Tag Archives: Mark Lawrence

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.

Art of the Cover

Covers matter. They do. That old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover, if taken in its absolute literal sense, is utter bullshit. Covers are your visual selling point; it’s the first thing a potential reader (and buyer) sees. And if it’s terrible and/or amateurish… Behold, I will judge with all my judgey judginess! I will slam down my imaginary gavel, and I won’t buy your book.

But wait, I hear you say, what if the story is brilliant? Then invest in good cover art, dammit. Invest in it like you invested in your story. All those hours you agonised over words and plot and characters, of the sleep you sacrificed, eating at your desk, of wondering whether you showered today… or was it yesterday… (No? Just me then…), invest that same excellence in your cover art. Don’t just slap any cover on your work (and for the love of all things holy and unholy, unless you’re an artist, don’t do it yourself!), ’cause I will judge your book by its cover, and so will a lot of others.

I read a lot, and as a buyer of print books, a beautiful and/or interesting cover will draw me in as much as a shitty one will repel. And with the amount of both print and electronic books on the market, a good cover is half the battle won. I’ll pick it up, and if your blurb is good (that’s fodder for another post), then that’s a sale. When it comes to my hard-earned cash, I’m particular on how I spend it, and I’m more likely to spend on a book with a beautiful cover, than I am on one with a shite one.

For someone with a mountain of ‘to read’ books who also can’t walk past a bookstore without venturing into its delicious depths, I’m always looking for new authors to read. A cover is where it all begins. It led me to Mark Lawrence and his Broken Empire and Red Queen series, and now I’ll read anything the man writes. Seriously, go to his website and buy the man’s books. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

prince-of-thorns

<insert Muzak here>

Back? Excellent.

Another thing I often hear is that bad covers are the domain of the author-publisher. Again, I call bullshit. The advent of author-publishing and the (now-diminishing) stigma attached to it, has shown authors know the value of a great cover. There are self-published authors whose books have gorgeous covers – this tells me they’ve thought long and hard about their finished product, about their reader. And covers should reflect the content, the world and atmosphere of a book. Take a look at Devin Madson’s The Blood of Whisperers – the story inside is as beautiful as the cover. Another author whose work I will now always read.

BoW

As an editor, I understand the importance of covers, how they work to sell the story/stories inside. If you can excite a potential reader by the cover art alone, then you’re looking at sales. Sales are good. Sales mean the author (or authors, when an anthology) will be read, and those authors may begin to get a fan-base – and there’s not a lot better than that. As an editor for Cohesion Press (an Australian small press), their mantra is to always source kick-ass cover art. Great cover art gets readers excited, it builds interest, it builds sales. But more than that, it’s the finished product. Readers will appreciate the effort you put in, and they’ll remember your name.

Into-the-Mist-194x300

I know there’ll be those out there who will bemoan the cost of cover art. That good cover art is unaffordable. Well before you do that, how would you feel if someone bitched about the price of your book? Good cover art costs, just as good editing and proofreading – all essential parts of the publishing process. You want to put your best work out into the world, right? Right?

The reason I decided to write this post was the cover artist for Cohesion’s books, Dean Samed (check out his work) just yesterday had his site go live, and his cover-work is just astounding. Each piece grabs you, it takes you places, and it defines what’s on the inside pages. The last thing any author wants is a horror book (for instance) with a decidedly romance cover. That’s a betrayal no reader will tolerate.

There are amazing artists out there who love creating cover art for the books you love creating. Check out Deviantart, get onto artists’ sites, and if you like the style of a book cover, the artist is usually mentioned in the front-matter. Social media is a great way to get recommendations for artists, for those who specialise in covers, who can put the best ‘coat’ on your baby.

Do a little research, chat to artists, find great art. Your book will thank you for it.

Tusk

Festivus Book Pimping – Mark Lawrence

Let’s get some Festivus grimdark on, shall we? Why yes, we shall! This time I’m taking it off-shore, and pimping out Mark Lawrence (yes, I see it, let it go) and his books – trilogies, to be precise. I came late to Lawrence’s books, but that’s worked out remarkably well for me, as I’ve read five of his this year and am waiting (rather impatiently, as is my wont) for the final instalment of his latest trilogy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with The Broken Empire series, which was another recommendation from a friend –you rock, Tracy! The first, Prince of Thorns (reviewed here), was the beginning of my addiction to Lawrence’s work. Seriously, his writing’s like crack – just one more page, just one more page… just one more… Many a night I sat up reading to the wee hours, forsaking sleep for story.

