King of Thorns (2012) by Mark Lawrence Review
King of Thorns is the sequel to Prince of Thorns, and is the second installment in The Broken Empire trilogy. It follows the same cast of anti-heroes as they continue to break the rules of every game they play with kingdoms. It is also told through Katherine’s diary entries, describing her experiences in the Broken Empire during the past, and how this has affected Jorg Ancrath, the titular protagonist.
King of Thorns suffers from what I usually fear in sequels that many readers alike call the “Second Book Syndrome”. It exists, but it never really reaches the heights that its predecessor has established. It tries to get there, but ends up falling in the pile of books that never hits the mark that it’s supposed to. Well, I didn’t think Prince of Thorns was all that great, but I enjoyed it for what it is—a gritty fantasy filled with cold-handed vengeance. The world building isn’t impeccable, but it’s predominantly fun. Engaging enough for me to pick up its sequel. King of Thorns actually has more world building compared to the first one as Lawrence’s vision of The Broken Empire expands, but what he does in this novel is filled with a sheer amount of flaws. Flaws that wouldn’t have been called flaws if he did everything right in the first novel.
Going into this book is like going to eat a delicious candy bar that you just bought from the nearest supermarket; however, as you start unwrapping the glinting and smooth plastic that contains said candy bar, you realize that it’s half-eaten already. That is King of Thorns. It’s like eating chocolates that aren’t sweet at all (not intended as this book is very bitter) from what you expected. Lawrence expects the reader to get ahold of all the characters established in the first volume that in this one, he just expands their backstory. The thing is, while the first is wholly entertaining, I didn’t exactly care for them. I wanted to know what happened, but there is certainly no underdog. King of Thorns, told through dual narratives, is filled with histories, backstories, journal entries, that I wasn’t interested in. I was interested in what was going to happen to the present plot, but since the foundation of the world and characters he formed in the first is very weak, having a sudden amount of getting-to-know information in this one felt trite.
Lawrence should’ve worked it the other way around. He should’ve started with the base of the fantasy, the history, their government system, their religion, their culture, etc. and the introduction of the characters before getting into the nitty gritty fun. That way, there would’ve been a more solid framework in the narrative with the reader caring more about the characters. Seeing that this was pure backstory with less action compared to the first one, it’s hard to be invested as Prince of Thorns promised a sequel filled with its nihilistic and violent mayhem. I’m not saying that books with less action are terrible, but Lawrence should’ve gotten the exposition finished first before delivering the climax. Prince of Thorns felt like a climax, but King of Thorns felt like exposition. It works the other way around.