Tag Archives: grimdark

Festivus Book Pimping: Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Second in the most Festivus of Book Pimping is Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy. It was The Wheel of Osheim, the last in the trifecta, I read this year. This book also has the honour of being the first story I read on my kindle (I have the paperback also, because having only two books of a trilogy sitting in my bookcase makes me twitch – it ain’t pretty).

The Red Queen’s War trilogy is the second in Lawrence’s grimdark series – the first being The Broken Empire trilogy, but there’s no need to read that first as while there is a most excellent crossover in the second series, each trilogy stands alone.

Right then, trilogy equals three books: Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and rounding it out is The Wheel of Osheim ­‒ a hell of a tome. Like, doorstop size. Makes sense, there’s a lot to tie up in the final book of a trilogy.

So, what’s this about? I mentioned grimdark earlier, and while there’s always some debate as to what that is, I think the most simple explanation is a story that doesn’t pull punches when it comes the darkest depths of human behaviour. Unapologetic characters who do what they must to survive, to thrive, and let the consequences fall where they may. Redemption? Pfft, spit that from thy mouth!

Don’t ever go into Lawrence’s books looking for a rainbows and unicorns and elves and shit – fantasy this may be, but these worlds are filled with darkness and the dead. It’s really kinda cool. The Red Queen’s War trilogy borrows heavily from the Norse mythos, especially with one of the two main characters: viking Snorri ver Snagason – warrior bard. Snorri holds his own (and then some) with Prince Jalan Kendeth – craven tart. They make quite the pairing. It’s magic that tethers the two together, and ultimately what may tear them, and the world, apart.

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I could go on, but here are the back-cover blurbs for each, which are far more succinct than my ramblings above.

Prince of Fools

The Red Queen is old, but the kinds of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson, Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince names Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the while seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

The Liar’s Key

The eyes of the mighty are on the North. Loki’s key has been found and lies in the hands of a feckless prince and broken warrior. Winter has locked Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxury of his southern palace. The North may be home to the viking, but he is just as eager to leave. However, even men who hold a key that can open any door must wait for the thaw.

As the ice unlocks its jaws, the Dead King moves to claim what was so nearly his. But there are other players in this game, other hands reaching for Loki’s key. Jalan wants only to return to the wine and women of the south, but Snorri aims to find he very door into death and throw it wide. The warrior will challenge all of Hell, if that’s what it takes to bring his wife and children back to the living world. He has found the key – now all he needs is to find the door.

The Wheel of Osheim

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans t return to his debauched life of wine, women and wagering. Fate, however, has other plans. Larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. In the end, it’s win or die.

Look, I can’t recommend these books enough. I once described Mark Lawrence thusly: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Once you start with the man’s books, you’re so immersed in the story that your idea of half an hour reading before hitting the sack turns into hours that no amount of coffee can fix the next morning (adulting be hard).

If that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, grimdark, stabby-stabby, and dead things – there’s a whole lot of dead things.

 

Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I once described Mark Lawrence thus: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Many a night I have sacrificed sleep and my ability to function as an adulting adult, so immersed have I been in Lawrence’s worlds. This holds true with his last book in the Red Queen’s War series – The Wheel of Osheim.

It’s taken me longer than I’d have liked to get to this book, but it was damn well worth the wait. The Wheel of Osheim continues the epic tale of Prince Jalan Kendeth of the Red March and gargantuan Viking Snorri Ver Snagason. Fated to stop the ‘Wheel’ and save the world, these two characters are polar opposites but more alike than perhaps Kendeth would care to admit. Snorri? I’m sure he saw the kindred in Jalan early.

While I bought this huge tome in its beautiful print edition, I read it on my Kindle (because I am in love with my Kindle, and that’s a revelation that still hurts sometimes, but what’s one to do?). And while my husband has adjusted to the dim reading glow from my side of the bed, I haven’t quite adjusted to his: “it’s two in the morning… it’s three in the morning… no amount of coffee is going to make you human.” (He’s wrong, so very wrong.)

