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Friday, August 24, 2012

King Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “King of ThornsHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read an Extract HERE
Read FBC’s Review of "Prince of Thorns"

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mark Lawrence is a research scientist working on artificial intelligence. He lives in England with his wife and four children.

OFFICIAL BLURB: The boy who would be King has gained the throne...

Prince Honorious Jorg Ancrath vowed when he was nine to avenge his slaughtered mother and brother—and 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 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 him. Jorg knows that he cannot win 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... 

CLASSIFICATION: King of Thorns is R-rated epic fantasy that combines Robert E. Howard/Glen Cook-like sword-and-sorcery action with George R. R. Martin-inspired court intrigue and a huge side of dark humor to make Joe Abercrombie proud.  

FORMAT/INFO: King of Thorns is 464 pages long divided over forty-nine numbered chapters, a prologue and thirty journal entries by Katherine. Narration is in the first-person, via King Jorg Ancrath and in the third person via diary entries by Katherine Ap Scarron. King of Thorns does well to read as a standalone however should be read after Prince of Thorns to appreciate the character arcs, and is the second volume in The Broken Empire trilogy.

August 7, 2012 marked the North American Hardcover publication of King of Thorns via Ace Books. The UK version (see below) was published on August 16, 2012 via Harper Voyager. Cover art is provided by Jason Chan. More information, including a Map and a Cast of Characters, can be found at Mark Lawrence’s Official Website.

ANALYSIS: Last year Mark Lawrence debuted on the fantasy scene with his dark and morally tipsy book Prince of Thorns. It shocked many readers and led to interesting debates about the book, its main protagonist and the overall direction of the story. I thought that the writing and storyline was sheer brilliance. Mark Lawrence’s plot had the main protagonist who is a teenage sociopath and who in most novels would be featured as the series villain. The dark beauty of the series is that it dwells into his mind and showcases all that he does and why he does it. It was an excellent debut and one which manages to push the boundaries of dark fantasy so far beyond that those set by its predecessors.

I found this book to be a bit difficult to review because of its complexity, so kindly forgive me for the rambling nature of it below. To begin with King of Thorns continues the pattern of dual storylines found in the first book with the same time period of four years. The first storyline is set four years after the events of the first book wherein Prince Jorg became King though not in the place he set out to be. Currently settled in as the King to the Renar Highlands, he faces dual problems; firstly his castle and kingdom are surrounded by enemy  forces from the kingdom of Arrow. Prince Orrin fated to be the Emperor uniting the Broken Kingdoms, stands on his doorstep waiting to knock it down or get Jorg’s support.

Secondly he’s about to get married to a princess called Miana and he doesn’t have the proper attire for it. There’s also the curious presence of a metal box that isn’t supposed to be opened as well as the ghost of a small child that comes and goes in Jorg’s presence. In the other storyline, it begins very much in line after the events at the end of the first book, Jorg has been crowned King and is trying to settle in with his motley bunch. His problems are never far Gog has been having some issues with controlling his fire powers and that has lead to the development of some burning queries. To top that Jorg also gets a visit from Prince Orrin and his brother Prince Egan, both from the country of Arrow and who have plans for uniting the small kingdoms into one glorious empire.

As evidenced by the information above, this book is a huge mix of storylines, both the past and present are intriguing and the author also introduces another crucial observer element in the form of diary entries by Katherine. This story is much more complicated than the previous one, as with the preceding title we had Jorg trying to exact revenge on his family for reasons he thought were just. In this book however we are shown mysteries and things that were only hinted at previously. In the previous volume, the past recollections held a clue to the things occurring in the present. However in this volume, the author cleverly makes both timelines dependent on each other as twists and turns are present in both but their raison d'être will be clear only to the observant readers. Each phrase or narrative turn is to be examined as it will play out in the later half. This book has a lot more travels to it as well than the first book, Jorg and his crew travel as far as to the Thar Desert in Asia and then head north to the Scandinavian coasts. In between these two timelines are also present the diary entries by Katherine and we get a crucial look into her acumen and her feelings for Jorg become crystal clear.

