Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Emperor of Thorns Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Grimdark
Series: Broken Empire Book Three
Pages: 434

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(Spoilers for Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns are below).

Emperor of Thrones, like the previous book in the trilogy is very hot and cold.  When Lawrence hits his stride the story is amazing, but errors – especially with the rushed ending and lack of development for the Dead King – hurt it. In terms of prose and writing craft, Emperor of Thorns is the best book in this trilogy – good enough that I won’t hesitate to pick up another Mark Lawrence novel, whether it’s in the Broken Empire world or if it’s set in a Walmart.

I find it very easy to say this is one of fantasy’s most unique medieval set stories.  Honorous Jorg Ancrath is one of fantasy’s most evil characters.  Mark Lawrence is one of fantasy’s best new writers. Whether people like this ending or not, will probably cause some debates, but to simply answer the question that should be on most people’s minds: does Jorg get the ending he deserves? I definitely thought so.

Two years after defeating the Prince of Arrow’s army, King Honorous Jorg Ancrath and a retinue of brothers and subjects head to Vyene for the Congression to try and elect an emperor for the first time in over a century.  Jorg believes he’s the right man for the task, but other leaders may have different ideas.  The leaders opposing Jorg may be the least of his problems as the Dead King, a necromancer with terrible power, is looking to wreak havoc upon the world.

Five years earlier, and continuing the four year’s earlier storyline from King of Thorns, Jorg continues to travel the world and research the builder’s technology.  His hope is to harness the power that could secure his reign and possibly save or destroy the world.

There is a much better balance between the present day Jorg storyline and the five years earlier storyline in Emperor of Thorns.  This was a major issue in King of Thorns and seeing it get resolved helped to tremendously improve the book. Whether or not the trilogy would have been improved if it was told chronologically could still be a debate, but after reading Emperor of Thorns, I can see why Lawrence ordered the trilogy the way he did.

Jorg as an evil character turned antihero is an excellent reversal of the antihero character development trope.  Jorg has come a long way from the sociopath who killed without reason in Prince of Thorns … nearly every murder committed in Emperor of Thorns can arguably be justified.  I will say some of Jorg’s best scenes in this book – or in this series for that matter – come from who he decides to kill and the manner in which it is done.

Miana also continues to impress as an auxiliary character. If the ending of King of Thorns taught readers anything, she’s just as brutal and fearless as Jorg, and quite honestly the perfect wife for him.  Watching the relationship between her and Jorg develop was fascinating as the author acknowledges their compatibility but frequently questions whether or not they love each other. The question: would Jorg or Miana be willing to sacrifice each other to achieve their goals is a great underlying source of tension.

This story’s biggest weakness, and its an issue that could extend into previous books in the trilogy, is not spending enough time developing the Dead King.  The ending of this entire trilogy is really weakened because of this, and that’s something I can’t emphasize enough.  In terms of plot points the ending is great, but by not developing the Dead King the emotional impact of the ending is greatly lessened, as is the implication that this is a foe that is worthy of being the supreme bad guy.

Lawrence tries to get some development time in for Dead King via narration told from Chella’s point of view, but to start the development of this character this late into the series, was too little too late. Additionally Chella turns out to be an unexciting narrator. All she does is ride in carriage talking to a new character named Kai, her thoughts frequently returning to him.  These scenes are frustrating because this feels like a waste of time, especially in retrospect when you realize what an opportunity is being missed by not having the Dead King being developed.

Another disappointment was Katherine.  After being built as an important and significant character in Jorg’s life and as a character that takes action, she only seems to exist in this novel to create tension, rather than trying to be an active character that fulfills some sort of personal goal.  She’s like a decorative ornament in this final book – looking pretty, drawing attention to herself, but is ultimately left hanging there.

A lot of the issues with structure seem to stem from Lawrence’s choice to make this a novel narrated in 1st person … which was certainly the way to develop Jorg, but it seems to have made it more difficult for the author to develop other characters that sorely needed to be developed.

Overall the likes outweigh the dislikes. Emperor of Thorns successfully brings Jorg’s story to a close, and fans who’ve been able to stomach the atrocities and unpredictability of the story so far should be pleased with this ending.

Score: 9.1

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