Ooh, would you look at that. Three paragraphs in, it must be spoiler alert time.

SPOILER WARNING… … SPOILER WARN… … SPOILER… … … FIRE BAD, TREE PRETTY. (Shut up.)

the-wheel-of-osheim

 

So where to begin? Well, with Jalan being spat from Hell (or Hel) and back into a quest he wants nothing to do with. All he wants is to go home and forget about the whole sorry mess – those are the words he speaks, yes, but Jal is the quintessential character of juxtaposition – he is both brave and cowardly, cruel and kind, indifferent and devoted. Human. That’s his appeal; he’s tremendously flawed, but when push comes to shove (and that’s often a literal shove), he surprises himself by doing the right thing, because despite his protestations to the contrary, that sense of righteousness within has grown to a formidable force.

A lot of that, I think, has to do with Snorri and the friendship the two have forged. While Snorri is quite open with his admiration (and remonstration) of Jalan, there’s a vulnerability in the Viking that perfectly balances the violence within. It’s that balance that’s slowly working its way through Jal. Though demonstrably different, the two are cut from the same cloth. Something Snorri sees far more than Jalan.

It’s an intricate world Lawrence has woven, and intricate players he’s put within. We see more of Jalan’s brothers – the two he’s hated most his life. But as with all relationships, it’s complex and we see the contempt Jal has had for his brothers superseded by the familial ties none of us can escape. In The Wheel of Osheim we see the depth and growth of Jalan more than in the previous books – we see the humanity he’s always tried to cover, to shield from the world. It’s achingly brutal.

The same can be said for Snorri’s ventures through Hel to find and rescue his wife and children. This melding of faiths – Jalan’s Christian Hell, and Snorri’s Norse Hel – showcases the layering Lawrence has put into each character. Snorri is a Viking on a mission, and nothing will stand in his way – not demons, not undead, not Hel’s warriors… that battle scene where Snorri finds his son is one of the best I’ve read. It’s bloody, it’s cruel, it’s heart-wrenchingly incapacitating – all that it should have been.

As with any final book in a trilogy, there’s much to tie up – both long game and short. This is a story that needs investing from the reader. You can’t half-arse it through this. The foreshadowing is there, and it’s subtle, but it all comes to play as you head into the final battle – the saving of the world… or rather, the saving of it for just that little bit longer.

Past, present and future all lay their cards on the table in The Wheel of Osheim, and fate, oh what a fickle mistress she is. The gods (whichever you choose them to be) have had their hands in this from the beginning. Which beginning? From the time of The Builders – the gods that never were – the world has been ticking so very quickly down. And magic, she is tearing apart the fabric of this universe faster than anyone realised.

It’s this urgency Lawrence plays to throughout this book, while still taking the time to address all that’s been built into the previous two books: the Red Queen, the Silent Sister, Garyus (by far one of the most interesting and underplayed characters), Lady Blue… it’s quite a cast. And while not everything is concluded (possibly leaving it open for more stories in Jalan’s world), there was enough to make the ending satisfying.

Look, I could go on and on about the different aspects, the plots and sub-plots, the narrative, mechanics, architecture of the book, but I’ve no time to write a dissertation on how good this book is. Yes, sometimes it does fall into cliché (the usurpation of the throne by the Red Queen’s brother, and the subsequent death), but this can be forgiven based on the prose alone. As with The Red Queen’s War, and The Broken Empire series, Lawrence can take and twist words into the most sublime of writing. When the ‘wordsmith’ is used, I’m sure Lawrence is one of the authors meant to wear this moniker.

Overall, The Wheel of Osheim is a dark, gritty, often humorous storytelling of a world in its dying days. Of political machinations, of haunting past deeds and the price one pays. And monsters, oooh, there be monsters. A totally immersive, roller-coaster ride to tie the series off.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars.

Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

I don’t get anywhere near the amount of time to read for pleasure as I’d like. This hasn’t in any way curbed my book buying – that’s a joy in and of itself; it does mean the reading time I do have is so damn precious the book better be good. And by ‘good’ I mean convince me I can absolutely function as an adulting adult on two hours sleep.