The Broken Empire trilogy follows Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath and all-round immoral character. Jorg is both personally driven and nudged along the way by outside forces, but ultimately he’s a character who is incredibly self-aware and unapologetically so. I loved him. It’s a book beautifully told in its barbarity, but it’s a violent, chaotic world filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem. It’s Jorg’s world and he’ll be its king – no matter who he needs to step on, kill, maim, or sacrifice in that endeavour.

broken empire

I read King of Thorns (reviewed here), as quickly as I read the first – I couldn’t get enough of the characters or the world-building, let alone the political manoeuvrings from those vying for the role of emperor. It’s a ‘broken empire’ and there are those who want to see it whole and rule it accordingly, and then there’s the Dead King, slowly working his way into the world of the living.  There’s death on a grand-scale here, so if you’re of the more… delicate reading sensibilities… take a leap into the honesty of the brutalities of war.

I began Empire of Thorns (reviewed here), with a little trepidation, not because I thought it wouldn’t stand up to the grandeur of the first two, but because it was the final in the series – it was coming to an end. I devoured this book (not literally, books aren’t for eating – you should know this), and simultaneously tried to draw it out. It was a battle of epic proportions, as are the battles contained in this last instalment of the trilogy, but no less satisfying when it came to its end. Did I want more? You bet I did. Was I disappointed with the ending? Hell no.

This series is told in the first person point of view, which keeps the reader close, and Lawrence has a gift for wordsmithing that is beautiful and poignant. Oft times a phrase would stop me, and I’d have to read it again purely for the beauty of it. Oh, and when you figure out what this world is… that’s pretty awesome. There are those who call Jorg an ‘anti-hero’ or ‘villainous-hero’, but I disagree – he’s determined, driven, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. I kinda like that.

Prince of Fools

Lawrence’s current trilogy, The Red Queen’s War, is set within the same world of The Broken Empire series, but with completely different characters – and I mean different in every way. It runs concurrently with Jorg’s quest, but in Prince of Fools (reviewed here), it is Prince Jalan Kendeth we follow. Jal is, in his own words: a coward, a cheat and a womaniser… and tenth in line to the throne. He’s a wholly different beast to Jorg, and he should be – this is a different story. We’re also introduced to the very cool Norseman Snorri ver Snagason. Magic has bound the two and they must set off for Snorri’s homeland to undo that magic. Again, nothing is ever what it seems with Lawrence’s storytelling, and the clues and tid-bits he leaves the reader only make you read for longer and again sacrifice sleep.

This continues with The Liar’s Key, which is being lauded as one of the best fantasy books of 2015, and with good reason. I haven’t yet got around to reviewing this book, but… tough call that it is, I’d put it in my top three of all the books I’ve read this year. There’s a criss-crossing of timelines and some characters from The Broken Empire series, but that only cements the ‘realness’ of this story within the large, large world Lawrence has created. For world-building alone, you can’t go past either series.

The Liar's Key

I can’t recommend these books enough. So if you’ve loved ones who like to read fantasy, especially of the dark, unapologetic kind, then The Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogies are one’s you can’t go past. Or buy them for yourself – everyone needs to treat themselves to some dark stuff every once in a while!

And if you’re wondering if these books are as good as I say they are, I sacrificed so much sleep to finish these books, I’m sure I unwittingly sold parts of my soul. I also gave the man a handle:

Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn.

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: 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

 

Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Without incurring the wrath of the Jinx Faerie *invokes sign*, my reading for pleasure is going well this year, and it really has been pleasurable reading. While I have a few other reviews to write, I’m jumping ahead here with Prince of Thorns as the book is still very fresh in my mind.

This is the first of Mark Lawrence’s work that I’ve read, and I want to thank my pal, Tracy, for nudging me toward it. Prince of Thorns is the first book in the Broken Empire Trilogy and sits well within the ‘grim-dark’ of fantasy, and it’s a sub-genre in which I’m happy to spend a lot of time. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘grim-dark’ is, as it sounds, a story that is grim and dark in tone and doesn’t shy away from the realities and brutality of such themes. Lawrence hits the ‘grim-dark’ mark with Prince of Thorns.

prince-of-thorns

Now before we get into this, it’s spoiler-alert time, now while I haven’t gone into too great detail with the plot (this really is something you need to experience in all its awful glory), I’m warning you all the same:

SPOILER ALERT: *clanging of bells; blaring of sirens* READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. REPRISALS WILL OCCUR TO ANYONE BITCHING OR COMPLAINING ABOUT READING SPOILERS. (I have an angry cat and I’m not afraid to use him. Grim is his name, and he lives up to his moniker.)

