Review: King of Thorns / Author: Mark Lawrence / Publisher: Harper Voyager / Release Date: Out Now
Jorg Ancrath first stormed into bookshops last year in Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns (if you haven’t read it, do so, then come back to this review) and was quickly hailed by many as fantasy’s greatest anti-hero. At only fourteen years of age, he led a bandit group, was a murderer and more. For us, the age stretched things a little too much, but despite that Prince of Thorns was a gripping and exciting read.
King of Thorns sees Jorg promoted in regal rank. He’s now 18, ruler of his own kingdom, haunted by the misdeeds of his past and about to be married. His realm is under attack from the Prince of Arrow, a man working his way across the empire to take the throne, and Jorg has a castle and loyal subjects to protect and defend. This isn’t to say his status as anti-hero has changed, but Lawrence has added much depth to the character (depth this reviewer thought was missing in the first novel). Sure, Jorg’s still a bastard when he wants, but there are several moments when we see he has a heart, that there are others he genuinely cares about and even, in his own twisted way, loves.
Just as Jorg has matured, so too has Mark Lawrence’s writing. His descriptions can be short but are always strong, his punchy sentences enough to create the atmosphere in the reader’s mind, his tone alternating between utterly grim and downright amusing. King of Thorns has a superb plot – spanning a single day, while flashbacks reveal important events of the last four years – fast-paced, packed with twists and turns that deliver surprises and heart-breaking moments alike.
The author has created a world set hundreds of years after the destruction of the Builders, setting the book in an empire that that has risen from the ashes of nuclear holocaust. Technology and science still exist, but sparingly, as a dark magic to most; there are times when characters won’t know what an item is or does, but to the reader it’s extremely familiar. There’s a map of this empire for us to peruse, a twisted version of Europe, with some intelligently named locations.
Lawrence’s triumph, though, is Jorg. As narrator, it’s essential that the reader is able to sympathise with this young man, and the author pulls this off with great skill. Jorg is a man of contrasts, his voice ranging from callously flippant (sometimes when he is at his most violent) to thoughtful and introspective; his is a life of moments that can make the reader laugh out loud or wipe away a tear of sadness. He mourns the losses of friends and loved ones, and Lawrence’s writing ensuring the reader feels that pain too.
It’s not often a sequel surpasses the original, but in this second book of his Broken Empire series, Mark Lawrence has done just that. It’s impossible to put down, and will have you reading well into the night as it tugs at your emotions. Brutal, bloody and brilliant, King of Thorns is a simply stunning read.