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A Brutal but Excellent Continuation
on 26 June 2013
I think it is fair to say that the books of Mark Lawrence can be described as harsh. Not in a bad way, the world that is lived in and the characters are harsh, but there is more to it than that. There have been criticisms about some of the things that happen in the book(s), that perhaps things have been a little too brutal, but that is the world.
If people believe that the middle/dark ages - the time period many fantasy worlds are based on - were all sunlight through cherry blossom and that bad things did not happen, even disturbing things then they are living in a dream world. They were mud choked, full of blood, rape and treachery, probably to an extent that The Broken Empire books only scratch the surface.
But... these novels are not set in a comparable middle age blueprint, in some ways they have to be considered science fiction over fantasy as they are set in our own world, in the future.
I remember when I was reading Prince of Thorns (first book in the series) and I felt that Lawrence's use of religion seemed to be based on Christianity, well it was Christianity, but it grated for me. I kept telling myself it was different but I did not think it worked. Until the story unfolded and revealed that this was our world after a nuclear war. Then everything made sense.
Lawrence said it was something that was only brushed upon in the first story, but it would be looked at in greater detail in this next novel. And he was not joking, here we get some depth and world building (and a bigger map) that really lets us feel this new world, what has happened to the old as it was burned away and left behind.
There is a lot of fun guessing just where they are in the new/old world and how it compares to what we know, and there is a lot of fun in guessing just what the ancient structures that have become castles once were. And there is a lot of interest too, in the seemingly odd things, like a graveyard encased in a kind of resin just to preserve it. Was it done by accident or design, and if the later, why?
This in itself, the old world elements, from the recognisable to the more Science Fiction remnants, an AI in a 'computer' that is a 'real' man, literally a ghost in a machine, a recording of a person. These things and so many more were enough to keep be gripped to the page, but you cannot talk about a book like King of Thorns without looking at the central character.
For me Jorg of Arcanth has to be one of the finest creations in recent times. Yes, has been stated elsewhere and time again, he is a truly nasty piece of work and the fact that he tells his own story just adds to that, but it also speaks of a kind of honesty, that he is not hiding the fact from both the reader and himself. No one can be truly irredeemable, and we see some other sides of Jorg in these pages. At times he is as ruthless and nasty as he has always been, but we see little chinks in the armour, a sign that he is growing in character as well as age.
The apparent rape of another character turns out not to have been what it seems (Lawrence really keeps his literary feet shuffling as he pulls the rug from under you not once, but twice); his decision with his new very young wife shows a slightly more tender side (even if the reasons are not exactly the most noble) and the conflict he goes through when deciding whether or not to murder his baby half brother is believable and humanising. The outcome of it all is even more devastating because of it.
Yes Jorg is still ruthless, but he carries a humanity that he seems to deny but is still there.
Lawrence throws in some great action sequences that really give the book some set piece highlights, and proves to be as ruthless with apparent main characters as he ever was in the first novel. In some ways, for me, this was one of the weaknesses, with one real POV character we have little time to really come and know the rest of the cast, so when they die there is not the impact there might have been - although to be fair, when it really needs the impact it is there - but this all comes through Jorg's perceptions of the people around him.
The climax at the end it just about spot on. If I was going to say anything negative about it, then it would be it happened to quickly. That is but a quibble though. It is a superb wrap up to an excellent second novel, that is spilt over four years, with some grim revelations, some stunning world building, and a different central character. (I also liked Jorg's new queen, a more than perfect match for him, even if he has not realised it by the end of the book). There is so much I liked about it that I could rattle on forever, but that would be pointless: go and read the book!
I said at the end of my review of the first book that I felt Lawrence would grow as he continued, and I feel that my words have been justified, this takes all the promise and runs with it. Even if it turns out that this is the high point of the trilogy, the third novel will still be a special something to look forward to.