Friday, February 13, 2015

Mark Lawrence's KING OF THORNS

When I wrote earlier this month about the first volume in Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire series, Prince of Thorns, I made some comparison to Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, but said that Lawrence's grimly unlikeable antihero was a much more reliable narrator than Severian.

As I've finished the second novel in the series, King of Thorns, I find I need to retract that statement somewhat. Jorg isn't always telling the truth as he leads us through the layers of his story, but I'm not sure his intent is to deceive anyone so much as to discover himself what is true, of what he is actually guilty, whose motivations he has actually acted upon, what manner of character he really possesses. It's really, really complicated. Deliciously so.

As the novel opens, Jorg has been king of the little nation he wrested from his uncle (the guy who had Jorg's mother and little brother killed. Or probably the guy) for several years and is getting married to a slip of a girl who seems like a bit of a simp but turns out to be anything but. Meanwhile, his little kingdom is under an enormous assault, being attacked and invaded by something along the order of 20,000 men under the command of a destiny-driven knight in shining armor, the Prince of Arrow, who is an almost perfect foil to Jorg in that everybody loves him and for good reason -- he is everything a royal should be, accomplished, daring, fair, kind, good, noble, handsome, trustworthy. And prophesied to unite again the Broken Empire of 100 Kingdoms that once dominated Europe in the years between the nuclear apocalypse that turned our world into Jorg's and Jorg's own time.

Oh, and Jorg is going to have to fight off -- or bend the knee to -- the Prince of Arrow on his very wedding day. And if he fights, he only has 300 men or so. Yes, he addresses the whole Thermopylae thing. A very well-read young man is our narrator Jorg.

But don't worry! He has a plan! Only, sort of Doctor Who style, he doesn't know it! Because like in the last novel, Jorg is still beset by subtle, sneaky, nasty wizards who can manipulate men's minds as well as reading them. But he found a way to beat that nasty subtle wizardry, oh yes! He found a wizard of his own who could cherry pick and remove Jorg's memories and seal them in a little metal box that is impervious to the workings of Jorg's magical foes! Jorg can judiciously access these a little at a time, but only a little. This results in a lot of Bill and Ted type shenanigans in which Jorg and his men are constantly stumbling across amazingly helpful things by surprise as Jorg's deliciously complex and devious defense scheme plays out. Joy!

So see, much of the time we've been reading Jorg, we've only been reading bits of Jorg, because he's hidden so much even from himself, and thus from us. He's working from a heavily redacted script, and drawing many false conclusions about his role thereby. It's absolutely fascinating.

So after two novels, I'm no longer sure exactly how detestable Jorg really is. Oh, he's still plenty brutal and spends lives like Napoleon and is still hell-bent on revenge and is an amazing killing machine, but it seems that some of his most heinous deeds might not really be layable at his door. Then again, they yet may.

This all unfolds again in multiple time frames and multiple layers. In addition to the wedding day battle plot, we again follow a parallel narrative from four years before, when King Jorg hit the road with what's left of his brothers and toured his world, gathering allies here, re-encountering old foes there, losing brothers, gaining powers, and exploring in greater detail the origins of this strange semi-fantastic semi-science-fictional world of his. The careful reader will pick up lots of hints as to Jorg's deliberately-forgotten battle plans as well as develop a more complex picture of what Jorg's all about.

And then there's a scene between Jorg and his step-aunt, Katherine, with whom he has an obsession that is almost romantic but definitely sexual, most of which is part and parcel of the memories he had removed from his head and stored in his box to unfold piece by piece along with his strategy. Thus the relationship between Jorg and Katherine is also subject to reinterpretation. Deliciously so.

And then there is a narrative from Katherine's point of view, told in snippets from her diaries. For much of the book, these feel kind of unnecessary and unsuccessful, but they lend tremendous weight to the novel's final revelations as the stage is set for Jorg's run for the imperial thorne, to be detailed in the last book of the trilogy, Emperor of Thorns, which of course I'll be reading very, very soon. Deliciously so, I am sure.


  1. Great review. I am around page 300 of it, it is fantastic so far. I especially loved Jorg's box of memories solution for hiding his plans from the mind control wizards. I liked the narratives form Katherine's POV also.


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