Characterization as in the previous volume is handled competently as the narrator is a sociopath but in this volume we get a slightly more emotional Jorg. Not that he breaks down and repents but in the essence of his actions, Jorg has started taking into account the consequences and effects onto others. There’s also the other characters that make their presence felt namely Katherine who reveals more about herself via her journal entries than previously seen from Jorg’s POV. There’s also princess Miana who is to wed Jorg and even though she’s present for a very small period of the book, she shows fortitude that belies her age and size. I hope we get more of them in the next book. There’s also the prose which stand up to the expectations from the first book, beginning with Jorg and his  observations, to the brotherly quotes between chapters, fans of the first book will find acerbic wit, striking dialogue and more in this second outing. There are also certain dark events that get described in a haunting way and particularly one event that leads to the mystery of the boy ghost.

Now with all that has been said, there are certain things that need to be mentioned like the fact that if you didn’t like the first book then the second one will not change your opinion. There’s also some events in this book that will add to the diatribe against a character like Jorg. One of the points which can be confusing to the reader is the travels taken by Jorg and his crew all around the Broken Kingdoms, it often feels as if there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I felt that way as well however quite a lot of it makes sense in the end so readers might want to persevere. There’s also the question about the book’s pace as it slows down in the middle of the book wherein Jorg is shown wandering and experiencing several adventures, and in the present timeline when the beginning of the defense of the castle is shown. Both these things while going on concurrently drag the pace down and might confuse the readers. Lastly one great thing about this book is that we learn the Nuban’s real name as he was too good a character to be left unnamed.

CONCLUSION: Mark Lawrence has definitely upped his game and with King Of Thorns, he shows the evolution of his craft as well making his story more twisted than its predecessor. This is a dark story that demands attention from its readers but also rewards them immensely for their attention in the end. Read King of Thorns to be shocked and awed by the boy who would be king, Honorious Jorg Ancrath and now onwards to Emperor of Thorns.


Unknown said...

Currently reading this book and have only a hundred pages or so to go. Your review is dead on. Although, I am not really enjoying this volume as much as the first; however, I am saving my final opinion until the very last page.
Great review as always.

Lynn said...

I absolutely loved this book. More so even that PoT. I thought it was excellent the way that everything came together, even seemingly random events seemed to have an impact. Plus very witty and well written.
Lynn :D

The Reader said...

Thanks Tyson, yeah the last few pages reveal a lot more so I would definitely recommend reading all the way till the end. I like KOT more so than POT because of the all the plot twists and how much depth there was to the storyline.


Anonymous said...

@ Lynn

Yup a similar variety of reasons for me as well. KOT is definitely better than POT and now I can't wait to see how Mark tops it off in EOT.


Joshua Lowe said...

How is this R-Rated? I would say M at the most ... the only thing it has is extreme violence. I think R (at least in Australia) is reserved for things that give you nightmare and ravage your innocence.

I agree with most of this - good review. I must say, although this is a brilliant sequel, for me it lacked the spark and rawness of PoT, so I still preferred it over KoT.

Tania Johansson said...

Great review! Now this series is another I will add to my ever growing to-read list. Too many books and too few hours!

The Reader said...

Hi Josh

Both the books have extreme violence and also the characters commit rape in the first book and also commit wanton violence upon common folk. Although most of it is offscreen. I believe Mark's prose does create haunting imagery and so I felt it could be labelled R-rated fantasy.

Many readers have been appalled by Jorg and his actions so that could be another reason. But ultimately we are arguing semantics here as one person's gory is light hearted fun for someone else.


Joshua Lowe said...

I guess it's all subjective ... to be honest I didn't even notice the so called 'rape scene' at all, because nothing actually ever happens on screen, per se.

Maybe I've become too desensitised! I still think R-Rated would be reserved for things like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Hannibal ...

The Reader said...

@ Josh

That is indeed true about the subjectiveness of the things mentioned however a lot of readers ended being upset with the events and actions shown in the first book.

Hence the disclaimer was put by Robert and I felt it should continue with this one as well. I'm with you on the desensitization man, after watching some of the gore shown onscreen, these dark books seem positively tame.



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