Few fantasy series in recent years have been as divisive as Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire. A dark and brutal tale devoid of compassion featuring a bloodthirsty teenager as the main protagonist, Jorg's story managed put off quite a few SFF readers looking for likeable characters and heroes. Still, fans of the New Grit movement found a lot to like about Lawrence's trilogy. And I for one was looking forward to see how the author would bring this series to an end.
Emperor of Thorns, although more complex than its predecessors, continues in the same vein. As I mentioned in my review of King of Thorns, readers hoping for redemption where Jorg is concerned will be sorely disappointed. Once again, praise be to Lawrence who didn't fall into the trap of trying to make his principal character more appealing to the masses. I know that the series is not selling as well as expected in North America, so I was afraid that the author could have been under pressure to make Jorg a bit more endearing. Thankfully, no. This third installment remains a grim and uncompromising tale of violence and Jorg Ancrath, its main narrator, remains true to himself throughout the book. And yet, à la Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, there is some good buried deep down inside Jorg's soul and he will surprise readers on a number of occasions.
Here's the blurb:
To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.
The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Don't think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me.
Follow me, and I will break your heart.
The worldbuilding was even more interesting in this final volume. Although little is known about the Day of a Thousand Suns and Earth's distant past, Mark Lawrence is more forthcoming with information regarding the Builders and their world. Technology plays a bigger role in Emperor of Thrones, something I would have liked to discover more about. It's obvious that the Builders have not completely disappeared and that some of them are pulling some strings in the background, controlling events in an attempt to shape history. The narrative takes readers to several different lands and cities such as Spain, Portugal, Northern Africa, and of course Vienna. Emperor of Thorns, with its myriad revelations, really makes you beg for more where worldbuilding is concerned. Here's to hoping that The Broken Empire won't be the only series set in this universe.
The structure of this third installment is similar to that of King of Thorns. As was the case with its predecessor, the fashback scenes of this novel are of capital importance, in the sense that both the present and the future influence one another throughout the entire book. By merging the past and the present together in such a fashion allows Lawrence to unveil the truth regarding what is taking place in "real time" by revisiting the events of the past. In addition, there is another POV found at various junctures in the novel, that of Chella, which mostly chronicles the rise of the Dead King. Of all three volumes, I found that Emperor of Thorns features the best balance between the past, the present, and the different points of view.
Once more, the book features the first-person narrative of Jorg Ancrath. Which will indubitably make or break this book for some readers. Though I doubt that goody two-shoes SFF fans have stuck with this series and will read the final installment. Indeed, those readers who didn't care much for Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns need not apply. . . I've often said that authors like Joe Abercrombie, with their witty and humorous writing styles, can often get away with cruel and graphic scenes of wanton violence. The problem with Mark Lawrence is that his series features only the first-person narrative of Jorg for the most part, and unfortunately our principal protagonists is far from the most endearing of fellows at the best of times. And as always with a first-person narrative, everything hinges on whether or not Jorg grows on the reader. Alas, it appears that Jorg has failed to endear himself to the masses. Hence, I doubt that anyone who couldn't get into the first two volumes will find something to like about Emperor of Thorns. But if you did enjoy Lawrence's first two installments, then buckle up for yet another wild ride!
I've said before that this series' main problem was that Lawrence worked too hard to make Jorg as badass as can be, and that at times it felt like he was a bit of a caricature instead of a genuine, three-dimensional character. As a matter of fact, to think that Jorg could be this smart, this strong, this cunning, this everything, often stretched the limits of realism to their breaking point. In King of Thorns, the author offered us a few of scenes in which we discovered that Jorg was not always be the sharpest tool in the shed, but for the most part I felt that Jorg remained too smart for his own good. I'm not sure if it's because Jorg is growing up and hence becoming a bit more mature, but he feels more "real" in Emperor of Thrones. And even though he remains true to himself from start to finish, there are a number of unanticipated moments where Jorg offers us a few glimpses of what good there is inside of him. Given the fact that up until this point we had only seen Jorg's dark side, these unexpected scenes come as pleasant surprises.
The pace is fluid throughout the novel, making Emperor of Thorns a true page-turner! Fans of this series will go through this book in no time. The revelations from the backstory and the storyline that follows Jorg and his retinue on their way to Vienna make Emperor of Thorns almost impossible to put down. À la George R. R. Martin and Raymond E. Feist, Lawrence shows that he has no qualms about getting rid of main characters when the tale demands it. I particularly loved how the author used our own preconceptions to really turn things around at the end, bringing Emperor of Thorns to a close in a grand finale that I never saw coming.
Emperor of Thorns is a solid conclusion to a quality series which should establish Mark Lawrence as one of the bright new voices of the fantasy genre. I'm definitely looking forward to reading whatever he writes next.