Review: Emperor of Thorns – The Broken Empire, Book 3 / Author: Mark Lawrence / Publisher: Harper Voyager / Release Date: August 1st
It’s been less than a year, but Emperor of Thorns is a book long awaited by many – the conclusion to Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series. Final instalments of trilogies can often be an anticlimax, especially after a strong second book, sometimes disappointing the readers by not giving them what they’d either hoped for or expected. As the book’s narrator says: “Follow me, and I will break your heart.”
The story, like those before it, is split into two narratives; one set in the present, the other five years earlier. Naturally, the latter has an effect on the former, but the two are woven together with such skill that nothing is given away too early. For the first time, the author presents us with a different point of view, that of the necromancer Chella. It’s a shock initially, being torn away from Jorg’s narrative, but Chella’s story becomes a fitting tale of impending doom approaching the hero, heightening the tension as the Dead King gets ever closer.
Arguably, the success of a story hinges on its protagonist, especially when that character is also the narrator; in Jorg Ancrath, Mark Lawrence has created a controversial antihero, one who, in another tale, would likely be the villain. Jorg’s attitude and his actions are unsettling at times (he is a man who will take lives just to prove a point), yet the triumph of this series is that this vicious man, by being presented warts and all, actually comes across as a sympathetic human being. Jorg has grown through the course of the books; the amoral boy is now a king with a wife and child on the way, and now appears to be feeling the weight of his past misdeeds, prompting the reader to wonder if redemption is possible for such a person. We can’t condone what Jorg has done but, given what we know about him, we can understand his reasons without having to agree with them. Mark Lawrence’s writing makes us greedy, wanting to know more, turning pages to find out Jorg’s fate.
We can guess – several ideas went through this reviewer’s head – but the ending is more than the inevitable confrontation between Jorg and the Dead King. Yes, there’s a ‘final battle’, albeit scaled down to fit indoors, but the book stretches beyond that to offer a finale that is poignant, moving and – above all – completely fitting, given what has gone before. It’s a conclusion that is not only emotional and satisfying, but clever and unexpected, a fascinating twist within the concept of the narrative.
Here, then, is a book that promises much and delivers on every aspect. Like the previous tales of Jorg Ancrath it’s not pretty, but anyone who has read Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns will know what to expect. Be prepared to keep reading long into the night and maybe, just maybe, shed a tear or two over the final pages. Mark Lawrence has written a brilliant and enthralling tale – a trilogy that has gripped from the first scene to the very last – and I, for one, can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.