Title: Emperor of Thorns
Author: Mark Lawrence
Date Started: August 6, 2013 Date Finished: August 20, 2013
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
While I have done my utmost to avoid spoilers for Emperor of Thorns in this review, there will be mention of several events from the previous two books in the series. If you do not want to know what happens in Prince and King of Thorns, do not read on.
Every book has a story: For me, this is a journey that began two years ago in an unassuming bookshop on an unassuming afternoon. I picked up Prince of Thorns because as it sat on the display table, it demanded that I pick it up. King of Thorns I received in the midst of The Great Book Ban of 2012. Chris maintains that there was a curious trio of crows waiting for him at his car one day and that the book magically appears in the back seat. Emperor of Thorns I downloaded absurdly early in the morning on release day and read on my ereading gadget. Don’t worry, fellow paper-petters, I’m waiting for my hard copy to come in the mail, complete with Mark Lawrence’s autograph!
I failed my brother. I hung in the thorns and let him die and the world has been wrong since that night. I failed him, and though I’ve let many brothers die since, that first pain has not diminished. The best part of me still hangs there, on those thorns.
In a world currently producing (and demanding) neverending series, it is with great satisfaction that I come to the close of The Broken Empire trilogy. Jorg’s story has been so full of endings – lives, kingdoms, chances, and burdens gained and lost – that it would not have been fitting to go on without all those hard lessons coming to an ultimate consequence. When readers first met Jorg, he was a child with the bloodlusting urges of a madman. He did not care who he had to kill or if he had to lose his life. He was a grim prince from the beginning and the world has not gotten much easier by the time he reaches his chance to become emperor.
As in King of Thorns, Emperor follows three timelines. In the “current” one, Jorg is twenty, two years into his kingship of the many territories he won when he defeated the Arrow army, two years into his marriage to the young and cunning Miana, and finally on his way to Congression where he hopes to at last win – or take – the empire throne. The second storyline picks up from the “younger Jorg” thread in King of Thorns, after Jorg has left his family on the Horse Coast to travel to Afrique. The third belongs to the necromancer Chella, who is in service to the empire’s new and greatest threat, the Dead King.
Jorg continues to be one of the most fascinating characters I have ever encountered. Though his development was not so radical as in King of Thorns, this final book brings with it the ultimate tests of what he has learned. That rash, murderous, vengeful child is still in him, but it is tempered by the weight of increasing responsibilities. Jorg is king of almost half a continent, he is a husband now, and he knows deep and dangerous secrets about the world. He does not take any of this lightly.
It turns out I don’t listen to good advice even when I’m the one giving it.
One letdown for me was the diminished focus on Miana and Katherine. Miana was a force to reckon with in King of Thorns. She married a king on the morning of a war, set off an explosion, and stood by her husband’s side despite the constant threat of harm from the battle waged outside. I was sad to see her moved to the powerless sidelines; the girl who blew up some of her own army two years ago should not be demoted to damsel. And Katherine, sweet Katherine. She has been the object of Jorg’s desire since the first book and in the second book she had her own storyline. She was traumatized, she gained powers, she lost her husband – Jorg’s nemesis, the Prince of Arrow – and after she and Jorg are reunited in the third book, she sits in a carriage. Jorg suffers a few moments of temptation, but not much comes of it. I will concede that their relationship represents what it is to grow out of young lust, how those feelings of love and wanting are different when you’re not fourteen anymore. But Katherine had such a great foundation and her end position feels a little underwhelming by comparison.
But this book isn’t about them. Moreso than any other book in the trilogy, this book is about Jorg. Everything that has ever happened to him, every act of vengeance he exacted, every small – and sometimes not so sweet – mercy he has granted, has led to this. Jorg knows his weaknesses better than anyone, but he also knows what he wants and it is when Jorg has a goal that he is strongest. He has said time and again that he wants the empire throne because so many said he couldn’t have it, but his reasons run deeper than that. The Congression, the Pope, the Builders, and the Dead King are all tied to Jorg somehow. The boy we knew in book one becomes a man, the prince becomes a king, but for all his lessons, Jorg still clings to what it meant to be a child hanging in thorns, to watch his mother and brother die. That single memory remains a powerful driving force.
Whilst the holy may fail at any moment, the damned may in any moment reach for redemption.
The main worry of any final installment is that it won’t live up to the anticipation. Emperor of Thorns does not suffer that. It ends in such a way that, really, I don’t know what other ending there could have been. I mentioned in my review for King of Thorns that I wish I’d re-read the first book to remind myself of some of the details. There were several threads that began in book one and carried all the way through to the end. I look forward to one day reading the series one after the other.
The Broken Empire was a true feat of imagination that was amazing to read and follow. Mark Lawrence’s next work can’t come soon enough.