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BOOK REVIEW: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

REVIEW SUMMARY: Lawrence wraps up the story of Jorg and the Broken Empire with pathos, care, deft, and surprising brevity


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The backstory of Jorg’s history, and the history of his broken world, are revealed as his quest to become Emperor is opposed by forces Jorg is barely cognizant of.

PROS: Clever and well execution use of multiple time periods and narrative to draw readers to the conclusion; excellent worldbuilding and character study.
CONS: A newly introduced POV does not rise much above a plot exposition device; strains to wrap up series in only three volumes.
BOTTOM LINE: A well executed end to the Broken Empire Trilogy that ends the series before Jorg wears out his welcome.

In Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns, we are introduced to Jorg Ancrath. A brilliant young sociopath, son of a King, who rises to grasp lands, titles and power for himself in a gritty medieval tech world that is more than it first appears. Driven and countered by small and large forces, both brutal and smart, Jorg has grown in stature and unrelenting ambition across the two volumes. Too, the threats and size of the opposition against him has only grown as well.

Now, in Emperor of Thorns, the young, brilliant sociopathic Jorg’s quest to become Emperor is further complicated. The wheel of the world is turning, forces dark and light struggle over its future, and if Jorg does not become Emperor, there may not be a world to save much longer. The stakes and the opposition are larger than ever. But so too is Jorg’s experience, drive, and resources.

The Broken Empire series ends here. Looking back at the three volumes, a complete story is told. Even with the narrative tricks and time jumps aside, we get a complete and multisided view of Jorg. And for all of the revelations in the second volume, King of Thorns and this one, this is really Jorg’s story.

Jorg grows and changes, especially in this last volume. Is he still a violent, young murderous psychopath–Doogie Howser as a genius in a shattered and violent world? Yes. He does undergo serious character growth and development, but the essence and burning core of the character remain true throughout the three volumes. While there are experiments with alternative points of view, to read the Broken Empire series is to get into his head. It’s not for everyone, but for those who have the temperment for it, he provides a window into a fascinating world.

And what a fascinating world Lawrence has created, now that the series is done. Each successive volume in the series has pulled back the curtain and widened the lens focus at an accelerating speed. While the world has resonances with works such as Tad Williams’ Otherland and the Empire of the East by Saberhagen, this world is clearly the author’s. I think the series works best without the secrets of its worldbuilding being spoiled, and so I refuse to tell you what the world really is like. I leave that to the reader to discover.

As a trilogy, the structure of the series holds up amazingly well and together. While the afterword and the third volume makes it clear that the series could have (and perhaps *should* have) been longer, the overall arc and themes of the series span the three volumes very well indeed.

Prince of Thorns, the first volume, as strong as it was as a debut, showed that the author had potential and a fresh voice. By this third volume, his evolution and growth as an author shows that Lawrence has carved out a barony for himself in the lands of Fantasy, and shown that he has talent and skill.

In reference to the question in the afterword, Mr. Lawrence, yes, I’m definitely interested in what stories you want to tell next, now that Jorg’s is complete.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!

2 Comments on BOOK REVIEW: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

  1. This is yet one more series on my “to read” list. I’m already 50 years old so I’m running out of time for all this reading.

  2. Came to this late, I’m half-way through book 2 and I haven’t enjoyed a series this much since I discovered Joe Abercrombie. I have Emperor waiting on my Kindle… I can’t recommend Broken Empire enough.

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