"A dark time comes. My time. If it offends you. Stop me."
"The thorns taught me the game. They let me understand what all those grim and serious men who’ve fought the Hundred War have yet to learn. You can only win the game when you understand that it is a game. Let a man play chess, and tell him that every pawn is his friend. Let him think both bishops holy. Let him remember happy days in the shadows of his castles. Let him love his queen. Watch him lose them all."
We first meet our hero, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, when he's a lad of thirteen years, burning a peasant village, slaughtering the farmers and raping their daughters. It only gets worse from there. Jorg may be nothing but the leader of a murderous band of outlaws now, but his ultimate goal is to win the war that has torn the land asunder for centuries and crown himself emperor over a hundred squabbling kingdoms. There's nothing he won't do and nobody he won't sacrifice to get there.
This book provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: Jorg's father is a cold, cruel, callous, calculating bastard, who uses his son for his own ends.
After you read about Justice in the book The King Of Thorns, you will lose what little sympathy you may or may not have had for Jorg's father. Justice was Jorg and William's pet dog. As a punishment to Jorg for breaking a snowglobe, his father made Jorg take a hammer and break three of his dog's legs. When Jorg refused to break the fourth, his father had the dog burned alive. Jorg was six years old.
After the End: At first the world appears to be a classic medieval fantasy setting, although with fantasy elements like undeath thrown in. Soon enough we learn that it's our world when Jorg starts talking about Plutarch and Plato. As the story goes on it becomes apparent that it's set in the far future. Our civilization reached new heights in the past before it destroyed itself, leaving behind a changed world of little technology, powerful magic and remnants of the 'builders'. Jorg's house took the ruins of a scyscraper for their castle, among other things.
And I Must Scream: Jorg being stuck in the thorns of a hook briar patch and forced to witness the slaughter of his family counts as one of the most mundane examples of this trope.
And Man Grew Proud - What has led to the modern culture's downfall and the creation of neo-medieval world in which the novel is set.
A Million Is a Statistic: Frequently averted throughout the book, as Jorg and other characters are fully aware of lives they take throughout the book. At one point, Jorg describes an unnamed soldier's corpse as "something that lived and laughed only hours ago.
Arranged Marriage: The marriage of Jorg and Miana. Before the wedding day, they only saw each other through their locket pictures. Thus, she's unaware he has half of his face's burnt off (but quickly get over it), while he doesn't know she's only twelve.
Artifact of Doom: The still functional nuclear bomb, which Jorg uses to great effect.
The Copper Cube in the King Of Thorns.
As the Good Book Says: Averted in the traditional sense, as the Roma Church has gathered all the Bibles for its priests and refuses to give them to anyone else, much like the real Catholic Church did at one point.
However, Jorg at one point goes and says something he just made up and says he’s read it in the book. When asked on the book he replies "It's in the great Jorg’s book of Go Fuck Yourself."
Assimilation Backfire: Jorg and his band come to Fire-sworn Ferrakind in the hope he can cure Gog of his condition or help him master his powers. Ferrakind attempts to assimilate him instead. Jorg, prepared for this, got Gog to channel Ferrakind's flames to the frozen lake above them until it melts and extinguishes Terrakind. However, Gog dies as well.
Happens at the end of the book as well. as Jorg gets tainted with both necromancy and pyromancy, Ferrakind and Dead King attempt to claim him for themselves, fighting against each other within his body. In the end, they end up neutralising each other's presence and cleansing Jorg from all magic.
Awesome, but Impractical: Jorg considers the medieval siege engines in this way in the King of Thorns, because of how difficult it is to transport and supply them.
Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Happens with many modern things throughout the book, as their true names have been forgotten after the technological collapse.
The nuclear bomb Jorg uses in the first book's climax is known as Builder's Sun in the book's world. Things like concrete, asphalt and transparent plastic are also known as builder-stone and builder-glass.
This also happens with natural things that got renamed after the collapse. For instance, the so-called clove-spice is strongly implied to be raw heroin.
Significantly downplayed with DNA. Genetically engineered creatures like Gorgoth refer to it as dena.
Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Many castles in the book are not true medieval structures but abandoned modern-day ones restructured to fit the purpose. The Tall Castle in particular is actually a derelict scyscraper.
Similarly, the trolls in the book are actually genetically engineered creatures left behind after the collapse.
Character Development: Jorg's character starts out as an almost 100% pure The Unfettered dedicated only to the goals of becoming Emperor and taking vengeance on Count Renar and his father for not avenging his mother's death. After time passes, and he throws off the control of the Count Renar's wizard, he begins to develop a conscience, and he does begin feeling bad as his Brothers die.
