Thursday, August 23, 2012

REVIEW: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

The masterpiece that is Prince of Thorns continues on in a sequel that truly delivers on all expectations set before it.

I've read a lot of reviews of this book that almost unanimously claim that King of Thorns is much better than it's predecessor. I actually think I am going to have to disagree, but perhaps for different reasons. Obviously the plot and characters thicken quite nicely in KoT and really, I couldn't ask for a better sequel - but there are two reasons that I enjoyed PoT just that little bit more. Firstly, I think part of the magic of PoT was about experiencing the unexpected and the biting freshness of it all; by default and through no fault of its own, KoT was not going to have that. 

Secondly, and more importantly, I felt that Jorg lost a lot of what made him interesting. I loved how unhinged, blase and impulsive he was in PoT, obviously a product of youth and troubled past. In KoT even he admits that as you grow older, you start to care about things and in this case, it means he becomes a lot more normal. In this case, I don't blame anyone - it had to happen for the story to get anywhere at all. But I really lamented the loss of 'lop-of-their-head' Jorg who has been replaced with Jorg who now cares about people, has responsibilities and begins to regret his previous actions.

Right, now with that slight negative out of the way, let me rave about how freaking good this book is!

I loved the structure of the story, which jumps between three main threads; the current day conflict at the Haunt; events beginning four years ago from the conclusion of PoT; and pages of Katherine's diary which run simultaneously with number two. Then of course there is a chunk of unremembered time that Jorg re-experiences during the current day, just to shake it up further.

All of this really lends itself to maintaining the breakneck and no nonsense pace that made PoT so good. The events in the current day perspective only span one day, while the past perspective stretches across years. By 'revisiting' them, rather than telling them in chronological order, Lawrence can cut through to the important bits, like flashbacks. Genius! It's also great for some excellent foreshadowing and suspense.

The whole book is really like one action scene that doesn't end. While there are still highs and lows, there are never points where you are ever in danger of needing a break ... in fact, if I didn't need to eat or sleep (or if I wasn't visiting Berlin) I would have read it in one sitting.

While Jorg has matured a lost a little of his recklessness, his sheer genius and 'plans' (or lack thereof) are once again one of the best parts of the story. Numerous times I chuckled at his dry wit and his unfathomable reasoning and decisions kept me in a constant state of anticipation. One thing that occurred to me while reading this was that Jorg was one of the very, very few protagonists that I did not identify or empathise with - and that is extremely exciting! He is a prideful, reckless boy whose mantra is pretty much 'fuck it' and it is always hard to place how he will react, given his particular lack of sentimentality. I feel like most other authors would make an aspiring Emperor altruistic and with a noble purpose ... Jorg openly admits he wants to be Emperor because it's a challenge and because he can - be damned if he'll be a good one or not.

KoT also features an excellent cast of characters, some new, some old. The band of brothers were once again a highlight for me - they may not say much but they are such an incredible presence in the story. I actually found Miana's brief appearances quite entertaining, especially given that she's like an even younger, female Jorg.

I am a massive fan of post-apocalyptic worlds, and KoT continued to deliver and expand on this. What I loved was that it wasn't what the book was about, but it instead formed the backdrop for the real story and contributed elements that gave it a nice kick out of the traditional fantasy worlds.

I did question the system or reasoning of 'magic' a little more in KoT as it became more prevalent. Elements and key figures were introduced without anything more than vague justification or explanation. Necromancy and fire magic and dream-witches and ice-witches ... it just didn't seem to fit within one whole scope, like there was nothing linking it all. The other thing that bugged me was how crucial it became to the story, and how it is looking to become, without any real time given to it to do it justice. It's like watching a movie about racing cars and in the last third aliens arrive and kill everyone. I just don't feel like these necromancers, witches et. al. really fit in.

And Sageous' role became really, really confusing. So ... what was a dream and what was real and which decisions that anyone made, ever, were do their own or to do with Sageous?

All in all, King of Thorns is epic fantasy on a George R. R. Martin scale, but on speed. How the hell am I going to survive the wait for Emperor of Thorns!?


  1. of course Jorg does actually lop off someone's head on a whim in this one, whereas the only lopping in Prince had much better justification! :)

  2. i just got a copy of this, and I'm torn - do I dive right in, or should I do a quick reread of the 1st book in the series, so everything is fresh in my mind?

    1. It depends how long ago you read it ... but I think you should be fine - dive right in and it will come back to you. Maybe just read an online synopsis of PoT to refresh you? That's what I do :)

  3. I am currently on chapter 45 of KoT. I devour fantasy. Recently I've read the Belgariad series, LoTR trilogy, mistborn series, the song of fire and ice series, The Name of the Wind, The Way of Kings, The Magician and the Magician King, The Abhorsen Trilogy, Elantris, and Prince of Thorns. I loved Prince of Thorns. 45 chapters into King of Thorns, and I find myself scratching my head. Is this... now? Is this four years ago? A man thats an echo of a man, memory made with an untangible spirit, who has a ring, that reads souls? Is this now or four years ago? Who's the baby? And the witch? The ice one or the fire one? And the dream witch, is he real? Who is real? Not only have I lost my amusement for the anti-hero protagonist as he becomes more calm, more tame, but I've lost all sense of where the story is going, and how most of it adds up. I share the opinion of the OP, except that I find myself no longer enjoying the book. Mark Lawrence has a fascinating imagination, but his execution keeps getting lazier and more sloppy.

    1. Sounds like we have a very similar taste in books!

      I had the exact same questions as you, but instead of frustrating me, they piqued my interest and kept me reading. For me, Lawrence was great at foreshadowing and creating an intricate plot that left some questions unanswered for now. Plots that explain every detail tend to insult the intelligence of the reader and I lose interest quickly.

      Most of these questions are answered at the end of the book, and as for being confused about being in the present or four years ago, I do believe each chapter has a clear heading that tells the reader what time it is.

      I do have to say though that the inclusion of a range of witches (plus a higher, darker power) and an undefined system of magic became a little confusing in this one, and had a little tinge of deus ex machina.