seen as a one-to-one translation. Even the Roma church – descended from modern day Catholicism – is but a distorted image of its origins, something which surprised me as religions tend to be rather intransigent in their tenets it seems. Lawrence shows us more of the mysterious Builders and their ancient technologies and structures that are still dotted around the world, much of which remains hidden from general view. Their technology was so advanced that it seems like magic and it remains unclear what happened to this civilisation and how the resurgence of true magic came about. We do seem to get a hint of an explanation for the return of magic. Apparently humanity thinned the veil too much through some of its technology and magic came back to our world. It would be interesting to learn more about the Empire’s history.
Like Prince of Thorns, the story is told in two timelines set years apart. One of these is set four years earlier and follows almost immediately on the ending of the last book, the other describes one day in the present. I like this set up, with short chapters and several chapters in one timeline before returning to the other one. I did miss the typographical signifier used in my copy of Prince of Thorns, in which both timelines had their own fonts, which allowed you to see at a glance in which timeline you were when you came back to the book. The timelines are interspersed with fragments of Katherine’s diary. I liked how these provided a view of what happened beyond Jorg’s purview, even if only fragmentary, and what we get serves more to seed the clues for the eventual denouement of the book’s plot than to really illuminate what’s going on at the Tall Castle.
Lawrence’s development of Jorg is fantastic. In my Prince of Thorns review I said that there was always a sort of hope for Jorg’s redemption and while that hope is still there, redemption isn’t what this book is about. In King of Thorns remembrance is the name of the game, as Jorg struggles to remember what happened in those months after he took Renar and through remembering all of his history to understand what haunts him. This places all of Jorg’s kinder actions – taking Gog to a fire-sorcerer to save him from his own fires, his care for some of his brothers, and the importance he places on meeting his mother’s family – ever in a wavering light; does Jorg do and feel this because he isn’t the black-hearted bastard he seems to be or because he’s exactly the calculating psychopath many see him as? To be honest, I don’t think Jorg himself even knows, but I’m inclined to believe the former. The fact that seemingly decent men such as Coddin and the people of Renar follow him so loyally into battle can’t just be from fear of reprisal?
One of the elements that garnered Lawrence a lot of criticism for Prince of Thorns was his perceived treatment of women. In King of Thorns he makes good on that criticism by including two wonderful female characters in the book in the form of Katherine and Miana. Katherine comes across as a woman who takes her destiny in her own hands, while Miana is a little firebrand. I love how she surprises Jorg at every turn and how strong she is despite her tender years. I also like that Jorg seems to want to do right by her, even going so far as to fake taking her virginity. Beyond these two, there are only a few other female characters in the book, most notably Chella, the necromancer from the previous book who makes a return appearance. Mostly, Jorg spends the book in the company of his Brothers and other soldiering men. Some of my favourites here were Makin (again), Gog, Gorgoth, Sim and Red Kent. But once again Lawrence proves no-one is safe and he had me pretty upset at least two deaths that occur in the book.
Lawrence ends King of Thorns on a reveal that left me reeling, but one that had been set up so cleverly, that I actually heard some of the pieces click in place. This tight plotting combined with some gorgeous writing – Lawrence lets Jorg see beauty in the most unexpected of things – makes for a fantastic middle book to the Broken Empire trilogy. As I said at the start of my review, I only got to read the book quite long after its publication, but there is a definite silver lining to this—the final book in the trilogy Emperor of Thorns, will be out next month, which means I’ll be able to return to Jorg and the Broken Empire very, very soon.
This book was provided for review by the author.