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Two thousand years ago, the Born Queen defeated the Skasloi lords, freeing humans from the bitter yoke of slavery. But now monstrous creature roam the land--and destinies become inextricably entangled in a drama of power and seduction. The king's woodsman, a rebellious girl, a young priest, a roguish adventurer, and a young man made suddenly into a knight--all face malevolent forces that shake the foundations of the kingdom, even as the Briar King, legendary harbinger of death, awakens from his slumber. At the heart of this many-layered tale is Anne Dare, youngest daughter of the royal family...upon whom the fate of her world may depend.

582 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published November 1, 2002

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About the author

Greg Keyes

68 books611 followers
Gregory Keyes is a writer of science fiction and fantasy who has written both original and media-related novels under both the names J. Gregory Keyes and "Greg Keyes".

Greg Keyes was born in to a large, diverse, storytelling family. He received degrees in anthropology from Mississippi State and the University of Georgia before becoming a fulltime writer.
He lives in Savannah, Georgia.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 420 reviews
Profile Image for Samantha.
11 reviews17 followers
June 17, 2011
Greg Keyes needed to torch his thesaurus, and who ever told him such a thing existed needs to be drug out into the street and shot.

“But oh ye blogger, why would thou, an English major, deny the beauty that synonyms dost bestow upon the worn, weary, and drear language?”

Because, ye ingrates– synonyms are only replacements. They don’t make worn, wear, drear language any better. They just make it ridiculous. Like putting Alexander McQueen or Prada on a scarecrow. Or a cow. And I mean a literal cow, not the denigrating derivative sometimes used to refer to fat people.

Yeah, I know, I’m insensitive.

To prove my point, here is a passage from J. R. R– wait, do I really need to tell you who that is and what he wrote? I would find that patronizing.

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

Words more than two syllables: 1. Count it. One. And it’s “destroyer.” There’s elegance to that, rhythm… music. It’s grand, and wonderful. Beautiful. But uncomplicated, unpretentious.

Now an outtake from The Briar King:

“At that moment, Wilhilm reappeared, with a stoneware platter of cheese, a pitcher of mead, and mazers for each of them. It suddenly occured to Stephen that he was hungry, and when he bit into the pungent, almost buttery cheese, he amended that to ravenous. The mead was sweat and tasted of cloves.”

Uh. Spork. I need a spork so I can dig my eyeballs out with it.

Derivative spellings of common Earth names are lame. Respelling Lucas to Lucoth does not make it cool. It makes it lame. Virginia Dare spelled as Virgenya is also lame. Don’t insult the intelligence of your readers like that. William, Willhelm, whatever– Wilhilm? What the– even if you wanted a special name, there’s too many letters that look alike for your readers to get the sound and feel of it without painfully sounding it out.

There’s a basic rule to good writing– use strong nouns and verbs. Prepositions typically function as adjectives or adverbs, and this book uses them to pieces. Dead horse, much? Of cheese, of mead, of them, of cloves– that is the sign of a writer trying entirely way too hard. “Of” does not make you sound cultured, historical, whatever– it’s pomposity.

Also, Keyes uses adjectives on top of the prepositions. Adjectives on top of adjectives. No strong descriptions, no rhythm or music to his selections… just piecemealed synonyms plucked out of a bloody thesaurus.

Also, the narrator’s voice– I would have understood if the narrator was a pompous ass. Or if one of the main character’s voice was a prick– but Locuth, the man who barely serves any purpose at all and in my opinion could have easily been completely obliterated without any detriment done to the plot at all – described a man’s voice as “cultured and sibilant.”

Sibilant? Really? The backwater village’s local idiot used the word sibilant?

Insert eye-roll here: ________________

Profile Image for Kris43.
120 reviews51 followers
March 26, 2013
I am giving this 4,5 stars. This is the first book of a interesting series.

At the beginning, it takes us way back in the time when mankind were slaves to a race of powerful magic users. We get to see how we fought against them and earned our freedom, lead by a powerful witch queen. But in doing so, we did something that has a potential to come back and haunt us.

Times change, mankind moves on and forgets. Kingdoms are formed, they are fought for, grow strong, then stagnate, become too compliant and assured of themselves. Our kingdom, Crotheny is ruled by a weak and naive king who has no idea that he is being fooled by somebody close to him.

Magic and its users were viewed as dangerous. There are no more powerful witch queens. The church is formed who persecutes all who have the potential as heretics. Soon the old Gods are defeated, jet some remain asleep and waiting. They awake only when the times are right, when there is change in the air. All agree that this is a bad omen. Now there are some indications that church leaders condone old rituals so they can strengthen their 'holy' army. All this so they can usurp the royal line.

Princess Ann was just a little girl when she was playing in the city of the Dead. She stumbles on something and falls through into a burial chamber below and lands on a sarcophagus. She tries to open it, but its too heavy. She can move it just a bit, so a crack formes. Knowing inside is her ancestress, the legendary queen, she talks to her. Something stirs. Princess keeps it a secret.

