Review: The Briar King (Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone Book 1 of 4)

The Briar King - Greg Keyes

This book grew on me the more I read it. I liked it from the beginning, but I also didn’t have any trouble putting it down to do other things. The further I got into the book, the more invested I became in the story and the characters, and my reading sessions started to get longer.


I don’t think there was anything all that unique about the story, but it was told well. There are rumors about evil things happening in the forest, dire prophecies and legends, political intrigue, and a cast of characters all trying to stay alive and/or do their duty. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything that I would really classify as epic fantasy, so maybe that's why these common themes didn't feel tiresome to me. There weren’t a lot of plot twists, but neither was everything spelled out and there were some mysteries that the reader was given time to unravel on their own.


In the beginning, I felt a little overwhelmed with just how many characters were introduced. Once the characters finally started repeating, though, I realized I was having no trouble at all with keeping them all straight. There’s a tough woodsman trying to keep the forest safe. There’s a young monk who’s in equal parts smart and clueless, and a magnet for trouble. There’s a young princess who’s a bit spoiled and self-centered, but rather likeable in spite of that. There’s a noble knight who values duty and honor above all else. And there’s a weak king who has good intentions but doesn’t seem to know how to do his job. Those are the characters we spend the most time with, but there are a couple other characters whose perspectives we read from and plenty of other characters who play supporting roles.


I never got overly emotionally invested in any of the characters, but I found them all interesting and believable and I did care what happened to them. The chapters are pretty short and often end in minor cliff hangers, with each chapter focusing on a different character or group of characters, so the reader bounces around between different characters’ stories quite a bit. There was never a character whose story bored me. Even while I was annoyed about having one story interrupted, I was usually equally happy when I started the next chapter and saw which part was coming up next.


The book ends well, without any major cliff hangers. Clearly the land’s troubles are just beginning but we’re left with all of the characters accounted for, one way or another, and the immediate crisis is at an end. The ending has sort of a “calm before the storm” feel, like the characters will have a brief time to catch their breaths and then things will get even worse than before. I plan to continue on with the second book.