King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Published: 2016
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by Joshua Palmatier

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This is the second book in Mark Lawrence’s “The Broken Empire” series. I generally like post-apocalyptic novels, but this series is much darker than most, on the verge of being not to my taste at all.

Premise: Jorg Ancrath has seized control of a castle in highlands, an act of rage and revenge against his father, who did nothing to avenge the deaths of Jorg’s mother and brother. But being a king isn’t as easy as it looks. Especially when an army marches toward his castle, intent on destroying him and his lands as a stepping stone to seizing control of the entire empire. But Jorg has never been one to simply sit back and let others walk over him, and he intends the empire for himself. He’s always got a few tricks up his sleeve. All he has to do is stop an army over ten times the size of all of the people he now rules.

I’m torn by this series. I love the post-apocalyptic setting and the touches throughout the book of what came before and how the world has moved on from the nuclear disaster that destroyed it. It’s a dark world, brutal and dangerous and deadly. I like that aspect of the setting, and the mixture of standard fantasy elements with the science and tech that had been developed before the disaster.

But Jorg himself and the atrocities that he instigates or perpetuates make it extremely hard to like the novel as a whole. I write dark fantasy, but this is grimdark and it’s ten times darker than anything I’ve written. The emphasis is on the grim, with little in the way of sparks of hope or light at all. The structure of the novel could also be an issue, since it bounces back and forth between two time periods.

I had no problem following this, but some may. I did love the plot device of the box that holds Jorg’s memories in order to keep his plans from the sorcerer invading his mind, with the drawback that he doesn’t have access to those memories either, and how the box was used to keep him sane enough and focused enough to do what needed to be done. So again, I’m torn. There are some excellent aspects to this book, and then there are some drawbacks.

I believe I’ll read the third book in the series, to see what happens, but the series is so dark that I need to prepare myself for it first. I love the post-apocalyptic setting and some of the plot structures and plot devices. But Jorg is a hard character to follow, and the darkness is so grim it’s hard to read. It’s balancing on the edge of being gratuitous for me, and I don’t read for the violence. I read for the hope. If you love grimdark, then check this series out.

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