Between Crown and Thorns: King of Thorns Review
Memory is all we are. Moments and feelings, captured in amber, strung on filaments of reason. Take a man’s memories and you take all of him. Chip away a memory at a time and you destroy him as surely as if you hammered nail after nail through his skull.
I intentionally didn’t review Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Actually, I wanted to want to review it, but it was just, you know, meh. It took me some time to reconsider reading book two of The Broken Empire.
And I’m glad I decided to read it.
King of Thorns looks and feels more mature. The plot, the writing and characters evolved significantly from the first book. It’s almost like as Jorg grows up, so does the writing. The book can be, and was, reviewed from different points of view. I’d like to offer mine — it’s focused on parts I enjoyed the most and found interesting to talk about.
Let’s dive into the definitely not spoiler-free review.
Jorg, The Prisoner
It’s hard to keep a quality storyline when you write in a first person narrative. Jorg is the main character and the book is written in first person. So, the first issue Lawrence faced is how to keep the story interesting while the main character talks about himself. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s hard to hide the thoughts when the main character knows everything. How did Lawrence manage it?
He made Jorg a prisoner of himself.
To keep the plot interesting, Lawrence stole Jorg’s memory so he can’t remember his past, thus making him incapable of telling his own story. And that pleases the plot structure — it keeps the reader attentive to the story. You’re always keen to find out what he did 4 years ago to end up with a huge army at his door; getting married to a girl he doesn’t want, and maintaining questionable relationships with other characters.
The structure consists of a dual storyline — one tells the story in present, and the other is set 4 years ago. The present asks the questions and the past gives answers. Both to Jorg and the reader.
He’s not sure how to act upon his own past. Everything he does in the present moment is determined by the past he’s set up for himself and isn’t capable of remembering. How is this executed? A copper box.
Your Past Will Crush You… Or Not
The box is open, its memories free, old wickedness and sins loosed once more. My dreams are my own now, dark and pure. If you would know them, Brother, stand in my way.
The main story is pretty much based on Jorg’s inability to remember his past. And it includes important moments from his past such as “How the hell will I win the war I’m currently fighting if I cannot remember my plans?”.
Jorg’s plans and memories are stored in a copper box. But there’s a good reason for that. He also stored his sins and wrongs in that box.
In short, Jorg is a vicious boy and his sins originate from the time when he was 14 years old. Pretty badass, right? I won’t be talking about the kinds of sins and leave it to you to decide how heavy they are. Give them a try, maybe you’ll need a copper box yourself.
And what happens before the box, stays in the box.
He mostly stored his war plans, but that’s not the part I was interested in while reading. There was something much more precious he hid at the very bottom of the box. The first thing is a dead person.
Crazy or Creepy Love?
‘You broke my vase,’ she says.
Her fingers return to the spot where I hit her, where the vase shattered and she fell.
‘To be fair, you were about to kill me,’ I say.
Katherine Ap Scorron is the pseudo-femme fatale of the novel, Jorg’s heartbreaker and a tortured soul. Unwillingly involved in the chaotic world a cancer named Jorg set up for her, she cures her cursed thoughts through a diary Jorg later found.
The structure is really good. The retrospective moments give you enough clues to guess what could happen next, but on the other side, they can lead you to wrong conclusions. And that’s where the beauty of the structure is. It’s always telling you an interesting story and making you wonder what will happen next.
How is this related to love? At the beginning of the novel, we see Jorg reading some notes in the middle of nowhere. Those notes belong to his never-forgotten love — Katherine. He supposedly raped her, but he’s not quite sure because both of their minds are poisoned by external influence. This love/hate relationship Jorg created through his destructive behaviour is a subplot worth analyzing.
Katherine is unique to Jorg. She’s one of two things you could say Jorg genuinely loved. The second one is his forgotten brother.
The True Guilt
And when pain bites, men bargain. We twist and turn, we plead and beg, we offer our tormentor what he wants so that the hurting will stop. And when there is no torturer to placate, we bargain with God, or ourselves, depending on the size of our egos.
To understand the complexity of the story, it’s important to know a few facts from the first book. When he was young, Jorg survived a trauma. He saw his mother and brother getting killed before his eyes while he was imprisoned in a thorn bush. He never stopped blaming himself for not being able to help them.
During King of Thorns, Jorg finds out about his infant stepbrother. Since he’s guided by magical influence, he finds himself sneaking into his father’s castle and standing in front of the child. He holds him, feeling close to him and remembering his long lost brother William. That’s the moment when he realizes that not everything is destructive and horrid. Love fulfills him and he decides to right his wrongs. He wants to end the carnage.
But his previous interference with necromancy overshadowed him and he killed his stepbrother unintentionally.
4 years later, when he opened his copper box, he realized what he’s done and he’s crushed by the burden of his actions. This is the moment where you understand that Jorg actually does have feelings and that there were only 3 things he truly cared about — saving his brother from a certain death, saving his stepbrother and loving Katherine.
The result? Both his brother and stepbrother are dead and Katherine hates him. And suddenly everything you thought of Jorg becomes irrelevant — he’s just a broken boy with a broken past.
Cruel World, Crueler Characters
Perhaps there’s something wrong with me. God, but the noise and feel of a blade shearing through flesh is as sweet as any flute speaking out its melody. Provided it’s not my flesh of course. It can’t be right. But there it is.
I’d like to avoid questions like “Is Jorg too young to be who he is?”. I find those irrelevant since it’s a fantasy story. If you can read about fighting with trolls and undead creatures, Jorg’s age is not the main issue. You’re being judgmental.
The focalisation is mainly set in Jorg’s eyes, so it’s normal to consider him a cruel character — all the infamous deeds are his, but, in my opinion, there are more characters crueler than him. Take his father for example.
This is an innovative torture scene. I mean, we’ve all seen humans getting tortured, but his father forces him to torture his dog. Jorg loved his dog, his brother loved it even more, and Lawrence takes this scene to torture your perception as a reader. Jorg is forced to break all its legs and, when he hesitates to break the last leg, his father burns the dog alive. Well, isn’t that as brutal as it gets? Probably not, but that’s pretty savage if you ask me.
And how cruel is Jorg? In all his corruption, he’s trying to do good. After all, he’s a king now. And a king needs to take care of his people. So let’s drug them to death to help them. Yeah, that happened.
His twisted sense of good and bad takes its toll in this novel. It’s almost as when he decides to do good, it’s either based on his selfishness or his crooked sense of reality. Everything he does as a king is calculated so he can benefit from it. All the alliances he makes, all the people he saved are going to help him become an emperor. Because, as he said in Prince of Thorns — he will be a king, and then he will be an emperor. And nothing will stop him, not even himself.
Recently, I wrote a Grimdark Checklist to help me analyze this kind of fiction. According to the list, here’s my evaluation:
- Realism — 4/7
- (Im)Morality — 6/7
- Fucked up characters — 7/7
- Naturalism — 4/7
- Violence — 5/7
- Setting — 4/7
I enjoyed reading King of Thorns and I’m glad I gave it a chance after Prince of Thorns. I recommend it to everyone in love with gritty fiction with a well-structured storyline.
Have you read King of Thorns? Tell me your thoughts below and recommend this review if you like it!