That day she started something that will make her the only living descendant of a royal line of Crotheny capable of communicating with the shadows. There is a war coming and they warn her that when the old God, the Briar king awakes, Crotheny must have a queen.

And then there is treachery and carnage. They try to wipe out the royal family. Our kingdom suddenly finds its self on a brink of ruin. And then, the Briar king awakes.

Profile Image for Shannon.
901 reviews235 followers
March 17, 2014
Understand that this author is new to fantasy and this is his first stab at writing in such a genre. So, while this was compared to George R.R. Martin's SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, understand it doesn't come close.

That said, this is an honest start with solid promise in the future.


(1) Lots of time spent on a believable History;
(2) good cast of character;
(3) it moves;
(4) author is good at creating emotional affects; especially fear and curiosity


(1) dialogue needs work. While it doesn't suck it lacks complexity and nuances that we expect in dialogue;
(2) Some of the characters, like the dialogue, needs development. Lots of archetypes for those who like it;
(3) a few plot holes.

This novel will be helpful in assisting me with my writing as I can use it to George R.R. Martin to compare pieces. Sometimes you learn more from a novel, that needs some improvement, than something as flawless as George R.R. Martin.

STORY/PLOTTING: B minus to B; CHARACTERS/DIALOGUE: C plus to B minus; WORLD BUILDING: B to B plus; FANTASY FOCUSES/TWISTS: B minus to B; OVERALL GRADE: B minus to B; WHEN READ: 2005 (revised review January 2013).
Profile Image for Chris  Haught.
580 reviews219 followers
November 23, 2015
What is often cited as a weakness for this book is the standard, cookie-cutter characters that inhabit the story. And while I admit this is very true, I believe that Keyes pulls it off nicely. He takes those typical tropes and works them through an original and intriguing story. His dialogue and plot are great, and his world building is fantastic. The characters themselves are solid in their representation, and I hope that in further volumes of this series, they are fleshed out and given a unique flair all their own. It wouldn't take a lot to make them truly interesting.

That being said, this is a first rate fantasy epic, with a story that moves quickly and bounces from one scene to another. It will leave the reader hanging on the edge of one's seat and pushing through the relatively short chapters to see what happens next. A great debut for the series, and I'm looking forward to delving in deeper. Just have to be careful; those briar thorns look sharp.
489 reviews57 followers
September 12, 2007
The one where people are about to pay the price for some sort of unclean power used by their ancestors, as the Briar King, a figure out of myth, rises to destroy the world.

Or, in other words, six hundred pages of prologue. By the time we're done, we have the enemy (dimly known and poorly understood through mythology) and the cast of characters: a gruff woodsman and his plucky girlfriend, a monk who's the classic scholar-turned-fighter in the Blair Sandburg mode, a swordsman who's so very Italian I don't know why the author even bothered to give his country a different name, a foreign knight who's Benton Fraser (he even says, "And I you"!), and a tomboyish princess.

Not to imply that there's no action in the book; the action never stops. It's just that it's the kind of action that's only used to get the major conflict started. I suppose I have to read The Charnel Prince and The Blood Knight to see it resolved. (And I really hope those titles don't mean he plans to carry the story through the entire chessboard before resolving it in a book called The Iron Pawn or something.)

I have mixed feelings about the many different languages in this book. The linguistics has an air of authority, and yet it can be very confusing; I often wished the author would sacrifice authenticity for clarity. Likewise the two (two!) prologues; I see the usefulness of the information that's in them, but that's an awful lot of unfamiliar characters, languages, and places to be forced to endure before you're fully committed to the book.

The characterization of the two most important women, Anne and Winna, bothers me, too. I do realize that in the preindustrial age where fantasy lives, if women want to be part of the story at all, they're going to have to break rules, ignore advice, and go where they're not wanted. But it seems to me that they both do it stupidly. Winna makes Aspar more vulnerable when she insists on following him, and I don't see that she offers any corresponding strength to make up for the weakness she creates. And Anne rebels over really idiotic things; she sacrifices a chance to learn the crafts of magic and assassination because she's too highborn to be forced to make cheese? Seriously, girl, get ahold of yourself.

And maybe I'm missing something, or maybe this will all be explained in future volumes, but I don't understand what he's getting at with all the evocations of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. This is a world that has (at least) two intelligent humanoid species; obviously we're not anywhere Sir Walter Raleigh ever set foot, so what's up?

I did enjoy the book; it's vivid and exciting and surprising and occasionally witty, though obviously not perfect.

2007 Locus poll: The Blood Knight #14 fantasy.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,867 reviews5,032 followers
January 20, 2016
This title always catchs my eye... then I read the description...and realize I've read it! This has happened 4 or 5 times! I don't know why this book was so unmemorable to me. Only the names of the characters and the backstory of the slave rebellion stick in my mind.
Profile Image for Shari  Mulluane.
133 reviews83 followers
April 7, 2009
The Briar King is one of those delightful books that slowly grows on you. It starts off a bit slow, gaining in momentum, until you look up and it is 3am, and you kick yourself for all those "just one more chapter..." moments.

