Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – Book Review
And so ends one of the great modern fantasy trilogies.
Mark Lawrence exploded onto the fantasy scene in the summer of 2011 with the introduction of Jorg in Prince of Thorns, the first in his Broken Empire Trilogy. Few would argue that Jorg is anything but a cruel individual, fueled only by anger and the burning desire for revenge – and willing to go to any extreme, no matter how horrific, to further his ambition. Yet we can’t get enough of him.
Emperor of Thorns is a story told in two parts. One follows Jorg in the present as he makes his way with a small retinue to Vyene, the heart of the empire. It is there, with the other gathered Kings and Czars and other rulers of the Broken Empire, that Congression will be held and a vote will be passed in order to attempt to establish a new Emperor and reforge the Broken Empire.
Running parallel to this are glimpses 5 years into the past. A time following the events of the second book, King of Thorns. A time where Jorg sets off across the Empire, from Afrique to Vyene, in order to learn more about the Builders and what they did so long ago that changed the world and ignited a thousand suns.
The reader is also given brief chapters from Chella the necromancer, set in the present. The first point-of-view away from the first person Jorg we’ve lived inside for so long. These chapters offer a glimpse into the machinations of the Dead King as he bids Chella to follow Jorg to Vyene and influence the outcome of Congression to his favor.
Lawrence has crafted a world filled with magic, whether it’s the Necromancers under the leadership of the Dead King, the wind-sworn or dream-sworn, able to command the aspects to which they’ve been gifted. And yet this magic is the result of the manipulations of reality by those long gone, the Builders. Only ruins and hints of their technology still exists yet the Builders themselves remain in the ghosts of their machines, subtly guiding and manipulating events to suit their own needs. A captivating blend of magic and modern technology set in a world of swords and Kings.
Say one thing for Jorg say that he has grown in his time as King. Perhaps the sharp edges that depicted Jorg and defined him through his connection to the thorns in the briar patch have been dulled. Make no mistake, he is still as likely to break your nose as shake your hand and would not hesitate to kill a defenseless woman or an entire village if it suited his needs. But there seems to always be an underlying motive behind each of his actions, a for the greater good mentality.
His Builder-ghost guide Fexler has given him secret knowledge unknown to anyone else in the story. Truths and secrets that would affect the way of thinking of the populace at a fundamental level. Perhaps it’s this knowledge, or the birth of his son, that has turned Jorg from villain to anti-hero.
As with any great fantasy series Lawrence has crafted a depth into his world that hides mysteries atop one another like some kind of neapolitan ice cream cake – including the identity of the Dead King. A revelation that made sense once revealed yet completely catches the reader off guard.
The last 20 pages or so are filled with a meta quality that has deeper philosophical underpinnings than the rest of this “grimdark” novel. It’s an odd tonal shift, especially considering the events of the previous 400 pages yet it didn’t feel out of place. Instead it was more reminiscent of a sigh of content relief, a breath of fresh air after the harsh realities of the Broken Empire trilogy.
It should go without saying but I loved this novel and this series as a whole. Mark Lawrence deserves his place as one of the titans of modern fantasy. While the darker nature of the Broken Empire may not appeal to all readers of fantasy it should at least be tried. Soon you’ll find yourself enamored by Jorg’s charm and the insight into his head due to the 1st person narration.
Keep an eye out for Prince of Fools (2014) the first in the The Red Queen’s War series, set in the same world as the Broken Empire yet without our [hero] Jorg.
King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations.
His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.
For there is only one power worth wielding…absolute power.
Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg has plans to change that—one way or the other. He’s uncovered even more of the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.
But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.
The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match…