Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Mark Lawrence is the author who brought to us Prince and then King of Thorns. Both excellent reads. The first book a quite unique experience for me in fantasy and the second which I felt actually surpassed it! (No small achievement) So I confess I went into Emperor with a certain amount of trepidation about whether or not the author could pull the rabbit out of the hat yet again. Personally I think he managed to pull not only a rabbit out of the hat but a long line of knotted hankies and a bunch of other random magical props! I loved it and in fact would go so far as to say it is the perfect way to conclude the series.
How to begin. If you’re reading this review you’ve probably already read the first two books and so the violence and bloodshed that make up a part of Jorg’s life are more than likely known to you. If you haven’t, what the hell are you doing here – get out right now and go and read these in sequence. Believe me when I say you can’t join this story half way along in some half ditched attempt to find out what’s going on. Get thee to the beginning!
Okay, I always try to write a review that doesn’t contain spoilers and this review will be no different. Obviously with the proviso that a review of a third book is actually already spoilery before you even put pen to paper! The very fact that there are sequels clearly means that the lead character has survived thus far after all.
So, again, with Emperor we have a dual time line taking place. Jorg has grown a little older but we still flit to his earlier self. He’s just as ambitious as he ever was and still equally afraid of the memories he carries around with him (quite literally). His father remains the only person who can instill fear in him – something that never happens to Jorg at any other point or with any other foe no matter how terrible. Looking at the current time line, Jorg’s wife is pregnant. He still thinks occasionally of Catherine but he’s now set his sights on attending the meeting of the 100 and becoming Emperor. He’s going to this meeting of his peers and he’s determined that nothing will stand in his way (and knowing Jorg you kind of think he’ll make it happen). In Jorg’s younger timeline he’s travelling the world in search of knowledge and also support. Led on by the ghost of one of the builders from the past he goes from pillar to post – almost without knowing it being led by the nose – and yet even under those circumstances never failing to cause surprises and manipulate even the most dire circumstances to his advantage along the way.
As with the last book you need to think of the bigger picture. It may feel at points as though you’re simply reading a little anecdote from here or there. A faint reminisence of something from Jorg’s past. But this isn’t the case. The stories are, of course, all entertaining by themselves but this isn’t the overall intention so take note. Lawrence is the master of looking at the whole and nothing contained within these pages is unnecessary. Every word plays a part. Lawrence wrote a masterful story and then deconstructed it in such a way to make it both incredibly compelling and much more difficult to second guess than if it was told in a linear fashion. This may seem like a fairly simple plot device, or even like a lack of straightforwardness but for me it made all three books riveting. That’s not to say that I didn’t sometimes feel like growling when I was dragged away from the current story, just as it reached a critical scene, to be taken either backwards or forwards to another part of Jorg’s timeline. And yet, no matter how begrudgingly I might tear myself away before I knew it I was completely immersed in the new story which then seemed to gain equally compelling status. To be honest Jorg’s stories are gripping and in this final instalment we get to see so much more of his inner emotions. The more human side of him if you will. I’m not trying to say he’s become a bit of a simpering faint heart but he has developed. He longs for certain friendships, he doesn’t really love his wife but he cares for her in his own way, he’s scared to be a father. On the flip side of course, and just in case you’re getting all worried round about now, he’s still a raging psychopath who stabs and beheads people first and asks questions later. I’m not saying it’s big or clever but the way in which this is done never really gives you much sympathy for the victims because they’re frankly usually pretty horrendous and the sort who you can’t help thinking he’s doing his world a favour in getting rid of. Okay, there are a few victims who you have a degree of sympathy for, who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time but I think Lawrence has a reason for all this. Put simply I love what Lawrence has done with all of these individual threads. Basically I think that in writing a character such as Jorg there are very few limits. He will do and say virtually anything and as a reader you’re never quite sure what to expect. You still hang on in there each time a new situation arises and foolishly expect Jorg to act in a typical fashion and of course he never does and this is his surprise. This must be such a liberating experience for the author.
The other thing that I loved in this last instalment is the resolution and the coming together of the story in a way that leaves you no internal niggles. The answers to all the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’. Okay, I’m not talking about a straightforward show and tell here. But, as far as I’m concerned every piece slotted into place for the grand finale. Unlike that really annoying puzzle where you get to the end and there’s a piece missing, or, the bookshelf you’re putting up only to find you have a piece missing, or more worrying a few pieces left over. This all comes together like a symphony. Taken individually and the pieces might be pleasing to listen to, interesting or amusing even but put them all together, the full orchestra and now you’re listening to something amazing that will for a moment make you sit perfectly still and listen, take you some place else.
So, as a fairly brief synopsis we have a convergence of worlds here. As in previous worlds the veil between things living and dead has grown thin. The Dark King and his necromancers, also not content with their lot in life and equally as ambitious as Jorg, are crossing that veil. The other rulers are also all trying their hand for the ultimate prize. Jorg, blood thirsty and afraid of nothing is marching forward with his retinue and another faction, not previously acknowledged as a threat, now enter the fray – the ghosts of builders past. They’re all going to come together for an explosive ending. It’s a brave ending and I think it’s perfectly fitting not to mention has a couple of twists that I didn’t see until they were upon me. It’s obvious that ML had an amazing time writing this character and threw convention to the wind and it makes it a great reading experience. As a result Jorg is unlike any character I’ve ever read before. He’s terrible but in such a way that I still want to like him! That’s just so wrong isn’t it?
Be in no doubt though – there is violence here not to mention other scenes such as torture that some people may find uncomfortable to read. You’ve been warned.
End result. A great trilogy. Dark fantasy at it’s grimmest and an absolute must read.