Child Mage: Gog, who is capable of channelling torrents of flame in spite of being only eight.
Child Marriage Veto: Averted: Miana consents to marry Jorg in spite of only being twelve. He, on the other hand, is none too happy about it and makes it clear to her it's only a formality.
Children Are Innocent: Averted with Jorg, who is already rather selfish and cold at six years old. Similarly, Miana, his twelve-year-old bride, if fully aware of how dire their situation is and even recites their armies' body count as a kill-to-death ratio, something which even creeps Jorg out.
Christianity is Catholic: The only Christianity mentioned in the series is the Roma church, which is a direct descendant of the Catholic Church, and maintains many of its traditions, like having a Pope in Vatican and burning people for witchcraft. The latter is justified sometimes, but usually it's the heretics and those attempting to rebuild technology who get burnt.
Clarke's Third Law: Discussed by a hologram, who says that the current era's magic stems from botched quantum experiments.
Combat Pragmatist: Jorg, Makin and their entire band of brothers. They keep catching others by surprise by how dirty they're willing to fight. Even Necromancers.
Cruel and Unusual Death: Bishop Murillo, a corrupt clergyman in the Prince of Thorns, gets killed by Jorg by having nails hammered into his head. Jorg later complains that it wasn’t slow enough for him.
Dead All Along: Prince Orrin turns out to be this in all Wedding Day chapters (i.e. present moment, as opposed to "four years earlier" flashbacks), as he was betrayed earlier by Egan.
Determinator: Besides his savage cunning and amorality, this is the other key feature of Jorg. The guy will not quit, starting from childhood when he survived impalement on the hook briar patch and the later surgeries that removed them from his body and later surviving a long trek through a radioactive desert that no else has ever survived. His younger brother makes Jorg looks soft his will is so strong that after death he breaks the control that the necromancers had on him and makes them his puppet, when he was 3.
Elite Zombie: If a person if buried in the ground up to their neck and left to starve, their corpse becomes a fast zombie with glowing eyes. The book also briefly mentions corpses that spent so long in the swamp without rotting due to lack of oxygen, that they became as tough as tanned leather.
Establishing Character Moment: Jorg is introduced letting his band of bandits massacre a village, and having just raped the daughters of a farmer, who he has killed in cold blood. He's thirteen. Later, he kills one of his fellow companions out of annoyance.
Later subverted in The King Of Thorns, when it's revealed that said "companion" was a dog torturing sadist whom Jorg had punished earlier that day. Said torture reminded Jorg of the Justice incident mentioned above. Jorg knew that said "companion" was planning to try to kill him, so Jorg killed him before he had the chance.
Even Evil Has Standards: Jorg would not hurt a child. Nor, for that matter, a dog, and neither should you in front of him.
Evil Gloating: Sageous seemingly can’t get enough of them in the King of Thorns. Jorg takes them as good sign, though, because it means more subtle manipulation has failed.
Eye Scream: A fortman in the King of Thorns gets an arrow stuck through his eye.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Subverted in the book. Many kingdoms have obvious medieval counterparts, like Arrow in medieval England or Maladon in the Viking Scandinavia. However, these cultures aren't fantasy: they're the same medieval cultures reborn after the collapse of the modern world thousand years earlier.
Fantasy Gun Control: True to form, the cool, twin-firing crossbow Nuban has and which is eventually taken by Jorg for himself is about as advanced as functional ranged weapons (as opposed to rusting, millennia-old rifles nobody has any idea how to use) get in this world. The only exception is a Colt revolver that Fexler Brews killed himself with and which is taken by Jorg.
At one point, Jorg specifically asks the Fexler Brews hologram to teach him how to create guns. He firmly refuses, believing that they're not advanced enough to handle the power. although he does let him take the single Colt revolver for himself.
Forgotten Fallen Friend: Averted with Hanna. Katherine grieves for her and frequently mentions her in her diaries after she's strangled by Jorg when attempting to protect her.
Eventually subverted as it turns out she never really was pregnant in the first place, and the "abortion" was application of poisons that made her sterile.
Groin Attack: Friar Glen is stabbed in the groin before he's left to choke on a gag made from his own bedsheet.
Hero Antagonist: Prince Orrin in the second book is this. He wants to unite the Hundred broken kingdoms into the original empire in order to bring peace to the people, not for sake of power or challenge like Jorg.
Hope Spot: There are plenty of these in the books, often when Jorg decides to do something evil, considers against it, then does it anyway.
In the King of Thorns , he returns to the circus that helped his band earlier. Before leaving, he notices a starved lion in the cage, and is eventually left alone with it. He considers the livelyhoods of the circuspeople and the carnage a starved lion will wreak, then opens the cage anyway.
