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Book Review

Book Cover

King of Thorns


Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Harper Voyager
RRP: £8.99, US $9.95
ISBN: 978 0 00 743902 7
Publication Date: 25 April 2013

They say never judge a book by its cover, but with fantasy books this is inevitable. The cover invokes an idea of what the book is like and what allegiances to other successful books it wants to create. King of Thorns , the second in a series of fantasy novels by Mark Lawrence, dropped on my desk and was greeted with a sigh. The cover alludes to Game of Thrones with a figure sitting in the pose of a latter-day Conan. Not an auspicious start.

So, King of Thorns is set in a decidedly medieval setting, full of dirt and swords. I’m not really sure why this genre has elected to limit itself to the same repetitious point in time, as if the sway of Tolkien set the genre in amber for ever more.

The book does come with a map, which is a plus, as I’m pretty sure that I’m just about to be bombarded with names and places which only the author can pronounce. One look at the map reveals it to be a slightly distorted version of Europe, although it is not immediately clear whether this is a problem with the cartography or if this is an accurate representation of the land masses, in which case, the book is not something set in the past but in the far future. There are more hints in the text when Jorg elects to wear a priceless artefact from the time of the builders, a wristwatch.

Diving into the story the reader is delighted to be confronted with a style of writing which is both clear and full of wit. The language is modern and most of the book is narrated in the first person from King Jorg’s perspective. There is also third person narration from Katherine’s journal entries. Structurally the story is set in two time periods, set four years apart.

In the present, Jorg’s castle is surrounded by a superior force from Arrow, whose leader is on the road to making himself Emperor and thereby ending the hundred year war, Jorg is also preparing to marry the young, but feisty, Princess Miana. To compound his woe, he is also obsessed with a copper box, which he feels compelled to open and haunted by the ghost of a young boy.

Four years previous his problems seemed less insurmountable, having gained the throne by particularly vicious means. His biggest problem is Gog, whose ability at creating fire is a little less tamed for the king's liking, especially as he repeatedly sets fire to the royal chambers. What follows is an enjoyably complex plot with Lawrence juxtaposing the two time periods, with additions from Katherine’s journal. At first these disparate elements seem unrelated; they are not, with the past, very much informing the present.

Jorg is an unusual character, for the hero, as his actions, intentions and the reader’s insights to his thought processes would normally make him the villain. In fact I would go as far to say that he presents with psychopathic tendencies. Lawrence allows the reader to spend a lot of time in Jorg’s head, seemingly without the desire to moralise over his characters traits.

This is an unusual fantasy novel and well worth checking out. Lawrence has joined the George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) camp in portraying his characters, warts and all, leaving it up to the reader to sympathise or not. It makes for a much richer experience than your average fantasy book. I certainly wanted to know more about the builders and how this world had come to be. If Lawrence can keep this level of quality up it should be a good series.


Charles Packer

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