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King of Thorns (Book Two of The Broken Empire) by Mark Lawrence

July 11, 2012

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

If you’re a regular reader of my blog then you will probably know just how much I loved Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns last year! I have been so eager for the sequel ever since that I was very kindly sent an early proof to read and review! It has been almost a year since I read Prince of Thorns, but the character of Jorg has stayed with me ever since. His ruthlessness and pure thirst for revenge may have been too much for some readers to handle, but for me and many others,Lawrence has written him in such a way that makes you love him, even though you know you should by all rights hate him! I simply couldn’t wait to get back inside that complicated mind of his…

The thing about King of Thorns that readers should definitely be aware of, is that it does feel like a very different book to Prince of Thorns. Not only has Lawrence grown as a writer, but the character of Jorg has also matured. He’s no longer the fourteen year old boy we first came to love and hate. King of Thorns kicks off four years after the events in the previous book, on Jorg’s wedding day to be in fact. Jorg is to be married to the fiery, but very young Miana, for the sake of an alliance that may help him win a war with the highly respected Prince of Arrow, who is seeking to become Emperor – a role that Jorg very much wants for himself. Miana is definitely one of my new favourite characters introduced in this book, and one I really hope we will see more of in the third instalment. She is everything I want in a female fantasy character – strong, smart, and very independent.

However, half of the book also takes places four years earlier, back to the days following the end of Prince of Thorns. Now, here is where I struggled a little. With it being almost a year ago since I read the first book, and having no where near enough time to re-read it, for the life of me I couldn’t remember all the intricate plot details and the secondary characters. If you’re in a similar position, I’d definitely recommend heading over to Fantasy Faction’s review where they give you a little reminder of the plot of book one – something I very much wish I had come across long before I turned the final page! I certainly don’t see this as a failure on Lawrence’s part, as with every fantasy novel that are usually many intricate details, and many, many characters to get to know, that you just can’t possibly remember everything a year later – especially when you’ve read many books in-between! What I would have liked a bit more of is maybe a few subtle reminders throughout King of Thorns just to give your memory a gentle nudge of who’s who, and I think my enjoyment suffered a little (but only a little!) due to my appalling memory. I could remember characters like Rike and Makin, because I think their characters were more developed than others, but the rest fell short.

Also in-between the ‘four years earlier’ and the ‘wedding day’ chapters, we’re also given a window into Katherine’s mind, as we get a glimpse into her diary. You may remember that Katherine is effectively Jorg’s aunt, after her sister married Jorg’s father. You may also remember Jorg’s very prominent infatuation with Katherine, and this only seems to intensify in King of Thorns. I won’t elaborate in case of potential spoilers, but certain revelations are at the forefront of their somewhat strained relationship. I have to admit, despite how much I like Katherine, I found myself rooting a little more for Jorg and Miana towards the end.

You may recall Prince of Thorns as being quite plot-driven, and not quite as big on the world-building aspect as most fantasy books are. But hereLawrence has definitely shaped more of a world for Jorg and his men, hinting at a post-apocalyptic version of our own world, where only remnants of technology and science remain. I have to admit it’s something I didn’t expect, but a very intriguing surprise. I’m excited to see how this world will develop even more in the next book, and it certainly makes it stand out from the usual fantastical worlds.

I mentioned earlier that this is a very different book from the first one, and it is. The first book was very action-packed and fast-paced, gritty and bloody with a ruthless protagonist in Jorg. But here the pace is slowed down somewhat, and I don’t know if that’s because the plot isn’t so clean-cut here, or if because the fragmented narration between all the different time-frames and characters holds you back a little, but I don’t think I found it as easy a read as Prince of Thorns. There is also the character of Jorg – I can easily accept that he has to grow up and mature a little, as one would from the age of fourteen to eighteen, and even though he is still not very nice, he obviously wasn’t quite a brutal as he is in the first book. Now, Jorg thinks more about the consequences of his actions, and the deaths that are on his hands, and the lives people are risking for him. Some people will love this Jorg much more than in the first book, but for me, I missed the old Jorg a little, but like I said – it’s all a part of growing up, and he certainly isn’t nice by all means!

King of Thorns is definitely a worthy follow-up to Prince of Thorns, although very different. Lawrence has proved himself once again as an original and imaginative writer, and one who isn’t afraid to try something new. I can’t even begin to tell you just how excited I am to see what happens next, and how it all ends! Put simply: I can’t wait for more of Jorg!

King of Thorns is released by Harper Voyager on the 16th August. An absolutely massive thank you goes to both Mark and to his American publisher Ace for providing me with an early review copy!

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