Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review: 'Emperor of Thorns' by Mark Lawrence (Broken Empire #3)

The path to the throne is broken – only the broken can walk it.

The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days. 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 no matter who stands against 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. 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.

Readers should consider these words as a warning. Jorg will indeed break your heart, and not in a way you can anticipate. We’ve followed him through over ten years of his life. We’ve lived his journey from the storm-struck thorns to the throne of Renar. And still he continues to surprise us, in good ways as well as bad.
Jorg is now aged twenty, and the Hundred have been summoned to a Congress wherein the empire’s kings and their advisers will meet to decide the matter of the next emperor. The throne has sat empty for over a hundred years, but of course Jorg plans to remedy that with his secret knowledge, stalwart companions and unique brand of tact and diplomacy.

“I’ve been to Congression before, Makin. I know what games they play there. This year we’re going to play a new game. Mine.”
In addition to the upcoming Congress, however, an even bigger challenge awaits, and the broken empire must prepare itself for the biggest threat to humanity since the Day of a Thousand Suns: the invasion of the Dead King’s armies.

Emperor of Thorns follows the format we’ve become accustomed to: flashbacks from years earlier interposed among the present-day storyline in a way that creates suspense, builds tension and reveals key pieces of information at critical moments. However, there is a new addition: a third-person account of the necromancer Chella, a character who was central to the storyline of the previous book but was only ever seen from Jorg’s point of view. This particular addition made for some interesting insights into her character, as well as giving us inside information about the Dead King and his legions. However, I didn’t really engage with her chapters well enough to be able to sympathise with her character, and was a little bit glad that her chapters were few and far between.
Some of my favourite parts of the Broken Empire trilogy are the tales of the road, and we are treated to a fair few of them here. Typically grim yet delightful, these anecdotes about Jorg’s younger days with his road brothers serve a higher purpose here than in previous books, as they are used to reveal more to us about Jorg’s tragic and twisted childhood. Secrets that were only partially revealed or hinted at before – such as Jorg’s burning hatred for the clergy – are now fully unveiled in ways that will undoubtedly cause discomfort in most readers. Lawrence continues to display a penchant for putting the ‘dark’ in ‘dark fantasy’, but somehow the horror and violence is never simply gratuitous: rather, it’s used to deliberately manipulate the reader’s emotional response and force us to acknowledge that his protagonist has been brutally moulded and pushed to similar violence by these horrific external events, rather than just because of his “dena”.

Another great aspect of this book was the scale: we are shown much more of the broken empire than ever before. King of Thorns varied between the rocky highlands of Renar, Maladon in the icy north and the fetid swamps of Cantanlona; Emperor of Thorns follows Jorg even further, from the lifeless wastelands of the Iberico (the dangers of which range from fires to dogs) to the desert city of the mathmagicians, from the silent horrors of flooded ghost towns to the affluent city of Vyene. We’re continually provided with great narrative variety and haunting yet spectacular imagery.
The writing is, as always, a joy to read. There are so many amusingly casual turns of phrase, as well as the frequently poetic musings of Jorg’s internal monologue and the brilliantly integrated hints of both past events and things to come. Another of my favourite aspects of the books has always been the delicious clues about the true nature of the broken world. There are plenty of those clues here, my personal favourites being the hilariously sanctified “guardian” of the Gilden Gate, the martial teachings of “Lee”, and of course the ironic original function of the empire throne itself.

All in all, Emperor is a spectacular finish to a brilliantly original fantasy series. Does Jorg find redemption? You’ll have to read it and find out. Think you’ve guessed how it’s all going to end? I can guarantee that you haven’t.

My rating: 4.5/5

Click here to buy Emperor of Thorns (Broken Empire #3) on Amazon.

Click here to read my review of Prince of Thorns (Broken Empire #1)
Click here to read my review of King of Thorns (Broken Empire #2)

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