Not only does the story grow on you, but most of the characters do too. Notice I said most. There were a few characters that I never got in touch with, but overall I was happy with the characterization. Actually, I feel that way about the entire book. The story was great, though in some places I felt a bit lost. The world building was equally good, though again, some parts left me a bit confused. The interesting thing is, it all balanced. I cannot think of a single area, pacing, characterization, world building, or plot that strikes me as being exceptional when compared to other areas. There were plot twists I saw coming, and there were some that left me stunned. There were characters I loved, or hated, and others I wished I knew better. There are questions asked and answered and questions left hanging in the air. All I know is that together, it all worked and was more then enough to make me read that "one more chapter..."

Full Review here: Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,848 followers
February 6, 2015
Not a bad read...got caught up right away, but it slowed down some. :

Update (originally reviewed 2009): I never followed it up, much. I started the second book and laid it aside.
Profile Image for Laurel.
497 reviews84 followers
November 15, 2010
I was very quickly carried away by the characters and the race-to-the-finish plotlies. Some developments I was able to predict, some not, but overall I bought in.

I like that one of the main character is more if an aging hero - his insights add a great deal to the storyline. I also appreciate the younger brash and somewhat naive characters who are a counterbalance to his worliness. I like that some of the good characters can be petty and vindictive, and that some of the questionable ones are motivated to help (in their own twisted way).

I could say more, but hate spoilers in reviews. My best recommendation is that I've bought the next three in the series, and plan to get to them soon!
Profile Image for Robin Wiley.
170 reviews26 followers
April 6, 2009
Greg Keyes is one of my all time favorite authors. That man can create a world with physical laws, and religions, and creatures - all different from the usual goblin and elf fare. Then he does is again. Of everything he's written, this is the best series. So it's probably better to save it for last. Go read the Waterborn duo, then his Age of Unreason series (a quad), then come back and do this one - called Thorn and Bone. Keyes writes with a driving force. Each chapter is devoted to a character, and you follow 2 - 4 characters throughout the book. And every chapter ends with a "and that's when the chuds came" cliffhanger. So you curse him and love him and just keep reading. I have lost entire nights to these books, in complete bliss.

This series is his best so far. You follow 4 characters. There is Anne, a spoiled, headstrong princess, with some interesting powers. There is Stephen, a young, bookish monk more interested in advancing his knowledge than his spiritual journey. There is Cazio, a rakish swordsman seeking glory and female favors. Finally there is Aspar. He's a King's huntsman. Think Strider - all ranger-like, pre heir to the throne of Gondor.

What's to love?

ACTION - rock solid, and as I said - cliffhanger after cliffhanger!
MAGIC - cool, manipulating laws of nature and physics kind of stuff. No wands required.
RELIGION - super cool. Keyes builds on his stuff from Age of Unreason series. That miracles are a matter of "tuning to the correct frequency" and Saints are people who have a gift for "tuning into" the Divinity station. And there are lines, or pools of energy in the world where the "signal" is stronger. STUFF happens! Pilgrimage to more of these places and get power upgrades!
CREATURES - old European mythical types, like the Briar King, Griffins and Utins - BIG, Dangerous

What's not so fun?

It goes way too fast.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,046 followers
June 9, 2010
This excellent fantasy series ("Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone") is very
reminiscent of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire - except that
it's actually finished! (There's one more book in the series that I
haven't yet read.) It follows a similar format, structurally, and the
'feel' of the writing is very similar. The story itself, however, is
quite original - at least, more so than many fantasy epics. I mean,
it's still got Dark Forces and Bold Warriors and Beautiful Queens etc,
etc... but we want that, right?

The implication, at the beginning of The Briar King is that the lost
colony of Roanoke island was somehow transported into an alternate
world. However, not much is done with this setup, as we are now many
many years from that time, and fully immersed in this world - a world
where humans were once enslaved by the demon lords, the Skasloi, but
managed to free themselves through dread magics, and develop a
medieval-type society.
However, the King's Holter, a dedicated woodsman, Aspar White, has
been seeing strange and ill things in his forest of late... When he
rescues Stephen, an innocent young scholar and novice monk, from
bandits, he is at first irritated by the young man's naivete, but soon
realizes his book-learning may shed light on some of the mysteries of
the forest... old tales of the rise of the fearsome Briar King, a sort
of Green Man/nature spirit of ambiguous nature.
Meanwhile, the mystic prophecies of the gypsy-like Sefry race seem to
indicate that there must be a Queen in the land. There is indeed a
Queen - and some princesses to boot - but there are also assassins
abroad... The low-born warrior knight Neil McVren is absolutely loyal
to Queen Muriele - and also falling in love with one of her daughters
- but his bravery may not be enough to stop the treachery and foul
plots that surround the royal women.
Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,250 reviews73 followers
June 12, 2020
This should have won some awards, IMHO (maybe it was the narrator).

