Review: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

If I was expecting Prince Jorg to be any less violent, brutal, and obsessively dedicated to his goals after the finale of the last book then, if nothing else, this sequel exists to remind me of what an utter fool I am.

Minor Spoilers for Prince of Thorns below

Prince Honorious Jorg Ancrath vowed to avenge his slaughtered mother and brother—and punish his father for his failure to do so – when he was only a child. Now he is a king, having claimed a crown, a throne, and his first taste of vengeance before his eighteenth birthday. But a massive enemy force marches towards his castle gates, intent on taking from him everything he has conquered, and everything he still desires. Jorg knows he cannot win this fight, at least not on fair terms. But the past has secrets, terrible secrets, and within the ancient corridors of his palace Jorg may yet find what he needs to turn the tide in his favour.

© Harper Voyager: August 7, 2012

If I can say nothing else about this series, it’s that it never fails to surprise me; both in good ways, and in very, very bad ways. 

I’ll start with the good, and that is still Jorg – technically speaking, at least. For all that this world is filled with the absolute scum of humanity, all of whom are evidently in competition for the title of “worst human being that has ever existed”, Jorg is at least interesting with his near mindless and absolute pursuit of his goals. The fact that he has actual (teeny tiny) moments of compassion is what makes him one of the only actual characters of the book among a sea of thugs and bullies.

In a series less prone to using murder as the swiss army knife of problem solving, Jorg might have even been legitimately likeable – or at least more sympathetic – in a way that’s just out of reach as he’s presented here. That he’s constantly the underdog in almost every battle he blindly charges into at least makes you want to root for him a little, even knowing by this point that he almost always comes out on top. I like that he does things that are bold, unexpected, and undoubtedly clever – but occasionally employing a non-violent approach to his problems would have been the most unexpected thing of all at this point. Who would see it coming?

“Is this going to be one of those times when you pretend not to have a plan until the last moment? And then turn out to really not have one?- Sir Makin to King Jorg”

― Mark Lawrence, King of Thorns

I also really enjoyed the contrast between Jorg and his antagonist this time around: the Prince of Arrow. Much like Jorg, he seeks to unite the Broken Empire under his rule, but unlike our protagonist, and pretty much anyone else in this book, the Prince feels like a real, actual hero. He has a sense of honour and kindness and a real desire to make the world a better place. So of course, the reader fully expects him to lose his head faster than you can say ‘Hello there, Ned Stark’. But the Prince is a legitimate threat throughout the story, and seems both fully competent and capable of carrying out his ambitions. I really don’t want to spoil how it all ends but, suffice to say, readers will either love or hate how it all wraps up in the end for this guy. 

Finally, I liked that the book explored more of the Broken Empire itself. There’s a lot of travelling around the continent in this story, but it never feels too dragged out, giving us a lot of very cool new locations and characters – including family members Jorg doesn’t want to kill, which is a welcome change of pace. I mentioned in my Prince of Thorns review that there was an interesting detail regarding the setting, and that continues here. It’s something I’ve seen as a background element before, but it’s interesting to see it being explored and given far more weight and significance – it’s legitimately cool. 

“When a game cannot be won, change the game. I read that in the book of Kirk.”

― Mark Lawrence, King of Thorns

But, and I cannot possibly emphasize this enough, this is not a book to read if you are sensitive to dark topics. At all. There were things in this book that legitimately repulsed me, moving past the excuse of gritty ‘realism’ into the borders of needless shock value. Potential readers should know what they are getting into: trigger warnings for scenes of torture, cannibalism, child death and implications of sexual assault against a minor. If Prince of Thorns wasn’t for you, I can’t recommend continuing the series, because that part doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon. 

Is there enough good in this story to balance it out? I’m still deciding that myself. Personally, I think I’m just invested enough to complete the series, and with Emperor of Thorns already out, it probably won’t be long until I go back in to finish this up. But I can certainly understand why this might not be for everyone.

Readers beware, there’s a lot of darkness here, but if you still want to see what’s next for Jorg and his band, I think there are enough bright spots and entertaining moments to make this a worthwhile installment.

Rating: 3/5
Final Thoughts: With double the adventure and quadruple the body count, at its best this book outshines its predecessor with its story and ultimate payoff, but overwhelms the reader with senseless brutality at its worst; not for the faint of heart, but at the very least, a good continuation of the series.

Thanks for reading everyone. On to the next chapter!

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