King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
The plot follows our young protagonist as he aims to fulfill his promise at the end of Prince of Thorns and maneuvers to become emperor. The book is a blend of the present, set 4 years after Prince of Thorns, as well as the events following his ascension to the throne immediately after Prince.
This flip-flopping between the present and past can be a little disorienting at first. More often than not I found myself eager to continue the current plot/scene and am instead shunted to the past or back to the present. Mark Lawrence does do a good job at inserting these breaks after a major event, an obvious breaking point but overall the concept could use just a touch more polishing.
A major theme of the book handles fantasy’s most well known stereotype, the prophesied hero. Mark Lawrence does a spectacular job at introducing the prophecies and giving us the “perfect, boy-scout character” who is obviously not our protagonist Jorg. The entire ordeal of a man borne to prophecy is given a very “realistic” portrayal by the end of the book and I found myself smiling in satisfaction as I read it.
Jorg has matured since his time in Prince of Thorns. No longer is he a man of simple “ends justify the means” instead he is conscious of his actions and calculating as he employs his plans. The section wherein he goes to meet his grandfather is filled with this new Jorg and the manner in which he executes his plans.
Prince of Thorns offers us a glimpse into the past of the world, one with subtle clues as to where, or more appropriately, when the Broken Empire is set. If you weren’t sure after Book 1, things are laid out fairly plainly now. What caught me more than anything was the inscribed plate at the bottom of the castle, keep an eye out when you’re reading to see what I mean. The technology of the lost Builders and subsequently the magic is an interesting and engaging spin on fantasy magic and will be sure to inspire as it is explained in the book.
King of Thorns has the hallmarks of what every sequel book should be. It ramps up the stakes, character development, and shows the growth of the writer in such a way to make you see his mastery of the craft. Be warned however, this is not your typical fantasy. Jorg is a hero only in his own mind, and maybe not even there, and that reflects in his actions as he does whatever it takes to reach his goals. The writing can be dark and as “realistic” and “gritty” as the best of them.
If you haven’t read Prince of Thorns and are willing to give dark fantasy a try, there’s no better place to start than the deep end. It comes highly recommended.