A good fantasy story, although definitely in the European cast. There's backstory, about 2000 years back, that is interesting but doesn't seem to be "in focus" in either the background nor the foreground.

So, here's what I think is going on...
Our main story is set in a medieval world. It's been 2200 years since an enslaved humanity and "elf" union revolted from their creepy mystic-alien masters. But there is a flashback-prologue and clues throughout the novel, that the leader of the revolt was Virginia Dare (and some Croatans) of lost Roanoke colony fame.
So what I think happened, is some undefined actions of the slavers leaked people out of our world and into Keyes' world (because the leakage stopped when the slavers were defeated). But it left elves and Renaissance humans with magictechnology they didn't understand, and no infrastructure, so things settled into a bronze or or iron age culture for a couple thousand years.
Now, though, science and religion and magic are all on the move again, and prophecies are awakening the Briar King and the world will be shaken to it's roots in another couple of books...

Meanwhile, there's some really likeable, really believable characters -- a royal family of the house of Dare, and landless but talented knight sworn to them; a ranger-woodsman (holter?) accidentally paired to brilliant, but slightly hapless young monk from a more civilized region; and a young duelist who finds the trouble he is looking for when he rescues a rebellious Dare princess.
Profile Image for Sabrina.
489 reviews14 followers
February 13, 2020
The Briar King is the first book of the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series. It took me a while to get used to this new world: numerous names, constantly changing POVs, foreign-sounding words and some peculiar writing (rare words and many paragraphs). But then suddenly – everything changed and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Given that the story is not often talked about, I did not expect the great cast of characters who were not as black and white as in traditional fantasy settings and also included strong females:
• A weak king with a strong queen
• A headstrong girl with a best friend
• A pure knight with a strong arm
• A know-it-all priest-novice with no street smarts
• An old ranger with a broken heart

I also liked how the world (its pending doom) and the magic slowly developed – there was not yet a lot of it, but the potential is definitively there. I’m also quite fascinated at how one gets to practice magic and hope I’ll learn more of this. The story never fully took me where I expected and in the last 40%, I could hardly put it down. The ending was a satisfying conclusion, but clearly this book is not meant to be read as a standalone. I’m diving right into the next epic sequel.

“I feel as if an hourglass has been turned, and when the sands run out…”
Profile Image for Christine.
6,673 reviews489 followers
September 10, 2009
I feel like an evil person giving this book one star, especially when everyone else seems to love it. If you are reading this review you should note that I didn't finish this book. I read about 250 pages, got bored and angry, guessed at the ending, checked to see if I was right (I was), and put it down.

Why didn't I like the book? I'm the eldest child in my family. I am very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very tired of reading books where the eldest child is bitter and is evil or live a bad life or dies while the youngest child is the chosen favorite. I understand the whole psychological reasons for it; I've studied fairy tales after all. But can't fantasy books break that formula sometimes? I don't think it is an accident that A.S. Byatt is one my favorite authors; after all the first story I read by her was "The Story of the Eldest Princess". So poor Greg Keyes; I have issues with the whole younger and older children thing. These issues are made worse in this book because the youngest child is such a spoiled, self-centered, idiot, twit of a girl that I wanted her to be spanked, and no, not in a good way. For me that was a main issue. Very few of the characters felt really real. The chose was Winnia. And the romance elements seemed forced. Gentleman, ladies don't always need romance in books. Really.
Profile Image for Valerie.
2,022 reviews165 followers
September 11, 2008
I first read Keyes when someone gave me Waterborn, and I loved his use of mythology in his storytelling. When a free copy of this one came my way, I devoured it. Excellent.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,952 reviews1,295 followers
September 20, 2009
Too often a good fantasy book with a solid story suffers because its author is too busy showing off the awesome world in which the story takes place. Not so for The Briar King! No, instead of bad worldbuilding ruining good writing, Keyes' writing ruins his superb worldbuilding.

The Briar King starts with a prelude 2000 years in the past, when humanity unites to overthrow its Skasloi slave masters. In the present, humanity has now divided into the bickering nations across Everon. As political matters point to war, the eponymous god-like Briar King appears to be awakening after millennia of slumber, and no one is quite sure what this means for humanity—except that it can't be good. Caught between the hammer of war and anvil of nature, our protagonists find themselves with few friends and even fewer options.

I loved the world of Everon itself. Greg Keyes does a wonderful job at establishing the relationship among various nations without resorting to too much exposition. We get a sense of the deep enmity between the Skernish and Hansa and of the amity between Liery and Crotheny. Overarching it all is the Church, predicated on the veneration of saints and their sedoi, places of power where saints rested or parts of them have been buried. Finally, we get glimpses of the history of Everon between the overthrow of the Skasloi two thousand years ago and the present day—mention of some sort of continent-wide empire known as the Hegemony, a tyrannical ruler known as the Black Jester, and related conflicts called "the Warlock Wars." All of this Keyes weaves together into a tight historical background for the present-day drama. And that's why it's so disappointing that the actual conflict in the book is so underwhelming.

