Title: King of Thorns
Author: Mark Lawrence
Published: 2012; ACE
Date Started: February 16, 2013 Date Finished: March 15, 2013
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★★
Worthy of Note: I bought Prince of Thorns – the first book in The Broken Empire trilogy – when Chris and I were on holiday. We were at the Waterstones in Bath picking up a ridiculous number of hardcover books, and while Chris was ogling a Lovecraft tome, I picked up Prince of Thorns off one of the display tables. It so obviously held my interest that Chris insisted I get it (so many books bought on this holiday, you guys). Prince of Thorns absolutely astounded me when I read it, and when King of Thorns came out this summer, I was pretty upset that I couldn’t buy it because of the bet Chris and I had. Luckily for me, the book “magically appeared” in the back of Chris’ car on the release day. Out of pride, though, I waited until the bet was over to finally read it.
Open the box, Jorg.
King of Thorns is the second book in the story of Jorg Ancrath, a prince disowned by his father who has now forged his own kingdom and wears its crown. The narrative is split into three parts: the present, where Jorg is leading his men in battle against the Prince of Arrow, who is close to claiming enough kingdoms to make him emperor; “four years ago,” where Jorg set out on a journey with his Brothers from the road that leads them into the paths of old enemies and new allies; and journal pages from Katherine Ap Scorron, Jorg’s stepmother’s sister and object of his intense desire. These narratives overlap in surprising places and establish the wider world outside of Ancrath and other central provinces. Like in Prince of Thorns, there are little gems of what this world actually is. For those who have not read it, let me say at least that the fantastical setting is not what you think it is.
In the split times of Jorg’s narrative, he is 14 in one and 18 in the other. Even 14-year-old him has grown from the Jorg in Prince of Thorns, and 18-year-old Jorg has gained some wisdom that may inform when he uses his ruthlessness, but has not changed just how deep that ruthlessness will go. The invincibility of youth – along with traces of both necromancy and fire magic Jorg has inherited – is still upon him, and none of his older advisors are ever able to convince him otherwise once he has conceived of a daring plan.
This book added even more facets to the incredibly complex character that Jorg Ancrath, giving glimpses to his childhood and his subconscious to inform his current revenges. Truly, Jorg is one of the most compelling characters I have ever encountered and the fact that there is an equally compelling story built around him is a gift to readers everywhere. Though maybe I should reiterate Mark Lawrence’s own warning that these books are “ungentle.” Both books are very violent, with a young man at its core both perpetrating its violence and learning the consequences of violence. What was a scene of victory in Gelleth in Prince of Thorns becomes a place of regret and uncertainty in King of Thorns. It is one of the book’s most harrowing moments.
And there it is, proof if proof were needed, that though God may mould the clay and fashion some of us hale, some strong, some beautiful, inside we make ourselves, from foolish things, breakable things, fragile things…
Readers may be quick to judge Jorg as evil, especially in Prince of Thorns. But the Jorg in King of Thorns is maturing, growing into his position as a leader, taking on new responsibilities and feeling the pressure of them. He is no less violent or less ruthless or less cunning, but this Jorg shows that he is not just a vessel for bloodlust, revenge, and murder. This is a boy who has experienced some truly terrible things, living in a merciless world. My impression after reading King of Thorns is that Jorg feels things very deeply, he just happens to live a life that causes most of those feelings to be hard ones. In his very few moments of tenderness, or his many moments of loyalty towards his men, Jorg shows himself to be the good man who has attracted such loyal Brothers from his adventures on the road.
The third and final book in The Broken Empire trilogy is released this summer, so I recommend that you run out and read these books and enjoy the whole story. That is, if you are not of a gentle disposition.