the Little Red Reviewer

King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

Posted on: March 28, 2013

KOT2King of Thorns (Broken Empire, book 2), by Mark Lawrence

published in 2012

where I got it: purchased new

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It’s all about a change in perspective.  Getting yourself somewhere where you can see the bigger picture, because there is always a bigger picture.

The story begins with a knife and a box. All Jorg can remember about the box is that it should never, ever be opened. If he opens it, it will destroy him.  So strange, how something so small could destroy a person so completely.  If the dream-witch Sageous can get into Jorg’s mind, the only place his thoughts, plans, and memories are safe are someplace out of his mind. The box contains Jorg’s salvation and his destruction.

Split into two timelines (and each with multiple flashbacks), King of Thorns is far more complex than it looks.  In the “now” timeline, Jorg is 18 years old, about to get married, is surrounded by the armies of his enemy, Orrin, Prince of Arrow.  If he’s going to defeat Orrin, he’s going to need the memories and strategic plans that are locked in that box.  Haunted by the ghost of a child, Jorg continues to allow his baser instincts to influence him.

The other timeline is four years earlier, a few months after the end of Prince of Thorns.  Jorg is King of the Renar Highlands. Not the crown he planned on, nor the last one he expects to wear, but he’s got to start somewhere.  Young Gog is having trouble controlling his fire-magic, nearly setting the castle on fire more than once.  Jorg decides to travel to  a northern firemage, thinking if he can help Gog, maybe he can help himself.   Gog’s storyline was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Meanwhile, scattered a few here and a few there, like wet autumn leaves plastered to a dark road, are the pages of Katherine’s diary. Recovering from the injury sustained at the end of Prince of Thorns, Katherine believes Jorg raped her, and that she carries his child. She’s disgusted at the thought of being seen as a suitor’s prize, but marrying a man she barely knows and convincing him it’s his child she carries is an easy enough solution to her problem.  Isolated for the most part,  her timeline moves at it’s own speed, and it’s through her observations that the readers get the most important hints about what’s really going on.

Where Prince of Thorns was relentlessly over the top and shockingly violent, King of Thorns continues that relentless brassy melody and adds a counterpoint melody of quiet emotion.  Where the first book left the world building intentionally vague with a locational reveal at the end, this second one no longer has that secret to keep and so offers much more scenery and worldbuilding, and begins to develop the unseen hands behind the warring kingdoms.  Jorg is still a violent ball of hatred, a classic sociopath. Yet with every page turned he becomes more a victim, less someone to love to hate.  He’s still a little shit, but have you met his father?

A thing with Jorg: he detests being pushed around.  He recoils from being told what to do, he gives whole new meaning to the word contrary.  That’s his father’s blood in him.  With his near addiction to violence, Jorg is doing the necromancer’s jobs for them, every day expanding their armies of the walking dead. If he’d only sit still long enough to get a good look at the person doing the pushing, perhaps he’d realize the man pointing a sword at him isn’t his enemy.

Obviously, this isn’t a book for everyone.  You should be sure you “like this sort of thing” before diving in. Did you enjoy Prince of Thorns? Then yes, you like this sort of thing.  My adoration for Prince of Thorns is pretty obvious (check the back of your hardback edition), which might have set my expectations for King of Thorns  too high. Katherine and Gog’s story lines, the kicker at the end, the beautiful snark filled dialog, so many things to love about King of Thorns, yet it would be dishonest of me to stay silent on aspects of the book I found bothersome.

It took me a while, too long in fact, to get used to the style of many of Jorg’s flashbacks. I’m usually all about flashbacks, however I’m used to some kind of transition. Due to a plot device that I’m not going to spoil,  Jorg loses and gains memories in a very jarring fashion. And since this is a first person POV story, Lawrence is putting us through the same thing Jorg experiences: a very jarring and startling experience of having half a memory, or suddenly gaining one back.  A neat little prose experiment that happened to not work for me.

And again, because it’s written in first person, we get a ton of Jorg’s internal monologue. He’s putting puzzle pieces together, he’s judging his past actions, he thinking about different things people have said to him over the years. This is all excellent character development. But there was just so much of it, it quickly weighed the story down and too often felt  repetitive.  Fast paced scenes were slowed to  a standstill, flashbacks became confusing,  my attention began to wander.

The jarring flashbacks and the nearly overdone internal monologuing gives the novel an uneven and bumpy feel, especially when surrounded with so much damn good writing. There’s plenty about King of Thorns to love, truly, there is. But I have to say I liked the first installment better.

And then there is the last hundred pages. The climax of King of Thorns is beyond words. Intensely stunning, giving twists I never saw coming the power to paralyze.  Like the finale of a July Fourth fireworks show, it’s a thunderous wallop of  “set off everything that’s left”,  offering reveals that are relentless  and destructive. After that ending,  my complaints felt small and petty, like I’d lost my perspective. There is a bigger picture, I was just too caught up in the close-up details to see it.

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4 Responses to "King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence"

Easily my favourite book of the last few years. I laughed, winced, cried, cheered and was left speechless throughout this book. The ending was perfect, Jorg rules!

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Thanks for posting this review. Because of your review, I’ve put this book series on my “To Read” list.

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I must admit I love both of these books – but I thought King of Thorns had the edge for me – it was probably the bigger picture that just overwhelmed me with it’s ‘set off everything that’s left’ fireworks display. I still wonder how ML is going to top all this off and I admit I’m very much looking forward to the next one.
Lynn :D

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Two timelines each with multiple flashbacks. WHY?? Can’t the author figure out how to tell the story from the beginning to the end without these games? Bah.

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