The principal fault lies in the characters, who are, for the most part, stock. Anne Dare is the rebellious princess who must grow up and fulfil her destiny; Austra is the trusted and devoted maidservant; Neil is the knight in shining armour, immune to temptation and incorruptible; Aspar is the grumpy old man; William is the good-natured king who never suspects betrayal; and Robert is the deceitful brother who kills his sister out of jealousy and arranges his brother's death to start a war. Not only do these characters act like their tropes, but their dialogue is similarly uninspired to the point of corniness:

A touch of anger at last entered Robert’s voice. "But you'd already decided that, hadn't you, Wilm? If you thought me a brother, you would never have betrothed Lesbeth without asking me. I could never forgive you that."

There were moments when optimism got the better of me and it looked like the book might improve, like the characters might actually break out of their moulds and do something new. For instance, take when Neil and Fastia have a few too many and come close to sleeping together, despite the fact that the former bodyguard to the latter's mother—the queen. I thought they might actually do it and then regret it later. But no, Neil is too pure for that, and so they just have to deal with unrequited love for the next several chapters until Fastia dies at the hands of the Plot. Whenever one of the protagonists gets in a tight enough spot that they might not make it, something inexplicable happens to save them: Anne makes a knight go blind, Neil goes into a berserker rage, etc. None of the conflicts faced by the main characters feel compelling because none feel dangerous. The only mistake the protagonists make is not being genre savvy.

The story itself suffers from first-book-itis, essentially functioning to set up the rest of the tetralogy. It introduces us to the main characters and manoeuvres them into place for the conflicts of the next three books. As much as Keyes tries to create an interesting story, the stock characters and standard fantasy tropes left me unimpressed and unamused. I never felt surprised, or even outraged. Mostly I was passive, maybe even a little bored, as page after page of predictable plot passed me by.

Now, any genre has its established tropes, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Briar King, however, takes that to a whole new level. There's very little that's original about its characters or its plot; just a few names have been changed to protect the exploited. This is formulaic fantasy at its most derivative.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Johnny.
156 reviews5 followers
August 20, 2015
Recommended for: Lovers of well-executed, standard fantasy, i.e. swordplay, magic, fantastic creatures, royalty, gifted commoners, children becoming legends, various locations strongly based on real-earth places, etc.

I first read this series back in 2008. Once I'd forgotten the plot (which I do with almost all books), all I had left was the memory of really enjoying it while working the night shift at the front desk of a hotel. So, in search of some quality, non-epically-verbose fantasy to read, I turned back to it.

Here's my take on second reading: So far, so good.

Style: This story features multiple POV characters. For the most part, Keyes keeps the POVs clear and separate, though there are a few scenes in which he inexplicably breaks form and muddies the waters. I am not sure why, other than perhaps those awkward shifts weren't caught by editors. A similar small weakness, like tiny spots of mould on otherwise delicious old cheese, are some misused/misunderstood words in a book by a writer with an impressive lexicon. I had to look up at least 50 words while reading this book. This doesn't usually happen when I read fantasy. The let down? Keyes had the wrong sense of meaning for at least a half-dozen of those words. For example, 'laconic'. Keyes seems to believe it means 'languid', since he has a character raise a cup 'laconically'. Certainly, one could raise a cup using as few words as possible, but I don't think that's what Keyes meant, or meant to mean. Another small weakness-- Keyes does a fair bit of stereotypical, almost romance-style, cataloguing of physical characteristics when introducing characters. Add these weaknesses up, though, and they don't amount to a dastardly demolition of otherwise decent writing. 2 stars for Style.

Characterization: Keyes focuses on certain characters, and the more POV time he gives one, the more important they are to the story, and the more they get developed. He doesn't work any miracles, but no POV character gets badly neglected or goes heinously undeveloped. Those who get a lot of time get a lot of change, and that is how it should be. Also, Keyes mixes up likeable and unlikeable characters nicely, with few being presented as definitively 'good' or 'bad'. There's still that typical fantasy 'good vs. evil' theme running through the story, but it's a little subtler, and I appreciate that. 3 stars for Character.

Setting: Here's where Keyes stands a little above standard fantasy. There are some wonderful landscapes and tweaks to the world in this book. At the onset, it's standard fare: palaces, castles, forests. But as the story winds on, very interesting elements are added that add colour to the story, such as mysterious 'faneways' that give monks special powers, a cave city in which a strange tribe of people live, hidden valleys, half-worlds where the dead commune with the living, etc. These settings are excellently described and firmly root the reader in the world of fantasy. 4 stars for Setting.

Plotting: Another of Keyes' strengths. I think the plot is why I remembered these books as being enjoyable. Keyes is no George R.R. Martin, I'll tell you that. This guy keeps his plots ripping along, and one in particular is an almost book-long cat-and-mouse chase scene. Like a master, he weaves plots together to bring things to a head, and the entire last third of the book is a very fast read. 5 stars for Plotting.