Enter Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. That’s him there, sauntering in with Prince of Fools in hand. Words, he offered, places brutal and beautiful. So I sold my sleep, my ability to reason, and any resemblance to something remotely human when the alarm screamed at me to wake up, dammit!

I should have known; enamoured as I was with Lawrence’s first offering of Jorg Ancrath in the Broken Empire trilogy. While Prince of Fools is told in the same first-person point of view, it travels (mostly) within a single timeline. There are flashbacks of a kind, moments of reminisce and rediscovery, but there is no real time-jumping as those from the Broken Empire.

Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools is the first in the Red Queen’s War series, and while it’s set within the Broken Empire (and runs parallel to Jorg’s story, with a nice little crossover that kept this reader happy), don’t for a minute think you’re in for the same thing. Here, it’s Prince Jalan Kendeth, womaniser, gambler, coward, and tenth in line to the throne who tells the story. While he’s not a ‘likeable’ character in the true sense of the word, I couldn’t help but like him and his wit (he has some of the best pieces of dialogue I’ve ever read).

When you add the huge Norseman, Snorri ver Snagason, with whom Jalan’s fate is tied, you’ve got two sides to the one coin. Light and dark, coward and hero, honourless and honour-bound. The Silent Sister’s magic has bound the two and set them on a path across the empire to the Bitter Ice, to the place Snorri lost his family to one of the Dead King’s minions, to where both hope to break the magic that binds them, and be rid of the ‘angel’ and ‘demon’ that ride the magic with them.

At the beginning of their journey, it’s clear Snorri is Jalan’s conscience (despite the ‘dark’ side of the magic he holds) – he instructs him in the ‘right’ of things, lures him with the honour of familial bonds that transcend death, and dig into that part of Jalan that is good, despite Jal’s thick veneer of shallowness rooted in self-preservation (oft in the form of running away). The closer the two get to the north, however, the more Snorri retreats into silence and the darkness of his magic, and the less Jal is able to resist the pull of the ‘light’ side of the magic he carries. He’s resistant, of course – doing the right thing often ends in losing more than Jal’s willing to give. Both hold magic, and both can use it, although neither tends to do this well, or with any true understanding of what it is and how it works.

There’s so much more at play here – and a game it is. Jalan and Snorri are both pawn and player, each drawn to their own paths, but so intrinsically entwined, there has to be stronger forces chipping out those paths.  Simpering though Jalan is, and a self-confessed coward (and happily so), when push comes to shove (despite his ‘better’ judgement), he becomes quite the warrior… although much of it within an almost fugue-like state.

jalan

Prince of Fools is very much a character-driven story, and Lawrence delivers two vastly different, fully-fleshed out two in Jalan and Snorri. But there’s no phoning-it-in when it comes to the secondary characters either, and I was especially taken with the characters of the North (I’m a sucker for Vikings). But it’s moving through these lands, that we see not only Lawrence’s ability to weave lands and peoples with an almost ease of believability, but both Jal and Snorri’s understanding that this is the long-game. Paths again diverge with Snorri now hunting for Loki’s Key, the only thing that will open the door (any door, anywhere) to Hel, and to his murdered family. Jal just wants to be rid of the magic and to go home to the warmth of the Red March.

Loki’s key is… well, key. It’s the driving force behind all the players in this game – those who’ve been in the long-game and those who’ve just sat down at the table. Jal and Snorri’s isn’t an easy journey, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Dead King wants them (and Loki’s key), and sets monsters, Unborn, mercenaries and necromancer on their tail. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) There are battles and skirmishes pretty much the whole way to the Bitter Ice, but those pale in comparison to the combat at the Black Fort. It’s all or nothing here, and while this is Snorri’s way, it sure ain’t Jal’s but… nah, you’re just going to have to sell your own sleep to Lawrence to find out.

