Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: "King of Thorns" by Mark Lawrence

Jorg of Ancrath doesn’t seem quite himself at the start of “King of Thorns” ($25.95, Ace), the second installment of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy.

For one thing, it takes a little while for someone to die brutally at his hands. There’s good reason for the change. Ah, but you’ll have to read it yourself to discover the secret of the little copper box, or rather, the secrets it holds.

The main action of “King of Thorns” takes place several years after “Prince of Thorns.” Jorg has secured his kingdom, and a little bit of the restlessness and ruthlessness that led him to that conquest seems to have worn off. For four years or so, he’s seemed content to have and run his little demesne. Now, though, the Prince of Arrow and his massive army are knocking on Jorg’s door. Most people believe that Arrow is the man to unite all of the broken kingdoms as emperor. They believe that he’ll be a good and just emperor, with the good of the people at heart. In truth, even Jorg believes that, but he wouldn’t be Jorg if he let a little thing like that stand in the way of his ambitions.

Though the main action of the battle between Jorg and Arrow takes place in a single day, much of the story takes the reader back four years to when a 14-year-old Jorg first claimed his throne and the months that followed. Journal entries from Katherine ap Scorron, the object of Jorg's obsession, fill in the rest of the details. The flashback scenes explain much of the enmity and animosity between the two men and the changes in Jorg’s personality. More importantly, they offer a glimpse behind the curtain of Jorg’s mind. Readers are treated to some of his darkest moments and greatest pains, and those revelations make it a little easier to understand how the young king became the twisted, driven and brutal man that he is.

The secrets of the world that were revealed in “Prince of Thorns” are more fully flushed out in this book, and a better picture of what happened and how this world came to be begins to take shape. It’s not exactly a new concept, but I like the way that Lawrence approaches it, revealing things layer by layer, much as he does with Jorg himself.

I love books and series where I’m able to look back when things are revealed and see all of the hints and foreshadowing that the author dropped throughout the story, and Lawrence does that very well. There are a few surprises dropped on the reader in “King of Thorns,” but most were set up well if you follow the trail backward.

“Prince of Thorns” was one of my favorite discoveries of last year, and as much as I liked it, I think “King of Thorns” tops it. “Prince” gave us a fascinating character study in Jorg, but “King” takes that character and adds many more layers to both him and the story. Lawrence has set a high standard to reach with the third volume, “Emperor of Thorns,” due out next year. If he hits it, the finish should be amazing.

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