Mark Lawrence dropped onto the fantasy scene with a splash in the summer of 2011 with his brutal debut, Prince of Thorns. The eponymous cruel brat, Jorg, returns - in form - with the second novel of Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, King of Thorns. Staying true to the path down which he ventured a year ago, Lawrence serves us a second helping of his ferocious prose, and blood-thirsty characters. Delving deeper into Jorg’s psyche as the young king progresses on his path to world-dominance, King of Thorns expands the world of the Broken Empire without sacrificing any of the lurid storytelling or sublime characterization.


The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First, though, he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.

A six-nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shinning hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming force, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength, Jorg knows he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.
Were I a betting man, I would venture to say Mark Lawrence is not a huge fan of linear storytelling. Having structured Prince of Thorns as a succession of flashbacks intercut with chapters relating the events of the narrative present (or vice-versa), one could have expected King of Thorns to fall into a more traditional form of storytelling. Lawrence, however, had the presence of mind to move the story forward four years, and to visit the significant portions of the past four years through a new series of flashbacks. And whereas they can often become a tiresome device, through a bit of fantasy trickery, Lawrence manages to keep them interesting.

Honorous Jorg Ancrath was undoubtedly what made the success of Prince of Thorns. Just as crucial was the fact that he was the first-person narrator of the story. Without such an insight into the terrible workings of his fiendishly pragmatic mind, or the dry wit of his speech, that novel would not have been the same. But what happens when the storyteller isn’t even sure of his own mind – of who he is? This is the twist Lawrence inserts into King of Thorns as Jorg squabbles with his past just as he faces his greatest material threat yet.

Using the flashbacks to uncover the missing pieces of Jorg’s mind, while adding even more depth and complexity to his character, Lawrence builds he novel in layers which he gradually, and masterfully, pulls back. The plotting in King of Thorns is of a superior quality, even more so than in the first volume of the series. The sequence of clever plot-twists are done just right, and enhance the reading experience, keeping us on edge and attentive at every turn.

There’s also plenty to admire in his worldbuilding. Where in Prince of Thorns there were hints – pretty strong ones, in retrospect – as to the precise nature of the world of the Broken Empire. In this book, Lawrence seems more open about revealing details that leave no doubt about where/when the world precisely is. This blend of past/future, science fiction/fantasy, and familiar/unfamiliar is particularly compelling. For the most part these are quirky details with no greater purpose than to liven-up the backdrop of the story. But every once in a while Lawrence uses our perceptions and the particularity of his world to introduce some truly surprising twists.

There were a number of complaints with regards to Prince of Thorns about its uncommon savagery, which some considered unjustified. It’s fair to say, Mark Lawrence’s books aren’t for the faint of heart. But it’s their viciousness which help them stand out from the crowd, and keep us coming back for more. Let’s face it, there are few other places one can go to enjoy such viscerally captivating fantasy fiction of such high a caliber. And I for one would argue that Lawrence’s skillful characterization and insight into storytelling more than justify any brutality depicted.

With King of Thorns, Mark Lawrence proves he knows how to capitalize on a success, bringing us one of the best sequels of the year. Comprised of the same winning elements as its predecessor, this second volume is a fine continuation to Lawrence’s Broken Empire. Fans who enjoyed Prince of Thorns will adore this one. There’s intrigue, scheming, and blood aplenty – even for the most die-hard of genre fans. King of Thorns is out now in the UK from Harper Voyager, and in the US from ACE.

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