King of Thorns is the second instalment of Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy. Once again, it centres on the troubled protagonist Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath. The book alternates between two different timelines. One lies after King Jorg’s taking of the Renar throne and the problems he faces. The other is four years after with Prince of Arrow’s twenty thousand-man army knocking at the gates of Jorg’s castle.
In the immediate aftermath of the first book, Jorg finds himself a King in charge of the Renar highlands, yet, despite the achievement, something in this fourteen year old boy still yearns for adventure and destruction. After a short time recuperating from their unlikely siege of his uncle’s castle, Jorg and his brothers set out on another quest. Contrary to the last book, the band have a definite location they are travelling towards; Gog and his supernatural power to manipulate fire is getting out of hand. The band travel towards a fire mage named Ferrakind who Jorg believes could help his ‘monster’. Ferrakind is eventually sought out after a treacherous journey and a fiery conclusion is come to. The gang then travel on through haunted bogs and Jorg eventually ditches his brothers to travel alone in order to visit his mother’s family.
Fast forward four years and it is an eighteen-year-old Jorg’s wedding day. Prince of Arrow is the man many have predicted to be the one to unite the Kingdoms and stop the war that rages across the lands. However, true to himself, Jorg has a problem with being told what to do and denies the diplomatic option Arrow wants. Lawrence describes some incredible battle scenes and delightfully fashions a mastermind plan that sees Jorg win numerous small victories with his relatively tiny army.
Whilst the novel dips in and out of these two story lines, Lawrence continually alludes to a little box that holds Jorg’s ‘madness’. After a horrific experience on Jorg’s quest with Gog, the young King turned insane. The brothers took him to an old mage who found a way to trap Jorg’s secrets into a box. This contains his madness and eventually Jorg manipulates this box to hide his own secrets. On top of this, Jorg is learning more and more about the builder’s world and the great technology they developed before his time.
I felt sad when I finish my morning commute. This is solely down to the fact I had to stop reading Lawrence’s novel. In particular, I love the slight references to how this fantasy world came to be (spoiler alert!). Humankind found a way to manipulate reality, allowing a select few to play with the elements and afterlife. Our technology is not quite there yet, but it isn’t so unbelievable. Moreover, the brief summary I gave above doesn’t even cover half of the depth and complexity of King of Thorns. Yet, despite the intricate storyline, Lawrence makes it easy to understand and allows you to believe in the possibility of this world.
I expressed my worries about the Jorg’s harsh personality in my review of Lawrence’s first book here, yet I have found his first person narration a joy to read. He is still a horrible, murderous young man, yet far beneath his thick, scarred skin lies a suffering that he will forever struggle to recover from. I had shivers down my back as I read a short section that made up less than a page; Jorg’s grandmother recites songs of his mother and allows him a glimpse into the peaceful childhood he enjoyed until the thorns barbed his skin.
This trilogy has reminded me just how much I enjoy the fantasy genre. Moreover, it reaffirms my position that even the most horrible people have soft spots and room for harrowing contemplation. If you struggle with the dual timelines of this book, stick it through and know that each jump through time is brilliantly linked to the last.