Lawrence has interwoven many a sub-plot, but take note of the word ‘interwoven’ – the foreshadowing for future… events is often a subtle nudge but it all comes together nicely, and there’s no doubt some of these will be continued in the next book. The Red Queen’s War is the long game, and so too is Lawrence plotting – there’s… stuff to be resolved, big stuff, and questions that need answering and secrets to be divulged. There’s magic, both dark and light, and not all is as it seems… at least I think not… or maybe I do…

All I know is that Mark Lawrence is waiting in the wings, a copy of The Liar’s Key in one hand and my hours of sleep in his other.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars (and my supposed sanity).

five stars

Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while, and as I’m heading away to the glorious countryside for a week (and some much needed rest and writing time), I figured I should get my arse in gear…………….sorry, I was already imagining myself away.

Ahem. Okay. Emperor of Thorns, the last in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy is… well, damn, this ride is over.

noooo

Yes. It’s true.

I was definitely late to the party with the trilogy, but Lawrence made me a fan pretty much from book one. So when it came to picking up the last book, I vowed to take my time and savour. Seems Lawrence’s storytelling had other ideas. *shakes fist*

Now my previous reviews have been quite a bit on the spoilery side, and while I’m not going to give away those most excellent, gob-smacking moments that make you gasp and/or swear (both of which I did), here’s the relevant housekeeping…with orange warning lights:

SPOILERS AHEAD, KEEP TO YOUR LEFT… KEEP TO YOUR LEFT. I SAID LEFT! AH, GEEZ…. CLEAN-UP IN AISLE FOUR!

Emperor of Thorns

Well here we are, the back cover is closed on King Jorg of Ancrath’s crusade, and with it the fates of those who’ve tied their lot with him (that includes the reader, don’t ever doubt that). And there’s no messing about here either; with each of the ‘Thorns’ books, Lawrence doesn’t treat the reader a fool and recap; it’s straight into the story, which is great when you’ve got them stockpiled near your bed, just waiting for you to finish one then move onto the next.

This book doesn’t disappoint… only it does in that it’s the end of the trilogy. It’s not often I come across a series of characters I could continue to read, with Jorg being one I could follow through many a slaughterhouse. And slaughterhouse it oft is. Jorg kills on both small and large scale, and though not without forethought, death does come to all who stand in his way.

There’s a lot going on in this third book, as well there should. There are threads to be woven and tied, character stories to be continued and ended, and more beautiful word-smithing to be done by Lawrence. Seriously, the man knows how to make a writer feel inadequate. Lawrence’s world-building is magnificent, and there’s so much more of the world and its people we see in this book. So much more of the magic that permeates here, which only reinforces the ‘realness’ of this world.

EoT quote

The storytelling takes place both in the present and the past, with those times soon to converge. And with that convergence comes the biggest battle of Jorg’s life: the Dead King. Of course nothing is ever simple, and there are some fantastic death scenes here, but the focus is on this battle – the Dead King is coming, and he’s coming for Jorg. It’s more than just the empire at stake here, as the arrival of a certain someone (see? That’s me not spoilering), throws a bit of a spanner in the works, but ultimately gives him more clarity than he’s seen in his tumultuous life. While not a game-changer, as the end-game remains the same, it’s a slight refocus of the why, and this does play enormously into the final battle scene.

While I’d figured out who the Dead King was about halfway through (kudos to Lawrence on that subtle foreshadowing throughout all the books), it doesn’t take away from the final reveal at all. If anything, it really drives it home. And even knowing who’s coming, and knowing it’s going to be achingly, bloody and poignantly painful, I devoured those words, those emotions, that whole shitty, gritty, wonderful scene.

There are so many things I want to tell you about this book; about how it’s all tied beautifully together with the previous two; about what happens to Jorg, Brother Makin, Gorgoth, Katherine, Miana, and all those who’ve trailed in Jorg’s wake (both willingly and not so), but the last thing I’d ever want to do is spoil what is a brilliant trilogy.

BE

Yes, Jorg may come across as unsympathetic to a lot of readers (I’m not one of them); he may come across as self-centered and arrogant (huzzah, I say!), and the amount of bodies he leaves behind is staggering, BUT (of course there’s a but, there always is), there’s an intensity to Jorg’s storytelling that pulls you in, that has you root for him, that has you forgive him his transgressions to see him take that throne.