Idiot Ball: For all of his usual cleverness, it takes quite a while for Jorg to realise that a deathly pale family living inside a village in the middle of a swamp with no roads leading to them aren't alive.
I'm a Humanitarian: The trolls in King of Thorns don't know what human flesh is like, but are rather willing to try.
Incest Is Relative: Mianna is Jorg's wife and mother of his son. She's also blood related to him, she's his 1st cousin by his mother's side (their mothers are sisters). Justified as this wasn't too uncommon of a practice among the nobility and it was an opportunity for Jorg to shore up support from his relatives for the imperial election.
Indy Ploy: Many of Jorg's themes are this, conjured in the last moment. Sometimes, they're created beforehand, but hidden away in a memory box until needed, to protect from telepathic witches in the enemy's employ.
In Spite of a Nail: Jorg plans to deal with some of the Arrow’s army assaulting them by having the avalanche triggered over them, but he gives the signal to start it several minutes too late and the army catches up with them. However, it (barely) works anyway because one of the fires was flawed and burnt out too soon.
I Love Nuclear Power: Many of the fantastic creatures encountered were originally created by the fallout from destroyed nuclear power stations.
Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Jorg is typically in that territory. Whenever he does something remotely good, he quickly reveals his selfish reasons for it in his thoughts.
Just A Flesh Wound: Averted, as all wounds will get infected and kill the person without prompt treatment. When Caddin is shot in the stomach, Jorg knows he won't make and will die sooner or later.
Master Swordsman: Many in this book, even amongst the Brotherhood who are better known for being combat pragmatists - Jorg and Makin are true masters of the sword and will show that a blade in their hands become little more than a blur when fighting dirty would be inappropriate.
Mercy Kill: Jorg does with a dying infant girl with sedative drugs to ease her pain.
Later, he kills Lesha before a group of torturing bandits can take her. He also kills a little girl living with them and calls it helping her, because now she won't be able to grow up like he did.
Averted with Coddin, whom he refuses to kill in spite of him getting an arrow through the stomach, something that usually results in slow and painful death. He does it because he still needs his advice, and it works: in the Emperor of Thorns, he is still alive, though unable to move and has to have his wound regularly washed and bandaged.
Mind Rape: A favorite tactic of several sorcerers, including Sageous, Corion and Katherine.
Mundane Utility: Gog's flame-based powers are often used by Jorg to light campfires or provide lightning when it's dark.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Jorg the Red sounds bad enough before you learn that he earned it by single-handedly slaughtering a fourteen-men-strong fort garrison.
Neck Snap: What Chella does to Young Sim after she catches him.
Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight: Averted: Jorg bypasses what would have been a virtually hopeless duel by using A Colt. 45 revolver he is given by the Fexler Brews hologram.
Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Subverted/averted, depending on the villain. when Jorg infiltrates the Tall Castle in The King of Thorns, he considers killing his baby brother Degran, holds him in his arms and decides against it, but he's already killed by the necromancy touch. This leaves him with so much guilt that he has to have the memory removed from him and it takes him four years to look at it again and come to terms with it. However, this was partially engineered by Sageous in an attempt to break Jorg mentally and he almost succeeds at that.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If Friar Glen's ghost didn't stab a zombie in his path, or if a ghostly dog's skull didn't bite Jorg, he wouldn't have realised that ghosts are unable to hurt the living but can kill the undead.
Not Distracted by the Sexy: Jorg barely manages to move his gaze away from Chella's naked form, which somehow manages to be seductive in spite her being dead, etc.
No Man of Woman Born: All of the seers believe that the Prince of Arrow will win the battle for the throne and become emperor, and so advise Jorg to surrender. Ultimately, he himself becomes the Prince of Arrow.
Noodle Implements: There are quite a few uses for a dead rat, which is a matter I will go into some other time.
Not Me This Time: Jorg might not be exceptionally evil when compared to his fellow kings and princes, but he's still a very evil character by today's standards. However, he didn't rape Katherine Ap Scorron: that was Friar Glen, who found her unconscious.
Similarly, when in disguise at the castle of his grandfather, he is accused of poisoning guards' food. this was actually Qualasadi, their Moor advisor.
Not So Different: Prince Egan literally says this to Jorg before their final fight:
Egan: "We’re both fratricides, you and I. Not so different after all."
Not Using the Z Word: Played with. In universe the zombies are simply referred to as the undead, but Fexler Brews, a hologram from the modern world, calls them zombies, surprising Jorg.
Luckily My Shield Will Protect Me: The King of Thorns briefly mentions Cennat shield dancers, who wield their man's height shields so well they can practically twirl them.
