King of Thorns is the second book in The Broken Empire Trilogy (preceded by Prince and succeeded by Emperor). It’s dark fantasy, set in a medieval(ish), magical world several centuries after mankind has undergone a nuclear holocaust, which destroyed the vast majority of ancient (ie advanced) technology and reduced our race to swords and spears, castles and knights.
The protagonist is Jorg Ancrath, a complex chap who doesn’t so much have shades of grey as small variations of black. Accompanied by a few associates (some perhaps even worse than Jorg), he spends much of his time travelling what’s left of Europe, seeking knowledge, power, allies and to sate his own curiosity. The other half of the book (the story flits back and forth) is four years after that journey, when he’s defending his modest kingdom from a man they say is destined to reunite the Empire.
King of Thorns keeps all that was to like about the first book and adds to it. In addition to the interestingly grim Jorg and the intriguing setting (which has elements of both past and future), it feels better balanced and takes its time (in a good way) without ever letting the plot get bogged down. The past and present chapters fit perfectly well together, the writing style is very easy to read and conveys a strong impression with relatively few words. There’s also a nice little twist near the end, which I shan’t spoil.
I particularly like the setting. Post-apocalypse is done to death, and a world where things are back on their feet but not back where they were (almost as the 9th century or so was to Rome following the Dark Ages) is more interesting.
Downsides? Quite few, to be honest. The map is one of those which covers two pages, which means the paperback version has much of it disappear where the pages meet.
I’d strongly recommend it, but as it’s book 2 in a series, do make sure you read Prince of Thorns first. They’re dark fantasy, so if you’re more after snuggling up in bed with a fairy or two The Broken Empire may not be for you. But if you like the works of Martin, Abercrombie or Lynch you should definitely give this series a look.