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Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
5
Book Name: Emperor of Thorns
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher(s): Harper Voyager (UK) Ace Hardcover (US)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Dark Fantasy
Release Date: August 1, 2013 (UK) August 6, 2013 (US)

In my opinion, Mark Lawrence is one of the finest writers of fantasy around today. His ability to craft beautiful, fluent prose is matched only by the likes of Patrick Rothfuss and Robin Hobb, and I’d argue that his writing is often even deeper and more powerful than either of them. What Mark has is an ability to use these prose as a means to present darkness and pain in its truest form, whether it is through his protagonist Jorg or simply when blogging about his life experiences. I honestly don’t believe there is an author who can evoke emotion in a person to the extent Mark can. If you’ve read the first two books in The Broken Empire trilogy, you’ll know what I’m talking about and if you want an example of a blog post that’ll knock you for six, there’s one right here.

Prince of Thorns - HailIn book one, Prince of Thorns, Mark introduced us to his protagonist, Jorg Ancrath, a human-being that would quite happily kill you and your family if there was something even minimal to gain from the endeavour – and that’s if you’re lucky. If you aren’t, he’d take it slow, probably doing something terrible to your nearest and dearest in the process. In fact, when I tried to explain Jorg’s character and actions to my girlfriend her first question was, “Why would you want to read a book like that? So…dark…” And, I guess, she had a point. I think the intrigue for me was knowing right from the start that there must be a point to this book/series. No publisher is going to print a book and market it to the masses if it is full of death, torture and even hints at – note: there is a kind of blackout effect on these kinds of scenes – rape in such a nonchalant manner.

Some people though didn’t have this realisation. For example:

Not only is Jorg a son-of-a-bitch, without anything resembling a shred of honour or principle in his whole body, and not only is he surrounded by like-minded murderous sorts, but the whole book is – what’s that marvellous phrase? Oh, yes. Sausage fest. A complete and utter sausage fest. Women exist to be raped, used, or otherwise projected upon by the various demons haunting Jorg’s id.

If you like bleak, bloody, and gruesome novels about cold-blooded unprincipled sociopaths who achieve their murderous dreams, then this book will be perfect for you … Me, I need to go scrub out my brain.

It’s a shame that this reviewer didn’t consider the fact that this as the first book in a trilogy and that, because this is a series, there is a huge amount of scope for character and story development – as readers saw in book two, King of Thorns, and will continue to see in book three, Emperor of Thorns. For me, it was always obvious; The Broken Empire books were going to be a story about either:

a) How even the most despicable, detestable human being can achieve redemption.
b) How darkness can consume a human being to the extent that they are no longer recognisable as such.
b) How even the most vile and immoral of human beings can win us over with a little bit of charisma.

All of these possibilities appealed to me and by the end of book two, it became obvious that Mark Lawrence had decided to go with elements of all three. The Jorg we see at the end of book two is wildly different from the character we first met in book one. He is older, of course, but we also see numerous examples of him painstakingly considering what he has done or is about to do – something that just didn’t happen in book one.

As we enter Emperor of Thorns, Jorg has his own Kingdoms (thereby making him a king), he has a wife and even a son on the way – all new responsibilities he didn’t have on the road. However, despite all these changes, the pain and anger towards his father still burns within and no matter what has happened Jorg is still set on gaining revenge and becoming Emperor. The reason we’ve been looking forward to this book for so long is because it will finally give us the character’s fate: redemption or consumption by darkness; the title of Emperor or the loss of everything he has fought for.

Emperor of Thorns (banner x600)

Emperor of Thorns moves forward through two timelines. The first is the current timeline, with Jorg preparing himself for the final step in his plan for revenge and dictatorship. As Jorg has always maintained, “there is only one power worth wielding…” and that is, of course, absolute power. This plot thread revolves around the fact that The 100 – the political elite of each kingdom – will soon meet to vote for who they think should be Emperor. This presents a new challenge for Jorg: whereas he is used to – and very good at – taking whatever he wants by force, the system in place means that he needs to be voted in.

So, in addition to the fact that it has been generations since an Emperor was chosen – for a majority vote is required for one to take the throne – there is no reason to believe that Jorg, disliked and distrusted, should receive a single vote. Jorg being Jorg, however, isn’t prepared to leave it at that. Rather, Jorg will stand in front of The 100 and tell them why they must vote for him. Oh, and there’s also the fact that his father is set to be there and he still has a score to settle with him.

Whilst Jorg chases power, there are things moving in the background – the extent of which even Jorg isn’t prepared for. The Deadking is gathering his forces and preparing to make a play for power himself. Most of his activity we see through the eyes of Necromancer, Chella. This sudden inclusion of Chella as a POV character in the third book of a series was a risky one, but I do think it was required for Mark to let readers know that there is a force coming that Jorg is unaware of (seeing as the book is otherwise told from Jorg’s first person perspective). It is also hugely exciting and enlightening when we get to see Jorg from an outsider’s perspective – it’s easy to forget how terrifying Jorg must appear, because he is so charismatic to us as his readers.

In the second storyline, the past, Jorg investigates the world that came before him. With the help (questionable) of the long dead, but still able to communicate and instruct, builder ghosts, Jorg continues to look into old technology and history, determined to find something that can give him the upper-hand in the future (current timeline). By doing this, Mark Lawrence has addressed perhaps the one weakness of his earlier work: the fact his world is such an unknown.

We know a little bit about the Broken Empire. We know there is some kind of apocalyptic history, but it’s not nearly as much as I’d like. I guess the argument is that this is a good way to feel (as opposed to being a Wheel of Time reader who is fed up knowing the name of every animal, plant, tree and so on). By having Jorg research the history of the Broken Empire in a way that fits in with the story and, indeed, ends up playing a huge part in the book’s conclusion, I think Mark really strengthened the series and answered any questions in regards to how well he knows his own world.

Emperor of Thorns (cover)Mark’s pacing, as always, is spot on. Although the current timeline is essentially a long journey (something common in fantasy due to the lack of Ferraris, planes and teleporters), it is filled with Jorg’s own reflections on past events, unique outlook on his current situation, evidence of his evolution, and, most memorable of all, interactions between Jorg, his wife and travelling companions. When all the threads cross over at the end of the book, the result is nothing short of spectacular. There are elements that you will see coming, but an equal number that you won’t.

Whether or not the ending had been satisfactory, I think people would have been content that Mark’s beautiful prose and unique character gave them one hell of a reading experience. The fact that the ending could well be the finest achievement of Mark Lawrence’s entire trilogy ensures that this is a series that will be recommended to future generations as enthusiastically as the likes of Martin, Hobb and Sanderson.

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Rating: 8.1/10 (37 votes cast)
Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, 8.1 out of 10 based on 37 ratings
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