In chess, there are pawns, knights, queens, bishops, and more. But, there are no Princes, so in this Game I have become a king. Chess is black and white, which suits me rather well. A black king. But where’s the read? There should be red, a lot of it. A lot of red, a lot of blood. Because, I’ve played all my pawns for check mate.
I’ve got one castle, one knight, a queen and a king on my side of the board. But, there’s six boards against my one side. Surely that’s against the rules? Why am I complaining, I’ve never been one for rules, or played nicely with others.
Maybe being the king isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
...But being a player is.
‘King of Thorns’ is the second novel in Mark Lawrence’s ‘Broken Empire’ trilogy, following on from his fantastically dark and macabre debut ‘Prince of Thorns’.
In ‘King of Thorns’ we return to Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath’s sociopathic outlook, now seated upon a throne and declared a King. King Jorg, has a problem. A very big problem. Namely the knocking on his door...and boy are twenty thousand soldiers loud! The Prince of Arrow has rallied a six nation army to his cause, and seeks to unite or usurp those that stand against him. Jorg has never taken well to being told what to do, so even outnumbered as he is, and surrounded, he’s still going to play his hand.
‘King of Thorns’ is a complex addition to an already fleshed story, adding further depth to the fully blooded (literally!) characters and plot. Devices are sewn into the weave early on and are used throughout, making for some interesting developments and twists.
Now, I mentioned ‘complex’. I won’t hold back, just like the savage bluntness of the book, but the story can be a multi-faced harbinger at times. At points the reader is engaged by current events, the first person PoV diary of another character, and the going’s on of four years previous. However, I think these have been worked wonderfully into the flow, allowing Lawrence to focus on face rather than choking purple world building from the pages. The pieces are already set on the board, so the games can begin!
The Prince – well, now the King – Honorous Jorg Ancrath, is back and he’s on top form. Four years older, four years bloodier, Jorg has more than filled his boots. His scheming ways are still there, though arguably at a grander scale, but this older Jorg has something of an emotion conscience. Previously, Jorg was something of a logical killer, though his decisions were less a surgeon’s calculated scalpel and more the fall of an executioner’s maul (axes are too clean for the blood splatter than Jorg leaves in his wake). Now, Jorg has a devil on each shoulder, guiding an emotional bloodbath, and when it’s personal, it’s only going to end in tears.
‘King of Thorns’ is a real wing stretcher for Lawrence. Not only goes he flex his fingers by dabbling more so with the various weaves (switching from another character’s diary, a ‘past’ recollection, and the current crisis), he builds on his world to escalate the scale of his story...well, it’s not longer a story to me. It’s a saga. An ambitious saga, but it’s written in blood, and you can’t help but get swept up in the madness. In terms of style, Lawrence also let’s rip with some stitching one liners. His tongue in cheek quips had me in fits at points, and if you read this novel, I guarantee you’ll spot my single favourite sentence a mile off!
And with the third and final installment on the way, with the promise of more bloodshed, and further twists and ties of the noose, things are certainly looking bright on that red horizon.
Mark Lawrence, if I was hooked last time, this time I’m at knife-point.