Final Rating: 4 stars. (3.5 + an extra half for enjoying a book this much on second reading.)
Profile Image for Eli.
59 reviews4 followers
September 10, 2008
This was the best first installment of an epic fantasy series I've come across since I first picked up A Game of Thrones. It is similarly presented as an ensemble story, with multiple characters alternately sharing the spotlight. Keyes has crafted an old world, filled with forgotten legends and creatures, obscure prophecies, conspiracies, courtly intrigues, and even some occasional wry humor. The story thus far is shaping up to be a masterpiece fully deserving the adjective "epic," and if the future installments manage to maintain the wonder and tension of this first book, I am going to very much enjoy this tale.

Interestingly, as the main plot unfolded, I was reminded of Lovecraft. Keyes doesn't focus so much on people losing their minds, and I never felt much of an element of horror, but there are some similar undercurrents at play here. If I have anything critical to say for this book, it's that Keyes doesn't spend enough time delving into the characters' psyches to give us a real feel for the mental havoc the events have wreaked in the aftermath of the novel's climax. However, doing this may have detracted from the pacing and tension of the story, in which case it would have been cumbersome.
Profile Image for Hank.
820 reviews79 followers
May 20, 2020
That was surprisingly good. Surprising in that the first part was a bit tough to get through. The story seemed silly and it was a fire hose of new information. The names seemed ultra made up and it was setting up to be a been there done that fantasy. Not sure how it happened but the characters sort of snuck up on me and I started caring even though they started of a bit cookie cutter. The book also has a bit of a dark edge to it which helped set it apart.

I can't put my finger on what I liked about the characters, they seemed obviously trope-y but Keyes did not belabor the points, just moved on and made them different and better. The old, grizzled forester refusing to let the young pretty girl melt his heart. Been there, but although that was the set up, it moved past it quickly and on to a very real feeling struggling relationship. A too smart priest with no real world experience appears, in other books his coming to realize how little he knows would have lasted the entire story. The Briar King gets to the point faster and then moves on.

It may be I am "reading" too much into it but I read 100 page chunks until I was done which says something and I am definitely going to finish the series.
Profile Image for Fictionaljuliet.
59 reviews13 followers
January 9, 2010
Thanks to Amazon's Kindle Books, I downloaded this for free (on my iPhone, no KIndle here) and was rightfully rewarded for it!

I found this book to be rather enjoyable and engaging, with his fast-paced plot, endless cliff hangers and mysteries, this new world of mysterious powers, brave knights, spunky princesses and beautiful and wise queens. I loved the detailed action, and especially how the characters are so well developed, where even the third person narrative changes tone depending on which of the many characters are the focus of the chapter. One of my biggest pet peeves is a book where all the characters talk and sound the same, despite the supposed differences.

The details of the world, powers, and various peoples can be a bit confusing, as the author is obviously big into language and I just want the plot to move on.

I was happy to discover that there were three more books to the series, and wasted no time in getting the rest. Highly recommend if you want just an enjoyable, engaging read.
Profile Image for sonicbooming.
126 reviews4 followers
April 20, 2014
Absolutely loved this book. As if someone took all of my favourite authors: Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, & Patrick Rothfuss and mashed them together to create Greg Keyes's The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone. An epic fantasy tale with familiar character types: noble knight, young book-worm, the woodsman, the spoiled princess, the evil brother, etc. Despite all of this, you turn the pages because each character is written so fully and so well that you do not care that these are familiar places and peoples. Greg Keyes makes this world feel warm and yet there is evil and terror. The Briar King wakes and seeks justice for wrongs from a century ago. The land is filled with people who have lost their way. Fat and gluttonous are humanity and the Fae have set their sights on a weak people. But there is hope and there are heroes in this land of violence and wonder.
Profile Image for Libby.
157 reviews11 followers
September 13, 2009
I liked this book but did not love it and probably will not continue the series. I must note that this is likely due to personal preference more than due to the quality of the novel. I prefer “lighter” Fantasy literature in the sense that I prefer less fighting, swordplay and graphic violence. I very much enjoy epic fantasy with extensive plot, setting and character development; I just prefer more PG rated battles. This book was by no means extreme, just not my cup of tea.

As for the book itself, while I was bothered by the use of stock characters, I was impressed enough with the creative use of the characters and plot that I was able to look past that criticism. This book is well written, highly suspenseful and imaginative. It certainly distinguishes itself from the slew of mediocre, epic fantasy literature published today. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy this type of epic fantasy.
Profile Image for Kim.
403 reviews180 followers
August 21, 2014
I don't know why but I went into this book expecting not to like it. I cannot figure out why. I don't remember anyone talking about this book to me but I'd been pushing it to the back of my challenge list with the other books I'm not looking forward to.

But once I started reading it I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of cliche, predictable in parts, but I enjoyed a lot as well. The not really discussed link to Roanoke. The faneways and the Briar King. Lots of things not quite explained but that fit well. I think I will have to put the sequels into my TBR list and not near the bottom either.
Profile Image for Thomas.
244 reviews12 followers
February 4, 2018
This one I found through Goodreads a while back and I am so glad I did because it was such a gem of a book. I also understand this is quite an underrated fantasy, and I believe the series deserves more recognition because it has so much going for it.