There aren’t many books (trilogies/series) that have left a lingering impression on me, that have had me want to wish there was more, oh so much more. The Broken Empire trilogy sits at the top of my list. It’s made me a fan of Lawrence’s work. Hell, I’d read the man’s grocery list. Instead, I have Prince of Fools and The Liars Key at the top of my ‘to read’ mountain, and I can’t wait to be immersed.

If there’s one thing I can leave you with, it’s this: go out now and buy The Broken Empire trilogy. Do it. Do. It. Now.

Why are you still here?

Oh, yeah. On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars.

five stars

Now get off my lawn, I’ve packing to do.

Review: Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson

Well it’s the first of the month here (those of you in the northern hemisphere will catch up soon enough), and I’ll be leading August off with a review. Yes, it’s review time!

Today (tonight) it’s Australian author, Donna Maree Hanson, and her book Shatterwingbook one of her Dragon Wine series. I met Donna at Sydney Supanova when I was trawling for books. Now the only thing better than books, is signed books; as an author, I know there’s not much better than having someone ask to sign the book you wrote – so it was a win-win on both sides of the table.

It was great to have a chat about the books, too, as I really had only a vague idea about their content, although the cover does point you in the general direction.

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Now before I move on, it’s requisite spoiler-alert time:

THE SHIFTING OF AIR UNDER WING WARNS OF INCOMING SPOILERS. RUN. NOW. LEST YOU BE BURNED BY THE RUINATION THAT IS THE SPOILER.

Okay, so yes, from the cover, Shatterwing is a book with dragons, but dragons form only part of this story. At its essence, this is a story about a world on the brink and how society (or what’s left of it), deals with an apocalyptic world – not well, I have to say. The white cover and golden wings are a great juxtaposition for a tale that firmly sits on the grim-dark side of things.

The book is divided into two parts, and in the first we’re introduced to the major players: Salinda, Brill, Danton and the Inspector. The Inspector runs the winery, which is more prison than lush vineyard, and from the beginning the reader is left in little doubt the Inspector is a cruel, sadistic son-of-a-bitch.  The scenes underground with both Brill and Salinda are brutal – not at all for the faint-hearted, you’ve been warned.

The vineyard is where they make Dragon Wine, which is vital to those of Margra for not only its healing powers, but as a source of currency and political power.

The story is told mostly from Salinda and Brill’s point of view, but even so, I found it difficult to connect with either of them. It wasn’t until under-dweller, Nils, is introduced that I felt that connection. I slowly warmed to Brill and Danton (Danton especially), and it took longer to really connect with Salinda, which was a shame as she’s quite vital to the story.

Now there are dragons, but they are creatures to be feared, especially by those working the vineyard. Run and hide or become a meal. All but one dragon – Plu – a fledgling Salinda briefly raised and to whom she can call on when needed.

Shatterwing, however, isn’t a dragon as I’d first thought, but one of the moons that orbits Margra. Only Shatterwing is a fragmented moon, and those fragments are continually falling to the earth. There’s a lot going on with this world, and Hanson does a great job of drip-feeding the world and its culture through her storytelling rather than the laborious info-dumps I’ve found in other books (authors take note!).

It’s a slow piecing together of what’s happened to bring the world to the brink, and how the different cultures within this world interact and try to survive – some for purely selfish reasons, and others for the good of all. And I have to say, there isn’t a lot of good in this world.

blood spatter

There are those, however, who have magic. Salinda is one, although she doesn’t quite know its power or how to harness it. The ‘cadre’ (a collection of memories and untapped power) was passed to her via her mentor. Another with power we discover in the second part of this book.

Here, we’re introduced to Thurdon (rather briefly), and to his apprentice, Laidan. Thurdon has the cadre, which he passes to Laidan before his death. Of course she has no idea what’s happened or what it is that she now possesses. Held prisoner by the fratricidal prince, Lenk, she has a rather fortuitous rescue from a childhood friend, Garan who has the cool job-moniker of ‘Skywatcher’ (note: this is the title of book 2 in the series).

