This is part of a series of reviews - my attempt to cover all nine finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Award before the winner is announced at the end of October. I'll be approaching these books in a slightly templated fashion: plot summary, good stuff, not so good stuff, conclusion.
King of Thorns (2012) is the second book in Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire series. His debut, Prince of Thorns, was one of 2011's most interesting and controversial books due to its lead character: Jorg Ancrath, a vicious teenager who takes his adolescent angst to near-apocalyptic levels. To some, Prince was grimdarkness to the point of farce. To others, it was an original and fascinating interpretation of the genre.
[This review contains major spoilers for both Prince of Thorns and King of Thrones.]
Jorg has now become king of his own tiny portion of the Broken Empire, but he's got his eye on bigger and better things - the Imperial throne. To some degree, Jorg sees his ascension as inevitable, he's got the unmatched combination of cunning and ambition, after all. Unfortunately, not everyone else agrees. The first problem that poses itself is Prince Orrin of Arrow, as close as this land will ever get to a 'knight of legend'. He's ostensibly everything good and right, and the other micro-countries are all flocking to his banner. Jorg, however, has no such intention.
Jorg's war with Orrin (and his brother Egan) is the central plot of the book, but by no means the only one. Following the complex structure that he began in Prince, Mr. Lawrence divides the book into several narratives. In one, Jorg is defending his land from Prince Orrin's invasion. In another, Jorg has a magic memory box - every time he opens it, he finds something new from some point in his past (generally, but not exclusively, four years previous). In yet another, Jorg's gallivanting around the world with his Brothers (his ex-bandit friends) around that same, four years previous, time. And, finally, Katherine, Jorg's "love interest" (we'll get to that) narrates snippets of her own story through journal entries.