Two thousand years ago, the Born Queen defeated the Skasloi lords, freeing humans from slavery. But now monsters roam the land and characters’ destinies are to become entangled in schemes of power and seduction. Our cast of characters is set to face these malevolent forces even as The Briar King awakens from his sleep.

The Briar King is a tale of action and adventure, politics and drama, with a bit of romance mixed in. Normally I’m not too fussed on romance when it comes to fantasy, because I find quite a few authors overdo it, but I think Mr Keyes did a stellar job of interweaving it into The Briar King.

The story is told from multiple POVs, our main protagonists being Anne Dare, Princess of Crotheny, Aspar White, the gruff but good hearted King’s Holter, Stephen Darige, a young priest, Neil MeqVren, a young knight, and finally Cazio, a roguish adventurer and duellist. In this case I enjoyed them all and didn’t have a favourite as such because they seemed quite believable and the way Keyes developed them made their story lines that much more engaging.

One of the best things about The Briar King was that it just had that edge to make you want to keep on reading after you finished each chapter. Combined with the relatively short chapters and the fast pacing, I think the only reason I did not finish this sooner was because it wanted to savour every moment of it.

A book I would recommend to anyone who likes fast paced fantasy that has a somewhat historical basis to it, not unlike George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am pleased to award it 4.5 stars rounded up to 5. The only reason it did not quite make 5 stars was because it was too short. As it happens I have just bought the next 3 books in the Kingdom of Bone and Thorn series and will be cracking on with The Charnel Prince with no doubt it will be as good as if not better than book 1.
Profile Image for Eric.
506 reviews29 followers
March 1, 2020
Closer to 3.5 stars. Interesting character development and more than a few characters to sort out.

I'd say the ending was a symphony crescendo. Medieval fantasy. Fun!

Onto book two of the four book series. The Charnel Prince (Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, #2) by Greg Keyes The Charnel Prince.
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
659 reviews80 followers
May 25, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Lasairfiona.
182 reviews55 followers
June 10, 2022
Re-reviewing based on most recent read (I reread this series every couple years).

This book is such a page turner! Keyes has written the chapters so that there is a climax at the end of nearly every chapter. The POV will then switch to another character (with another climax!) so there is always a reason to keep reading. They are also good stopping points if you really need to go to bed because you have been staying up too late to read the book. The overall flow of the book really gets you to keep reading with a MASSIVE intro and a beginning that moves nicely into the various climaxes. Though it is a fairly thick paperback, it reads quickly and leaves you wanting more.

The premise seems simple but it gets convoluted very quickly. While the idea of who is good and who is bad is fairly clear in this book, hints about how that might change are clearly stated at the beginning of the book and then sprinkled through the rest of the book (though not addressed until later in the series).

The characters are very likable. You are rooting for each one. I particularly liked Asper and his little story. The characters are pretty detailed with each character having their own flaws and redeeming qualities. Later in the book, the characters are more one dimensional but the story has really caught you by then so it is overlookable.

Great fantasy story with a lot of twists and turns.
1,148 reviews26 followers
March 9, 2012
The Briar King is the first installment within Greg Keyes series 'The kingdoms of thorn & bone' and is a truely majestic tale to get lost in, with much suspense and excitement throughout. For those readers who love Terry Goodkind, Robin Hobb and JRR Tolkien and enjoy a book that is wordy and reflects that old-style, then this is a fantastic example of literature and writing at its very best. It contains thrilling action and drama with a lot of passion, within the telling of an epic fantasy adventure that the reader cannot help but get lost & entangled within. Fantasy fiction is presented to the reader at a completely new level, that is deeply descriptive and throughly intreaging and exciting that would make such great authors like Terry Brooks stand up and notice. I loved how there were several groups of characters all with different events and scenarios happening all at the same time, keeping me engrossed within the storyline and on my toes. Anyone who loves fantasy fiction combined with good old historical elements that are so exquisitly beautiful and detailed then you should not presume to overlook Greg Keyes work, because it is utterly captivating from begining to end and it will really suprise you. A fantastic and most enjoyable book that i urge you to read.
Profile Image for Emma.
1,102 reviews83 followers
May 1, 2015
Nah, I'm good.

I kept reading and reading this because there is seriously a really good story under all this ill-conceived writing. I'm finally giving up though.

The back breaking straw? Realizing after 150 pages of some scary greffyn monster in the woods that the author meant gryphon. There are several spellings for the name of this mythical creature. Greffyn isn't one of them. The world did not need you, Greg Keyes, to make up a new one. Completely self-indulgent. Ridiculous. Being embarrassed and feeling stupid makes me angry.