Fortuitous might be the wrong word, as things really don’t go well for the pair. At all. This really is a fucked-up world, and that Hanson doesn’t shy from the brutality humanity can bestow on one another is to be commended.

This is a desperate world made up of desperate people, which makes the journey of Salinda, Brill, Danton, Laidan and Garan all the more treacherous and desperate. It’s Nils, though, who sees the world and its people for whom and what they truly are – he’s almost the conscience of Margra. It’s to him, though, I believe the fate of this world rests.

I liked this book, and it was an easy read as well. I would have liked to have found that connection with the characters a lot sooner, and I think a lot of that has to do with being unable to find something within each of them that resonated with me. It came, just later than I wanted.

I’m looking forward to reading the second instalment, as the book really did pick up the pace from about the halfway mark. I’m invested now, and that’s all a reader (and writer) wants.

I’ll repeat my warning here that this isn’t a high-fantasy book about dragons, but rather a grimdark, brutal fantasy that delves right into the depths of inhumanity. For me, it’s these types of books that show humanity at its best. Small band though they may be.

On a Goodreads scale, I give Shatterwing 3.5 stars.

stars

Review: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

As I’m powering through the final book, I thought it best to get onto the review of King of Thornsbook two in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Second books are tricky beasts, and on more than one occasion I’ve been burned by slow pacing, plot meandering, and character veering, so I tend to enter into that second book with a little trepidation (please be good, oh *please* be good).

But… Ah, King Jorg, such a gloriously grey character. Such defiance, such cunning, such dark fun.

Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of this book, there’s some housekeeping that needs doing. So in keeping with the grimdark and me writing reviews any way I please, let’s make this bloody:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND IF YOU’RE NOT WATCHING YOUR BACK, A SPOILER WILL SNEAK UP BEHIND YOU AND SLIT YOUR THROAT EASY AS YOU PLEASE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

King of Thorns

I’m usually a little wary when beginning the read of the second book in a trilogy, especially when I’ve so enjoyed the first. What I tend to find is a rebuilding of the world, a rehashing of previous events and mansplaining the crap out of everything (totally unnecessary – give your reader credit, they have a surprising tendency to remember what happened, with like memory and stuff), not so with King of Thorns. Can I get a hallelujah? No? Too much?

We’re thrown right back into the mix; into the words of Katherine, to be precise – the woman/aunt with whom Jorg is obsessed before making our way to his wedding to child-bride Miana. But with the Prince of Arrow’s legion now marshalled at the castle gate, this isn’t a happy day by any stretch of the imagination. Happy isn’t something Jorg is at all familiar with – happiness would be a weakness, and weakness is something King Jorg will not tolerate.

jorg

A hasty marriage ceremony is on the cards, and given Jorg’s distaste for bedding someone who is essentially a child, an even hastier ruse is contrived to show Jorg’s subjects the deed has been done. This is also where we get the first glimpse of Miana’s mind and strength, and with each of her appearances throughout the book, Lawrence unveils a little more of that intellect and crafty perception she holds – she’s quite the tactician. Something Jorg will soon come to value.

This book also keeps to the format of moving from past to present and back again in its storytelling. While it took me a wee bit to get into the gist of this with the first book, I slipped seamlessly into the rhythm this time round. This type of storytelling is difficult to pull-off, let alone successfully, but Lawrence manages it remarkably well – it forces (allows?) the reader to think, to wonder why Jorg does the things he does in the present before taking you back to give you clues and scenes to decipher. It’s something I value when reading. I don’t want to be hand-held down a garden path with the writer pointing out all I need to know and why – let me do some lifting as well, it creates the connection with characters I’m wanting.

