Date started: September 1st
Date finished: September 11th
There comes a time in every trilogy where you need the ‘stuff gets worse’ instalment. The first story tends to be introduction, the third is resolution, leading to a phenomenon known as the ‘dark middle chapter’. The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, The Road Warrior, Mass Effect 2… And now King of Thorns, which somehow manages to be darker than Prince of Thorns, despite giving Jorg more of a moral centre. Huh.
King of Thorns is paced differently to Prince of Thorns. Whereas Prince focused on Jorg’s present day revenge quest, with flashbacks to fill in his backstory, King’s present day storyline is focused on a single day. Jorg’s wedding day. However, getting married isn’t exactly his biggest concern, since the Prince of Arrow wants to win the war and be emperor, and currently sits on Jorg’s doorstep with an army of 20,000. And, of course, interspersed with the present day chapters are flashbacks showing us the various decisions leading to the present day events, especially concerning a box containing some of Jorg’s missing memories, that he has sworn to not open.
The framing device worked especially well for me this time around. While most of the story happened in flashback, I loved how it would take the time to introduce some big world changing revelation, just for it to come back to the present day battle and show how that event influences Jorg now. Normally I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks, since I find they tend to waste time and detract from the main narrative thrust, but Mark Lawrence knows how to use them to his advantage.
It’s not the only thing that’s improved since Prince of Thorns either. While the previous book was very much focused on Jorg, sometimes at the expense of the characters around him, King of Thorns manages to flesh them out in various ways. Makin is still the likeable right hand man, but little facts he keeps bringing up about himself help to lend him some extra dimension. Gog and Gorgoth get a good showing this time around too, with an entire subplot devoted to finding a fire mage to help Gog get his powers under control. And, of course, Sageous the Dream Witch and Chella the Necromancer both return as foils, in sequences that were delightful to read, and helped keep the action balanced between present day and flashback.
Of the new characters, my favourite is Jorg’s young (very young) wife Miana. She’s mostly confined to the present day chapters, and even then, not until the last act, but she proves herself to be more fiery than she first appears. I really hope there’s more of her to come in Emperor of Thorns, because she made a huge impression on me with her brief role here, and I’d like to see that played out more.
As for Jorg, he has indeed softened a bit in the four years since the end of Prince of Thorns. That’s not to say he’s not a bastard any more, he’s still the Jorg we know and love. But he does take the time to consider his actions a little more than he used to, and humanising him a little provides nice opportunity for him to grow. I did enjoy reading him a lot in book one, but I was nervous that keeping him so amoral would lead to him becoming more and more one dimensional. While people may disagree with me, I think Mark Lawrence made the right decision by moving him into a more morally grey area.
Truthfully, King of Thorns is a better book than Prince of Thorns in nearly every way. The narrative is more focused, the action better choreographed, there are further revelations about the world. That said, it is still absolutely the middle chapter of a trilogy. Several plot points are here to set up for bigger things to come in Emperor of Thorns. Which is, of course, to be expected, but when a series starts and continues at such a high quality, I just hope Mark Lawrence sticks the landing in book three.
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