Mark Lawrence took the Fantasy world by storm with his shit-kicker of a debut, Prince of Thorns that completely polarized the community into either ardent die-hard fans of this fourteen-year old sociopath or foaming-at-the-mouth haters of this blasphemous portrayal of a child killer.
I belong right on the front ranks of the former. Charming Jorg of Ancrath is a character I would follow to the depths of Hell and back. ( because I am sure that sly bastard will definitely come back alive!) it’s been such a delight to be inside that pscyhopath’s complex mind and discover niches and depths that was never before, thought to exist. Borrowing from my previous review, an incredibly compelling narrator who swings between genius and insane, forming the backbone of the entire book. It was a bold gamble and now Mark is ready to step it up a notch.
King of Thorns follows Jorg four years later – a little more mature, questionably so, perhaps a little less “trigger-happy” but he retains his dark-stained soul and at the core, pretty much remains the same blood thirsty and maddeningly unpredictable anti-hero with last tricks up his sleeve to get out of do-or-die situations that has become common-place in his life. It’s even more twisted and complex with storylines and mysteries that grip you from the very mention of a hint dropped, phrases seemingly commonplace with heavier import to strike us in latter passages, twists and turns that by turn sicken and intrigue you, the sparse world building that Lawrence hinted at in book one, is fleshed out and presented in rivetingly glorious detail and yet this manages to bring up more questions than answers. The characters are top notch and beautifully drawn up yet again in that excellent prose dripping with acerbic cutting wit, liberally sprinkled with the kind of black gallow humor and waxes eloquent with deep philosophical questions on life and death and all things in between.
King starts off with Jorg being eighteen. On his wedding day, he faces his most formidable foe yet. The one prophesied by all stars and diviners to be the deliverer of evil, Prince Orrin of Arrow. The Good Guy who will set things right. Jorg never liked the good guys and now with the Prince knocking on his castle doors, has to decide between giving in and forgetting his grand “emperor” ambitions or prepare for the battle of his lifetime.
Lawrence sticks true to his earlier narrative style of interspersing time lines and switching back and forth. So don’t despair, thinking you have lost out on the bloody creepy antics of four years of his lifetime. It’s there in glorious detail. But unlike book one, where it was a little more linear, here the time-lines twist, wriggle and overlap with most events in the past having a direct consequence on Jorg’s actions in the present. And trust me, you have to hang onto pretty much every single phrase or narrative thrown in casually because all of it has a purpose. As before, in every other situation, Jorg plays his cards very close to his heart and this makes for very tense, edge-of-the-cliff thriller moments throughout the book.
Jorg has changed in the four years – subtly so. Taking responsibility for the consequences of his actions and pretty much trying to make small amends.
“I’m not him. I’m not him because we die a little every day and by degrees we’re reborn into different, older men in the same clothes, with the same scars.”
The readers connect to that ‘real’ Jorg beneath the exterior of all that blood, up on the mountains, lying down gasping for breath, with nothing but white clouds between him and the blue sky, reminiscing on life and it’s horrors that he has had to wade through. those were there winning moments for me in this book, when the crazy suicidal teenager takes a break from the mindless horrors that he willingly jumps into and thinks about his actions, dreams and it’s consequences. Infused with deep emotional turmoil that you cannot really turn away from. But those hoping for redemption in Jorg will be disappointed. He remains at heart what the thorns created. A monster and an unapologetic one at that. And that is quite the kicker!
King of Thorns is a way better book than the debut. The plot advancement is top notch, so are the characters, some new, most old thrown into the fray – all of whom would tug at your emotional strings in one way or the other. True, while Jorg towers over pretty much any other secondary character, there are absolute gems crafted by Lawrence as the side ones. Some deserve a complete book by themselves. Some like, say Makin. One of my favorite characters in the series.
“Makin works a kind of magic with people. If he spends even half an hour in their company, they will like him.” And so with the readers as well. Possibly one of the few guys in the mix who have a strong sense of the right and wrong and lives by a personal code. But heck, am getting ahead of myself. There are other interesting characters whom you can root for as well.
Lawrence takes us on a tour of the Broken Empires in this book – travel in true epic fantasy style – Jorg and his Band of Brothers going from the Thar deserts to the frigid cold of Scandinavia, Dane-lands with their fjords and mountains that spout fire to the shores of Afrique and more. It’s a fascinating expose of the empire that is on top of everybody’s list to conquer and rule. World building done in a very deft and competent manner silencing critics who bayed that the book one was too narrow in its scope and focus. This time, Jorg sweeps through the entire world of the empire burning with a Thousand Fires. Take that, you detractor you.
Why should you read this book?
A stunning addition to one of the finest stories in fantasy today – one that truly showcases Mark Lawrence’s evolution as a master of this genre and wheels along one of the most riveting and hauntingly elegant tales in spin today. King of Thorns goes straight to the top of my best-reads this year and now I cannot wait for that heart-stopping conclusion to this tale.