The Broken Empire Trilogy: The Allure of Jorg
The following is a guest post I wrote last year for Harper Voyager on the allure of Mark Lawrence’s protagonist Jorg Ancrath. Although most of my references were to the first book, I think the reasons I find Jorg such an intriguing character held strong during the second book and, as a result, I found my anticipation for the third book even greater!
With just about a month to go until Emperor of Thorns – you’ll hate me for saying this, but I’ve already read it! – I thought now would be a good time to invoke the ‘year exclusivity’ clause I provide other sites I write for and get this up!
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When Prince of Thorns was released in 2011, and the character of Jorg Ancrath was exposed to the world, a wave tore through book review sites and genre blogs. This book, by a previously unknown author, Mark Lawrence, rejected many of the established tropes and pushed at boundaries that readers within the fantasy genre were not used to being tested.
That’s because there is no hero in Prince of Thorns, the protagonist does not seek redemption and in fact, if our protagonist achieves his objective, the whole world will fall under the command of an evil, evil young man. What made the first book so damned special was that you never knew what Jorg was going to do next, because he had absolutely no conscience, no moral compass. As a reader, you couldn’t rely on restraint, disgust or fear to hold him back.
So, I ask the question, readers: what on earth has propelled King of Thorns, the sequel to a book so dark and downright disturbing, to the top of fantasy readers’ most anticipated book lists? What is it about the character of Jorg and the setting of the Broken Empire that has propelled this debut author’s work, according to Amazon’s sales ranks, into the top 10 best selling fantasy books in the world? Before we begin I will offer you a bit of comfort and tell you that it’s probably not because you’re attracted to reading about death and despair (note: I did say probably!).
To begin with, being in the first person, Prince of Thorns offers us a close relationship to our protagonist, Jorg. We therefore see the world through Jorg’s eyes and everything that we see includes, in some way, a thought, feeling or opinion from him. It is for this reason that we connect with Jorg because, essentially, when we pick up the book we become him.
Writers such as Patrick Rothfuss and Douglas Hulick have said that writing in the first person for a great deal of time tends to leave an author stuck thinking in their characters’ voice. I find a very similar effect happening to me, as a reader. If I read a book in the first person, such as Prince of Thorns or Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, I’ll find my own thoughts and even word choice resembling the voices of Jorg or Kvothe. Therefore, already, we can see a kind of bond between the reader and the protagonist being formed.
There is also the fact that Jorg has the unfair advantage of being able to tell us his story through biased opinion. Now, I should say that Jorg doesn’t take this opportunity very often. Unlike many protagonists he doesn’t ‘whine’ at the reader and tell them life is unfair. Rather, he sees life as a game and will often lighten up a terrible scene with a clever quip, such as, “Few things worth having can be got easily,” or “Water! Water! It’s always water with the dying. Strange, it’s killing that gives me a thirst.” You quickly find yourself smiling or nodding along to Jorg’s way of thinking. The darkness is still there, but you accept it because he delivers it so elegantly, so amusingly and with such matter-of-factness.
The following revelation is often the most shocking to readers when they begin to reflect upon the book and, initially, may even deny it was the case until they think about it (so – think about it before denying it, reader!). As the book progresses and we begin to understand Jorg, we begin, dare I say it, to feel empathy towards him. Here is a prince that was set to one day be a king until his mother was torn away from him, raped and killed alongside his baby brother. Worst of all, he was forced to watch their deaths and expected to just forget about them. Can we blame him for not letting that experience go? Can we blame him for wanting some kind of revenge? Can we blame him for not wanting the people he sees as responsible for this atrocity sitting on the throne?
(Spoilers Ahead! Perhaps skip this paragraph if you’ve not read the first book.) I don’t think Jorg will trust a family member ever again. After having found out that his uncle and father had an understanding about and involvement in his mother’s death – how could he? (End Spoilers)
The result is that you find yourself asking: does this young man who was forced, as a child, to watch his mother killed and raped deserve a shot at redemption? Is anyone ever so bad that we have to write them off forever? Would Jorg even accept redemption if it was offered to him? Perhaps we don’t think he does deserve it, but should his father and uncle be allowed to get away with their part in his mother’s and brother’s murders? If you don’t think they should, then you need to realise that, in the Broken Empire, if Jorg doesn’t do something no one else will. What I find myself asking when reading Prince of Thorns is: if I was in Jorg’s position, and in Jorg’s world, how would I have grown up?
For me, the most chilling thing about Prince of Thorns was that I found it very, very difficult to hate Jorg. I didn’t like the things he did – but I could understand him and he won me over with his charm and charisma. Something about that shook me and I think that’s what makes the character of Jorg Ancrath so powerful.
Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns are available now from all good book shops. Emperor of Thorns is to be published on 1st August 2013 (UK).
Oh, and we’ll have a review up this weekend with any luck. If you can’t wait until then, Mark has written a short story, featuring Jorg, which can be downloaded, for free, here. Thanks to Mark and Voyager for the freebie!