This goes on and on with made up names, made up spellings (Vergenya or whatever), made up words (sceat? SKEET?! WHAT KIND OF BOOK IS THIS?!). I read a lot of historical fiction and I read a lot of fantasy so this isn't a new trick to me, it is just way, way overdone here.

It's too bad when an author ruins his own story.
Profile Image for Karen.
339 reviews24 followers
September 23, 2009
For the 1st hundred or so pages....
...the Prelude was quite interesting, but the rest was hard for me to get into. I was reading this in short spurts and it was hard for me to get into as it jumps around from character to character and sometimes I felt like I wasn't quite understanding what was written haha. It was 'okay.' I knew I would finish this book like I always do, but I don't think I will read the next book in this series.

BUT...THEN...somewhere it happened, and I felt like I was actually LIVING in this world. Like I was walking with the characters and the forest was around me. I don't know what happened, how it seemed almost like a foreign language to me in the beginning to actually breathing life and making it come alive so. I almost want to reread the beginning. Almost, except there are too many other books out there that I want to read. Duh...now that I've finished this, I also realize that there's a map in the beginning of this book. I almost want to linger, check out the map, and revisit parts of the stories/the travels...but again, there are too many other things I want to read :0)

This happens in the year 2,223. No, it's not 2,223 A.D. or B.C., but 2,223 E. (of Everon). It wasn't initially 'Everon' though, it began as the age of "Eberon Vhasris Slanon,' but that language was forgotten by most. The age of Eberon Vhasris Slanon begins during the Prelude in the beginning of the book, where we seemed to be taken to some epic battle. Where man must fight against those that wish to enslave them and die, or they will become slaves.

From the Prologue on, we are taken to the year 2,223 E. It has the feel of King Arthur's time with kings, knights, queens, magic, battles, duty and loyalty, betrayals, and castles. There's a sense that the-world-as-they-know-it is coming to a decline and to a possible end.

Keyes introduces us to several characters and we follow along their adventures, and Keyes does a wonderful job of weaving these supposedly separate/different characters into each other. Here's what I remember...

Aspar White = A holter, one of the king's woodsman. His duty and domain is the forests. People are not to be living in it, taking from it (food wise), etc. And woodsman are the king's men to drive these trespassers out. Things have been different in the forests. There's a feeling of death, not something the king's woodsmen would do. He journeys to search out this new mysterious thing that is happening in the forest. What will he find? Evil? Love? Myth come alive?

Stephen Darige = a mapmaker/language lover. In the beginning he is a priest wannabe. He travels to the monastery d'Ef, where he hopes they will take him in and become one of them. He encounters many unexpected things. Who do you trust? All he knows is that he must serve the church. Stephen becomes transformed through this journey. He does get an opportunity to work on translating some works. He's stretched physically and mentally. He gets the opportunity to walk the fanes. Where priests go on a journey alone where the saints slowly strip your senses and feelings away from you, if you survive, at the end they return them to you honed to an inhuman degree. Each man's journey is different.

Neil MeqVren = a young man suddenly and unexpectedly made into a knight. Not just any knight either. A knight whose sole duty is to the Queen. Protect only the Queen. I forgot a phrase that Keyes uses, but if the King's life was in danger and the Queen was in danger of getting a bee sting, Neil must still protect the Queen.

Anne Dare = youngest daughter of the King of Crotheny. She's a young teenager. She doesn't have the same degree/sense of duty that an oldest daughter might have to her station in life. Anne doesn't think the rules apply to her. She believes in wearing comfortable clothes, marrying for love, and forget about trying to get her to ride side-saddle. She's adventurous, full of life, stubborn, strong-headed, and daring. I don't want to reveal too much on the journey she is sent on, but I wouldn't mind if there was an entire book written about the place she goes.

Cazio = a 'gentleman.' I guess the definition of a gentleman is one who does not work. But gentleman may duel for their needs. He even names his swords. Keyes introduces Cazio later in the story than the others, but Cazio sure brought humor to this book. I picture him as a mix between Zorro and Puss in Boots, I don't really know a whole lot about those 2 characters...just that they do come to mind when I'm thinking about Cazio.

The teaser on the back of the book mentions Anne..."upon whom the fate of her world may depend." But after reading this novel, I don't really see that Anne was THAT important to the world. There are others from her royal family that survive at the end. But maybe the importance of her survival and life experiences will play out more in the next book?

There are SO MANY other interesting characters in this besides the main ones I just mentioned. King William, Queen Muriele, Robert, Lesbeth, Fastia, Erren, Winna, Gramme, Alis, Roderick, Austra, Fratrex Pell, Brother Spendlove, Fend, Sister Casita, Sister Secula, the Briar King. So many more.

I will eventually read #2 in this series.

There was some humor in this which I really liked. "Cashew" page 482 = "Oh, look." he told her, pointing to her mouth. "You've something on your lip." (you won't get it unless you read it :oP)

Here are some other random quotes that stuck out at me, though I can't exactly explain why:

"If we have no past, we have no future."

"You cannot see yourself, can you, Anne? Except in a mirror, and there everything is backwards."
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