King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Just finished reading King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and before I place one more word to blog I will just say ‘wow’. Last year Mark Lawrence brought to us Jorg, the Prince of Thorns, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, in fact it was in my top 10 for the year (thank you again Little Red Reviewer). For me personally it brought a new sort of perspective to fantasy. The anti-hero who, in spite of himself, you couldn’t help eventually shouting in support of. I mean, it’s a pretty nasty world that Lawrence has created here but Jorg, who, in fairness, is plagued by his own demons, is not necessarily the worst of the bunch.
I picked this book up with a certain sort of trepidation. Part of me wanted to rush head long and part of me was afraid of the ‘second book syndrome’ that I’ve experienced in the past and which usually succeeds in my losing interest in the rest of the series. As usual impetuousness won the day and I rushed in ….. but fear not on this account. No longer a Prince, the King of Thorns rises above it’s first instalment to truly become the successor to the throne. I loved this book. Where the hell Mark Lawrence has been hiding for the past few years I have no idea but I hope he has no immediate plans to return. This book is just pure genius. I don’t know how he did it but he’s written this wonderful and complex plot where all the strands come together, like magic, and where very little is left unanswered.
Okay, enough gushing.
The plot starts with Jorg aged 18. We’ve moved on and he’s now King of the Highlands. However, his domain is threatened, a mammoth army sits on his doorstep, he’s outnumbered 20:1 and the battle of wits is about to commence.
The story is told in two time frames so that even though we’ve jumped forward in years we still get to see how Jorg has reached his current whereabouts. This is such a brilliant device and works really well here. We move to one time frame and get to take part in the current battle whilst moving back in time to read about seemingly random and meaningless events – albeit interesting. This also helps to keep the momentum going rather than reading the plot in a straight line and watching the story unfold we seem to jump from one action scene to the next barely catching breath inbetween. This story is woven like the most complex tapestry and really is a thing of beauty, I was practically clapping my hands in appreciation at certain points. I started the read and almost had a headache in the first few chapters (okay, maybe I’m not as smart as some and sometimes had to stop and think ‘what?’) but then without any discernible effort on the part of the author I was totally immersed. He had me. I was on a tractor beam and couldn’t get off. I just sat and read and it wasn’t until I realised that I was completely alone and the house was deathly quiet that I noticed that it was about 2.00 am in the morning and everybody else, without my even noticing or acknowledging it, had gone to bed. Talk about casting a spell!
In the Prince of Thorns we were introduced to this strange new, I don’t know, post apocalyptic world that has almost returned to mediaeval times, war rages and Kings plot against each other and yet we have strange remnants from the past that lend the read a certain sort of grim fascination. But, in this new world things have moved forward apace and we also have a strange thinning of the veil that separates the real from the unreal. Ghosts, strange misshapen monsters and cruel mistresses of death. The King of Thorns builds upon that world further bringing all sorts of creepiness in its wake. The imagination is just amazing and the situations that Jorg finds himself in seem almost desperate or without hope and yet ML manages to find sneaky ways to manoeuvre around impossible odds in a plausible way. (Okay, methinks maybe I have returned to the realm of gushing).
Jorg is a different character in this book. He appears to have developed an odd new sense of humanity. I mean, I don’t think he’s going to ever be accused of being ‘soft and fluffy’ but he suddenly seems to have acquired a conscience – probably helped by the fact that he seems to have his own personal ghosts lurking in shadows to remind him of his past (although, and I won’t go into it further – memory can be a funny thing, particularly in this world). He’s still pretty unsavoury but he and his crew – who are developed much further in this novel as the pages speed by – seem to be on a different type of mission. The first instalment saw Jorg consumed by revenge. This sees him stubborn and unwilling to bend the knee. He’s ambitious and he has a plan. I quite liked this ‘new’ Jorg – he’s still quite capable of lopping off the odd head here and there if he’s displeased but it feels a little bit more judicious – in that you generally don’t feel any immediate sympathy for the person who has just found themselves bleeding on the floor without aforementioned noggin! Jorg’s wit, however, remains the same, he’s clever, dry and just frankly made me laugh. In this novel his band of motley men are also developed – which isn’t to stay they all remain intact, as in No.1, ML takes no prisoners, but we get to know them a little better. Makin has become something of a favourite as has Gog.
In the first book, we ended on a strange sort of note – did we really know Jorg. Had we met the true man. At the conclusion of No. 2 I experienced a similar feeling. I don’t think we have met the real Jorg yet (you’ll know why once you’ve read the book). I’m waiting for the third book to see who he really is. Oddly enough, although a different character in both I’ve enjoyed reading about Jorg very much. This is dark and gritty. It’s pretty uncompromising and there are a few scenes that frankly made me squirm – the dog! That’s all I’m going to say! I had to cover my eyes for that scene until I realised that I couldn’t read any longer – then I just covered my ears and held my breath (until I fainted). Not really, but you get the impression. Dark. Gritty. However, if you like fantasy I just simply cannot see how you could fail to like this. It’s different but it has something about it that’s familiar. If you took a look at all the other fantasy books you’ve read, took all the ideas and melted them into plasticine, then remoulded it into a different shape, you might capture a little bit of the essence of this book. But only a little bit. It’s fantasy Jim, but not as we know it!
For the avoidance of doubt and in case of a lack of clarity above I very much liked Prince of Thorns, I loved King of Thorns and I now wait with baited breath to see what ML will do next! Frankly, it can’t come quickly enough. It’s going to be a l o n g wait!