Oh, Crap: The look on Sageous’s face when he finally realizes that Katherine has countered his dream-walking powers and he’s now standing in person in front of Jorg.
Playing with Fire: The powers used by Gog, an eight-year-old mutant child, as well as Ferrakind, an ancient fire-sworn. Subverted in that neither actually create any new fire but instead combine and transport the existing ones to whenever they're needed. They're also capable of seeing from one fire into another anywhere in the world. As Gog puts it at one point, "there's really only one fire in the world."
Power at a Price: The fire powers of Gog and Ferrakind slowly convert their bodies and mind into flame until they get completely consumed. both die before that happens, however.
Psychic Link: Gorgoth, being a genetically engineered creature, can communicate with other such creatures, like trolls, though mind link alone.
Psychopathic Manchild: Jorg, especially at thirteen and fourteen, frequently does horrific things that result in people's deaths just because he wants to do them. He lets Jane die under a rock-fall because he couldn't be bothered saving her, he lets a starved lion loose in a circus fully aware of the consequences and finds an old woman getting a fatal heart attack at the sight of his pet monster hilarious.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Averted. Jorg himself is a rapist and doesn't consider it much more evil than his other actions. Similarly, Katherine hates him more for killing her elderly servant than for molesting her though is Mis-blamed for the last one.
Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Jorg's band's favorite pastime in the Prince of Thorns. Much of his King of Thorns arc involves him letting go of these habits.
Ridiculously Human Robots: Fexler Brews, the hologram. Justified, since he was deliberately copied by the real Flexter Brews, monitoring every moment of his life.
Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: Jorg manages to kill several thousand soldiers in the Arrow’s army by initiating a rock fall over them. Twice.
Sadistic Choice: Jorg is confronted with one when he's just six. either he breaks his dog's Justice leg, or it gets burnt to death. Ultimately, the choice didn't matter.
Scary Black Man: played with the Nuban. While he can be intimidating, he is feared and despised out of racism. Otherwise, he also acts as a limited conscience for Jorg, so he is also a very downplayedMagical Negro.
Sweet Polly Oliver: Revealed in the book Prince of Fools, pretty boy Brother Emmer isn't so much a boy.
The Easy Way or the Hard Way: Jorg's father presents him with a very sadistic version of the dilemma when he was just six: either he breaks his dog's leg for stealing from the treasury, or the dog is burned to death. When he complies, he is asked to break all others before dog is killed anyway. Since then, Jorg always purposely seeks the hard way in any situation he faces. His advisor, Coddin, has to say "the clever way" instead in order to even get him to consider the alternative.
The Unfettered: There is no lengths to which Jorg will not go to attain his goals, especially in the beginning. As the story goes on, he begins to become a little less this, as his past actions begin to catch up with him and he throws off the control that a wizard secretly had over him.
Tainted Veins: Jorg gets these after his father stabs him. , and they signify the awakening of his necromancy powers. they disappear once he gets rid of necromancy at the end of King of Thorns.
Token Minority: Nuban, again, being practically the only non-white person after Sageous (who is Arabic) and the only black person in the series. This is strange, given that the book is set after the end of modern civilisation and there should have been many more descendants of today's Asian, Arabic and African immigrants present.
Too Dumb to Live: The fourteen fortmen in the King of Thorns. Letting a guy in the fort to return an arrow they shot at him and after having killed his companion?
Too Spicy for Yog Sothoth: nearly at the start of the novel, a ghost tries to haunt Jorg; in stead of fleeing, Jorg allows the spectre to see into his mind... and the ghost runs away, since our protagonist can offer worse thoughts, than the ghost itself.
Later subverted when it is discovered that the ghost wasn't running from Jorg, but the wizard that had it's hands in him.
Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Referenced several times with regards to Prince Orrin. The man is an ideal hero, who is every bit as good as they say he is. Even Jorg liked and admired him in a fashion. But while he stood a very real chance of winning the Imperial throne, it was doubtful that Orrin had the iron fist to hold it and he would later be murdered by his own brother, a man who's far more similar to Jorg.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sageous presents himself as this, justifying all his manipulation with the goal of peace and eventual recovery of lost technology. To him, this justifies things like tricking Jorg into killing his baby brother and making Katherine think she was pregnant and arranging fake abortion for her that leaves her infertile. Ultimately, he wants power more than anything else, proven when he arranges Orrin's murder when he would have brought the peace needed.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: Jorg thinks along these lines when he considers the existence of the Fexler Brews hologram. Subverted in that the hologram itself is fine with its existence and doesn't want to die.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Sir Makin considers Orrin of Arrow to be this and doesn't believe he will survive the conflict, which is why he still serves Jorg in spite of him being the worse person. Ultimately, he's right