I was less than impressed with the predecessor to this novel. It came across as forced, frustrating and playing to the modern fantasy crowd so in awe of G.R.R. Martin (though there are easily better classic fantasy series around which don't push the dark and grim idea). There was something about this novel however as a sequel that blew the first novel's failings out of the water and improved upon them immensely.
Perhaps it was the expanded world. There were hints in the first novel that what Mark Lawrence is doing here is creating a world set after some kind of disaster - hinted at potentially being a nuclear disaster. I hold the theory that history tends to repeat itself. Not because of some kind of karma or wheel of time that drives the cosmos. I don't hold to that kind of new age doctrine. But I do believe that humanity has a tendency to never truly learn from its mistakes and to therefore cause history to repeat itself. World War One contributed to World War 2 contributed to the Vietnam War contributed to the current wars and so on... The world which exists in this novel clearly hints at a Dark Ages being brought about again which holds to my philosophy - only it's a Dark Age with magic and some remnant technology. Jorg himself resembles a new Alexander the Great (to some Alexander the Accursed) with his desire to conquer the world, to not bend to any rules and govern himself.
Perhaps in conjunction to my previous point it was the fact that this novel was not just about Jorg and his petty revenge. Indeed, Jorg becomes a far more humanised and mature individual. He is still the villainous character of the first novel but he's more tempered and not quite the arrogant and spiteful monster that he was at 14. There is also the fact that a sequence of magical beings who hide behind the thrones of this world exist and the suggestion that some of these individuals may have moulded Jorg into what he is. Jorg therefore feels almost compelled to 'sweep the board clean' of pieces - to win the game.
Another aspect to this novel is the brief introduction of a feminine perspective. Though she is a monster in and of herself, the glimpses we have of Katherine are of a complex emotional individual. She is the kind of female character that I like to see in a book - not some faux imitation of female strength and power. She indeed recognises the injustice of a world where men are seen as ruling because of their natural physical strength and sexuality, but she doesn't gripe over it like Cersei from A Game of Thrones
. Instead she learns to deal with her grief, pain and anxiety in her own way. Whether she will remain this interesting character in the next book exists to be seen.
On the whole a more nuanced and better themed novel than the first book, though the first is doubtless important to help understand the story. Mark Lawrence has clear skill in how he can give a normally monstrous character such a likeable quality - the reader really does feel pity for everything that has happened to Jorg.