KING OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence

King of Thorns

By Mark Lawrence
Pages: 464 pages
Publisher: Ace Hardcover
Release Date: 08/02/12
ISBN: 1937007472


Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence’s 2011 debut novel, was not well received in all corners, occasionally offending reader sensibilities. Jorg, the protagonist and narrator throughout the series, is a self interested often bloodthirsty teenager who’s ruled equally by his emotions and lack thereof. Those hoping for a redemptive tale, or an ultimately apologetic tone from the author, found themselves woefully bereft. Deeply disturbing, and written with a haunting elegance, I called it the best fantasy debut of 2011.

Jorg, no longer a wandering prince in search of revenge, has taken a throne. Not his father’s or the Empire’s, but it’s a start. The path he carved has made him visible to those who share his lust for power, and now a six nation army marches toward his gates, led by a man far more suited to rule than he. An honorable man would lay down his sword and join the fledgling Empire in peace, leaving his kingdom whole and his people alive. That doesn’t sound like Jorg, does it?

King of Thorns by Mark LawrenceWhile Prince of Thorns was structured with frequent flashbacks, jumping between the past and present, there was a pace and direction to the novel that was clear, concise, and full of intent. The recollections merely filled in the back story, without directly participating in the primary narrative. King of Thorns is murkier. Instead of showing Jorg’s past and how it influenced his future as he did in Prince of Thorns, Lawrence opts to merge two time periods into a single narrative with the present influencing the past and vice versa.

narrative dishonesty

It’s all too easy in a first person narrative to fall into the trap of hiding information from the reader. If the narrator reveals all he knows, the narrative tension is robbed. It’s accomplished through phrases like, I whispered my plan into his ear, without actually giving the plan to the reader. This lack of openness gives the narrative voice a dishonesty. If I’m riding in his head, why don’t I know what he knows? Trying to accomplish a dual narrative that connects, Lawrence was very much in danger of having to dupe his reader dishonestly. Instead, he solves the riddle through a plot device that hides information from his narrator and reader simultaneously. To reveal more would spoil some elements, but it creates a mutual revelation that’s incredibly rewarding.

In that regard King of Thorns is a much more complex novel than its predecessor. It makes for a rocky beginning as Lawrence jumps between now, then, and occasional diary entries from Katherine, Jorg’s object of infatuation from Prince of Thorns. As the narrative progressives Lawrence establishes a rhythm, as well as a baseline of knowledge that peels away the opaqueness of preceding events. By the end, I found myself blown away by the deftness of Lawrence’s pacing and structure, ranking it on par with Empire Strikes Back for greatness in second installments of trilogies I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming.

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

And consumption is the right word. In genre reading I tend to look first to story or character, pushing aside the need for beautiful prose and clever structures. I want to be transported to another world, to experience the impossible. King of Thorns does this, but it also does so much more,

It wasn’t for Maical that I killed those men, or for the joy of slaughter, or the proud legend of King Jorg. Like Gog I have my own fires banked and burning, and on some days the right spark can set them blazing beyond my control. Perhaps that was the true reason I had come traipsing over half a dozen realms to find this fire-mage for my pet monster. Perhaps I wanted to know that such fires could be contained. That they didn’t have to kill us both.

Beyond these casually brilliant moments of writing, Lawrence structures every chapter, every paragraph, and every sentence with purpose, concluding with a turn of phrase that always cuts to the quick. It makes reading it as much relevatory as it is transportative.

[Jorg] has a story to tell and I really need to hear it.

There will be detractors. King of Thorns suffers from the same social miasma that offended the progressively sentimental with Prince of Thorns. There is no redemption to be found in Jorg, and even less compassion for the pain visited on Katherine. I could argue that a new character, Miana, is a robust female character, more than an object to be moved around in a world of men. But, that’s not really the point. Mark Lawrence has written a grim tale in a grim future. Jorg Ancrath’s nature is to dominate, to win. He’s an insatiable tyrant. A cruel and capricious villain. I don’t care. He has a story to tell and I really need to hear it.

Written by Justin Landon

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the overlord of Staffer's Book Review, and co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2012, a 2014 Hugo Award nominee for "Best Related Work".     @jdiddyesquire

  • Paul (@princejvstin) September 6, 2012 at 4:18 am

    There are definite, and high profile, detractors of Mark’s work.

    I am reminded of Laura Anne Gilman’s quote–if you don’t have people hating your work as well as loving it, you aren’t reaching a large enough audience.

  • Hilary Treat September 6, 2012 at 5:33 am

    GREAT review! I completely agree with all of it :)

  • Greg May 23, 2013 at 4:18 am

    Great review. I ran across your website today and couldn’t resist seeing your take on one of my favorite trilogies. I was worried you might be another Jorg hater, but instead you final statement puts into words exactly what I’ve been trying to say about these books all along.

  • Nuno August 4, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Great review. There is no doubting that Jorg’s personality, is definitely extreme, in truth it would be more accurate to describe it as psychotic, but even so, one cannot really help, but admire his, ooh so deadly determination, his complete disregard for fear and honour, his absolute certainty that it is his pride that makes him who he is, he’s a fascinating character, in a fascinating story, absolute great read, and a must for fantasy fans.