Connection is something I’ve noticed some readers find difficult when it comes to Jorg. Not me. I have about as much empathy for Jorg as he has for himself, but I like the way he forges ahead with his goals, how he sacrifices much to achieve them. There’s something to be said for writer who creates a character that has little with which to empathise but with whom I find myself cheering on. Yes, even when committing deeds that seem totally sociopathic. Is Jorg a sociopath? There’s definitely evidence to suggest as much. Doesn’t make me like him less.

jorg 1

Jorg is again joined by Sir Makin and his Brothers (who are slowly and violently dwindling) and the monsters he’s collected along his travels – Gog and Gorgoth. Gog, ever the fire-child, does hold a special place with Jorg, but would you call it love? No. Gog is a kindred, while I believe Gorgoth is the conscious Jorg struggles to find. Both will suffer because of this, Gog more so, but that demise powerfully links the two, and Jorg will always have that puckered reminder staring back at him.

One of my favourite scenes is that within the marshes – the rising of the dead, all of them, and the confrontation with the necromancer, Chella. Here Jorg and the Brothers fight those they’ve killed, those who died with the Builder’s sun and even fellow brothers in various states of decomposition – it’s hard, brutal and unforgiving. I loved it!

(Psst! You gotta love a review where I get to use the words: monster, necromancer, decomposition and sociopath.) Here’s where we find out a little more of the Dead King, and that’s a showdown I’m very much looking forward to.

But Jorg is first moving steadily toward a showdown with the Prince of Arrow – the light to Jorg’s darkness. We’re taken back to their first meeting, and we’re shown the allure the Prince has; so much so that even Jorg questions his motivations to take on a man who even he would follow. The Prince of Arrow is a man of the people, looking to unite the empire and bring peace and bounty to all within. He’s a forward-thinker, and also the one who will marry Katherine. The two set up for a mighty future battle (yes, the one that take place on Jorg’s wedding day), but first, Jorg makes for the family he knows little about – his mother’s.

It’s here, upon meeting his uncle and grandparents (and ghost Fexler), that plans for this upcoming battle really do start to fall into place (while creating a new foe). And that’s one thing a reader cannot doubt – Jorg’s ability and determination to see things through, no matter the outcome, no matter the cost. Jorg gets the information and [redacted for spoilery moment] that will have him win this war. It’s also where we learn more about the Jorg’s world and the Builders that makes Lawrence’s Broken Empire so damn awesome (this is a revelation future readers need to make, and something I won’t spoil for them).

bloody handprint

We see the return of Jorg’s memory from that copper box he carries with him, and how madness really does ride side-saddle with him. But through it all, Jorg is a tactician’s tactician. And despite the shenanigans of dream-witch Sageous, Jorg remains true to his path to the throne, albeit sometimes wandering off-path to deal with those who threaten his rise or to find… stuff… that will aid him in that battle.

Katherine plays a far greater part in this book, although most of what we discover about her is told through journal entries. We see her develop some interesting yet dangerous talents with regard to accessing her dreams and moving through them. We’re given greater understanding of the Prince of Arrow (Orrin) and his sullen brother Egan, and slowly, slowly the layers are peeled away and all are shown the truth.

It’s this final scene, this final battle between King Jorg and the Prince of Arrow (will not spoil this revelation either) and Jorg’s ensuing internal battle where Lawrence really delivers some killer blows. While I saw that spoilery bit coming just moments prior, it didn’t lesson the appreciation of the delivery; same with the big burn baby burn!

Lawrence didn’t take the easy way out here with this second book and use it to solely set up the final book. There are twists and turns; a subtle leading and plot punches to the face; there’s death on the tiniest but most powerful of scales (that’s a hint, not a real spoiler) and deaths bordering genocide. All of it woven with a delicate hand that drags you in and makes you see life in this world for what it is – not at all pretty. That this is told from Jorg’s point-of-view, one who doesn’t pretty-up the world, its people and their action, only makes this a more compelling read.

We’re introduced to new characters and we watch others die, usually violently, but anyone who says that’s a surprise is kidding themselves. This is as dark a book as was the first, which makes me a happy reader and more eager than ever to get stuck into the final book.

On a Goodreads scale, I give King of Thorns 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars