Tuesday, December 8, 2015

King of Thorns Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Grimdark
Series: Broken Empire Book Two
Pages: 449

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Honorous Jorg Ancrath is now King of Renar, but with a massive army on his doorstep his reign looks like it’s going to be a short one.  King of Thorns turns out to be a much more introspective and balanced novel – at least in terms of character development – than it’s predecessor. Jorg has some morality and compassion now, but he’s far from what you would call a good person.

The biggest problem with King of Thorns is its structure, which isn’t balanced.  The four years earlier sections often feel like an obstacle in this novel, rather than a wealth of interesting information.  Furthermore they occupy about two thirds of the story.  An unwelcome plot twist at the end also weakens what was turning out to be some of the most exciting and well written battles’ in the series. Nevertheless, Lawrence delivers a solid sequel, but a couple of issues kept nagging at me.

Four years after the events of Prince of Thorns it’s King Jorg’s wedding day as he prepares to marry 12 year old Miana.  The celebration can barely get underway as Jorg’s castle is under siege from the Prince of Arrow.  Hopelessly outnumbered, Jorg and his brothers are ready to fight, but are prepared for the worst.

Interspersed with Jorg’s wedding day are flashbacks to Jorg’s immediate actions after securing the throne of Renar.  Worried about the growing danger Gog presents, Jorg and his brothers undertake a journey to try and help him. This journey ends up taking him to many new and unexpected places as he meets new allies and learns about the “builders” who came before him.

I felt a lot more hot and cold reading this book than I did with the previous one.  There were events I liked a lot more than Prince of Thorns in this book, but there were events I liked a lot less.  Jorg’s change as a character has to be one of the best parts about this book.  In Prince of Thorns he was strictly a sociopath, but in the sequel, with influence of Corion lifted, there are now some instances of Jorg showing compassion and even caring about people.  This makes for a much more interesting character.

Even more interesting is Jorg’s rivalry with Prince Orrin.  Orrin is planning on becoming emperor, and as a man, he’s morally superior to Jorg.  It’s made clear early on that Orrin being emperor would be a good thing for the world.  This makes for a fantastic spin on the traditional good vs. evil conflict as it’s difficult for the reader to side with Jorg in his wedding day battle. Unfortunately Jorg vs. Orrin resolves in very unsatisfying manner, as Jorg basically gets a get of jail free card when he has to face his lack of morals.

King of Thorns is told over the course of a single day, and while the wedding day battle is worthy of great praise, the four years earlier section that echo the structure of the previous book often feel like annoying interruptions.  These sections from the past have their moments, but compared to the pitched battle on the wedding day, they aren’t all that exciting.

The idea of having these “four years earlier” interruptions serves to explain the various traps and tricks Jorg has laid out for the Prince of Arrow’s army, before they happen doesn’t. It makes it feel like everything is being resolved via a deus ex machina, even though that’s technically not the case. I believe King of Thorns would have seriously benefited from being told chronologically … at least this would take care of the deus ex machina and interrupting feelings … but then again I’m not a writer.

Miana, as a character, also turns out to be a pleasant surprise. Initially upon meeting her, the reader gets the feeling that this character is going to be used as demonstration to how low Jorg is willing to sink, but this takes an unexpected and very interesting turn.  Katherine, also gets some narration time via letters that are spread throughout Jorg’s narratives.  Her viewpoint offers some new insights, and the direction her character is going in is something I’m looking forward to seeing in the final part of this series.

Although it feels like Jorg has been toned down, the violence hasn’t, and readers can expect a plethora of bloodshed. The setting continues to turn Lawrence’s story into an atypical medieval fantasy, and at the very least the reader should feel satisfied at the author’s attempt to create something new.  King of Thorns has some minor issues, but I still find myself wanting to see what happens next.

Score: 8.8

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