“King of Thorns” Review

I find King of Thorns to be an improvement over the previous Broken Empire novel in just about every way. The prose is smoother, more precise, more impactful. The characters, all of them, are deeper, more dynamic. The plot is one to teach classes by. The structure, more complex and rewarding. And the climax, while abrupt, feels much more in tune with the rest of the novel, and completely in character for Jorg.

So, let’s talk about Jorg. In the previous, he was a bandit prince, a true sociopath who believed that, to quote another great sociopath character, “The only reasonable way to live in this world is without rules.” He believed that no one can be a good person and succeed in the quest to end the Hundred War. In this novel, he’s grown, smarter, wiser, and more empathetic (though that’s not saying much). It seems that his thought is no longer that no one can be good and succeed–both the antagonist of the novel, and Makin, one of his closest friends, seems to have disproved that. Instead, he seems to be questioning whether he can be good, whether he has any good in his nature, and if he can afford to be better than he was.

The world continues to be fantastic, built by a master in the art, filled with relics from a mythic past. We see many more artifacts and mechanisms from the days before the Thousand Suns, which made me grin. We also see a wider swathe of the world, all of it interesting. Pieces in a puzzle that is the Hundred War. We see facets of the world that were hardly hinted at in the first book, facets beautiful or horrifying or both.

There are four different plots, ranging from Jorg at present to Jorg right after the end of the previous novel, and even some pieces from a different point of view character altogether. These four stories develop independently of each other for the most part, and run parallel to each other within the novel. At first this structure felt strange, but soon each section puts its own separate hooks into you and you find yourself happy with whatever story is being continued in the next chapter. Each story has its secrets, its mysteries, and when the pieces finally fall into place, it’s incredibly rewarding.

There is some meandering in this book, where some events seem to simply happen more so than they seem to occur within the plot. But these diversions are always interesting and never drag on too long. In addition, most of them do contribute to the larger plot of the series. I’m eager to see just where the next book will go.

The treatment of women in this novel is markedly improved. Whether that’s because the author was responding to complaints about the first book, or whether it’s a result of Jorg’s growth (since we still see most of the story from his eyes), isn’t clear. What is clear is that there are almost as many named, recurring women in this novel as there are men, that the women fill every role from romantic interest to enemy to adviser, that many of them clearly have a life outside of the pages that Jorg writes, that they don’t simply exist for the sake of the men. They have the chance to be strong and clever in their own right, have the chance to learn and grow and be. I’m not sure why this book’s treatment of women was markedly different than the last, but I am happy to see it.

King of Thorns still has Grimdark elements that I didn’t enjoy, but here they didn’t feel senseless, didn’t stink of sadistic excess in the way that the early pages of Prince of Thorns did. While I didn’t enjoy them, they felt like they fit, like they were needed there, and because of that, I found them easy to look past in order to enjoy the whole.

King of Thorns is a great book, one that, had it come first, would have shattered my expectations of what the Grimdark genre can provide. As it stands, this second novel makes the first book worth wading through for even people who don’t like Grimdark.

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SPOILERS

What’s in the booooox?! I knew the moment that this mystery had put its thorns into me. In that moment, I felt Lawrence manipulating me by presenting such a delectable mystery, and I knew that it was working completely. This novel could have been a fourth as good as it was, and I still would have finished it just to learn the secrets of the box.

The magic is way played down for 90% of the book. Which, I can understand why, but you’d think that Jorg would spend more time thinking about it.

Whatshisface at the circus was not my favorite character. If he pops up again, hopefully he’ll be more interesting, less one-note. If he says “watch me” one more time, I might be sick. I seriously started to get nauseous from reading that line so many times.

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