Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: King of Thorns

It isn’t often that you come across a book that changes the way you see an entire genre, a book that becomes the measuring stick for others that come after it. Mark Lawrence has managed to write two such works. Even more amazingly, they are his first published novels.

In the fantasy genre, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is the current heavyweight champ. I enjoy ASoIaF and it truly is an epic achievement. I'm also enjoying the HBO's adaptation.

That being said, Lawrence’s style is very different from Martin's, but I found it just as enjoyable. Compared to the glacial pace of Martin’s books, Lawrence’s sail along at a nice clip. Lawrence’s writing is also much more focused and visceral than Martin’s.

King of Thorns is the second book in The Broken Empire series. Both KoT and its predecessor, Prince of Thorns follow the protagonist (if you could call him that, but more on this later), Honorous Jorg Ancrath.

Jorg is the son of one of the many kings to arise on the former European continent centuries after some long ago apocalypse. His goal is to reunite (and rule, of course) the Empire. That’s all I’ll say about the plot. I hate spoilers.

Lawrence’s prose is clean, flowing, witty, and deep. His storytelling is fast-paced, gritty, and contemplative. He not only tells one heck of a story, but also explores the ‘why’ of it. Why is Jorg such an evil, self-centered little snot? Why do his followers remain loyal to him? And why can’t I keep myself from liking him?

This is the brilliance of Lawrence’s writing. He gives us a protagonist that, in any other book, would be reviled. He mixes three parts narcissism, two parts genius, one part charisma, and a pinch of humanity and comes out with a character that we know we should hate, but end up cheering for. This is no small accomplishment. Not since Mike Myers’ Doctor Evil has a villain been so appealing…and he was a boy scout compared to Jorg.

But Lawrence doesn’t stop there. His examinations of the inner workings and motives of his characters reveal insights into human nature that could teach a psychology major a thing or two.

Again, I now find myself comparing much of what I read to Lawrence’s work. Sadly, most books are found wanting in its shadow. It’s hard to go back to ground round once you’ve had filet mignon. I guess this is the only criticism I have for this series so far. It spoils you.

If King of Thorns does ruin other books for you, take heart. Emperor of Thorns is scheduled for release this August. The anticipation will make it taste all the sweeter.

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