Prince of Thorns is told from the first-person point-of-view of main character, Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath, we begin in the aftermath of a village plunder. Right from the outset the reader is plunged into the blood and death that surrounds Jorg, and it’s unapologetic in its telling – as it should be. The first surprise for me, which came at the end of the first chapter, was Jorg’s age – just shy of his fourteenth birthday, his savagery is something a reader would expect in one much older.

Jorg has been on the road with his outlaw ‘brothers’ since he fled from his father after an ambush that killed his mother and younger brother. Jorg, held firm within the thorns of a hook-briar, could do nothing to help his mother and brother, nothing except watch. The betrayal by his father to not seek vengeance on the man who orchestrated the ambush, pushes Jorg to seek vengeance on the mastermind on his own.

Slowly, the story unravels, but just when you think you have a hand on what’s at play, Lawrence manages to turn it on its head, and does so adeptly. There are connections with everything, foreshadowing done so well that it’s not until a revelation appears that those connections shine through.

The cast of support characters, especially Jorg’s band of brothers, are a motley crew, and by ‘standard’ fantasy tropes, not a good one amongst them (apart from Sir Makin and the Nuban – both favourites of mine), but in keeping with the grim-darkness of the book, they’re a perfect fit for not only Jorg, but the story as well. These are interesting, quirky, yet disturbing characters that I was more than happy to get to know better.

But it’s Jorg who commands the story here, and while he embraces the doing of evil deeds with much gusto and little-to-no conscience, there’s an honesty about him I liked. Hell, I was rooting for the kid the whole way. With Jorg, there’s no half-measures, and in a story such as Lawrence’s, there can be no half-measures, for those who lack commitment live very short lives and tend to die horribly.

bloody handprint

Jorg is driven by the murders of his mother and brother, but there’s more at play in Jorg’s choices and ‘non-choices’ than meets the eye – another revelation that sat well with me. Magic – there is much of it – and yes, dark magic it is. You expected different? And the monsters, aaah, the monsters, they’re plentiful and unique – the scenes that take beneath Castle Red are some of my favourite. Gog, you scamp!

There’s a revelation in this section (no spoilers – it’s well worth the wait) that puts a lot of Jorg’s… learning into perspective – at times I was pulled toward the alternate-universe theory, but this revelation was punched right out of me and I was glad for it.

Right from the beginning you know, Jorg is bound for home, for a confrontation with his remarried father. Another queen sits on the throne, one who bears the king’s preferred heir. Jorg, torn between present and past, finds himself vulnerable in ways he hasn’t been for four years – a dangerous place for him. He’s a wily fellow, Jorg, resourceful and ruthless, and the more I read the more I liked this ‘wholly unlikeable’ character. That’s the thing, I can see why some would find him unsympathetic, soulless, reaping of all that befalls him, but for me… well I liked him. Is he a sociopath? Odds kinda head that way. Is he a monster? To those who get in the way of his goals, yes. Or, is he a product of his environment and history? Aren’t we all. And it’s that honesty, the not shying away from the darkness that lives inside Jorg that makes him wholly likeable for me.

The structure of the storytelling took a little getting used to as Lawrence jumps from present to past and back again often during the storytelling – but this is clearly marked by the different fonts (and the fact it’s signposted: Four years earlier). It’s also how Lawrence gives you the breadcrumbs to Jorg’s story, his history, and the why of his nature.

I have the next instalment of The Broken Empire Trilogy – King of Thorns, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Lawrence takes Jorg and his ever-dwindling band of brothers.

For those who are looking for more standard fantasy fare, this might not be for you. And for those who don’t like the blood, gore, death and torture that comes with war, then this probably isn’t the book for you either. But if you’re looking for a story that doesn’t shy from the vulgarities of conquering lands and kingdoms, that is as dark as it is twisted, and has characters who have less redeeming qualities than those you find in most fantasy epics, then this is definitely the book for you.

On a goodreads scale, I give it 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars