King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I like myself a good sociopath. They make things interesting in a world of heroes and anti-heroes if well written. I found a new favorite in Jorg of Ancrath when I read Prince of Thorns and wrote this review.
In the second book of The Broken Empire series, Jorg is now King of the Renar Highlands and he's all grown up. Now eighteen, he's preparing to marry his young bride Princess Miana with an army knocking at his door. The Prince of Arrow wants to roll right over him with numbers Jorg can't hope to compete against, but if there is one thing Jorg is king of besides thorns, it's the long shot.
If you thought the first book was good, this one is better. Jorg has matured. He no longer gets all stabby-stabby if you look at him wrong, and the ghosts he created now haunt him. One ghost in particular is of a little boy that has grown over the years that Jorg has seen him. Jorg doesn't know who he is, but a little copper box holds the secret and he's tempted to open it despite the threat that he might loose his sanity.
But even with the fantastic character development Lawrence has put Jorg through, he still remains the same clever smart ass with questionable morals. Makin, Rike, and Gorgoth are still around. As are the Watch and Coddin. The new character that makes a splash is Miana. Even though she's only twelve, she has a quick mind and is capable of the same ruthless thought process as her husband. As it turns out, she was raised by a card player, and she's not afraid to make sacrifices for maximum damage... I mean gain. (That manages to sound worse.)
Like Prince, Lawrence uses the same structure. There is the present time the novel is set in - Jorg's battle against Arrow - and the past set four years ago after the events of the first book. The flashback story line deals with Jorg trying to help out Gog because the poor leucrota boy keeps exploding into pillars of flame. Jorg knows that he's mostly doing it to save himself, but you know he's attached to the kid. It's one way Lawrence shows the reader that Jorg is growing up.
The flashback also introduces us to his mother's family, who isn't trying to kill him. In fact, he rather likes them and is relieved when he doesn't need to off them for self preservation purposes. The alliance he builds with his grandfather by marrying Miana helps him out against Arrow, and gives the reader more time with his uncle who describes himself as simply "good with horses."
Lawrence does get a bit more complicated this time around by splicing in the memories from the little copper box. They flow nicely, and don't confuse, but I won't go any further for fear of ruining the story behind it.
The little descriptions of the Brothers are spliced in too, punctuated with pages from Katherine's journal. Yes, Katherine is still around, and she's learning the ways of dreams.
Then there is the Builders. In my last review of the first book, I brought up the computer that Jorg and his Brothers believed was a fairy trapped in a box. Now Jorg knows a ghost - a data echo - of a man named Fexler Brews that he met under his grandfather's castle. Fexler is made from the memories and personality ticks of a real person a thousand years gone. He wears a white lab coat and is a bit of a grouch. He bestows Jorg with a gift of Builder tech that relies on the satellites that still orbit Earth, giving Jorg an advantage over Arrow's forces.
Sure, it isn't all easy reading. The dog scene is a bit difficult to get through. I admit, it's hard reading scenes of animal cruelty as I learned when I read Chuck Wendig's Bait Dog, but it is a formative moment in Jorg's young life from before he hung in the thorns. And if you didn't think you could hate his father more, think again.
I could really go on and on about these books. They really were what medieval based fantasy needed. This genre bender is, in truth, its own thing. It can't be squeezed into the little boxes of science fiction, epic fantasy, or post-apocalyptic. If I had to define it, I'd say it's more like Game of Thrones had hot, satisfying one night stand with Fallout 3. But even then it doesn't seem right.
Just do Lawrence a favor and read his books because he is a good writer. A very good writer.
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