King of Thorns is the second instalment in the Broken Empire Trilogy. It continues on from where Prince of Thorns left off. The plot alternates between roughly four years after the first book to four years prior shortly afterwards. Both plots revolve around the Prince of Arrow, a hero who seeks to reunite the broken empire, with the present day plot revolving around the battle against the Prince of Arrow while the past segments focus on the build up. In between all this are diary segments from Katherine, the target of Jorg’s one sided affections, showing her side of things.
One thing I liked about the story was how it began in media res, meaning it it began in the middle of the action. In this case it begins in the present with the battle against the Prince of Arrow already on their doorsteps on Jorg’s wedding day, where he is married to Princess Miana. All the present segments take place on Jorg’s wedding day, giving the events a sense of immediacy while the past segments and Katherine’s diaries gradually reveal the events leading up to that day. Upon seeing the past segments I was worried that they would serve no purpose beyond simply carrying over the format from the previous book, however Mark Lawrence has found a way to keep them as a central part to the book. If anything they serve more a purpose now than they did before.
My only problem is the time span of the flashbacks. Did it really have to be four years? Why was it so essential that they return to the period just after Jorg’s victory in Prince of Thorns? To me it feels as though the Prince of Arrow arc just as easily be set up by going back just one year. Since I didn’t like the previous book last book I would have liked it better if the story was more self contained. To be honest it also seems a bit implausible that it would take four years for all the events to play out, so it would be better for story logic if they didn’t go so far back in the flashbacks and kept the story confined closer to the present.
The characters are more well rounded than they were in the previous novel. Jorg in particular is more mature and less monstrous. He is still not a nice person, but his character has developed from the bratty little kid and for the better. When I first saw his bride, Princess Miana , I was just as shocked as Jorg to learn that she was actually twelve. To be honest I was expecting the book to handle this in a clumsy immature fashion, but I was proven wrong. Not only does the book handle the issue with the sensitivity it deserves while not breaking the immersion of the world it is in, but Miana also goes on to become one of the strongest characters in the book, at least in my opinion. Orrin, the Prince of Arrow, is probably the most interesting character because unlike most people in the land he is a genuine hero with the best intentions in mind. He is so likeable that in any other novel he would probably be the hero. His brother Egan is also interesting, in that he is clearly not as sympathetic as his brother.
The big twist of the novel is one I liked a lot. It goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead. When the Prince of Arrow and Jorg finally meet in the present day plotline it is revealed that Egan has in fact killed his brother and usurped his position. This was a clever twist and a way of ensuring that Jorg had some degree of moral upper ground in the final battle. If Jorg had fought Orrin, Jorg would have been the villain, which would have contrasted with his character development. The only thing I find strange about the finale is how Jorg convinces Egan to adopt him into his family, allowing him to take the throne upon Egan’s death. To me it felt like a bit of an ass pull, so that Jorg can become more powerful in preparation for the next book. However at the same time, it will likely pay off since it will have changed the status quo enough to make the next book interesting.
King of Thorns is a stronger book that its predecessor. It still has its imperfections and a few moments where I was not fully immersed. Having read the entire trilogy I can safely say that this is probably the strongest instalment. The twists and the way it uses the time skips is far more complex than in Prince of Thorns, to the point where it reignited my interest in the series and actually left me looking forward to the sequel. While the previous novel was weak and ill formed, this one is on the best works of Dark Fantasy I’ve read in a while.
IN A WORD: IMPROVED