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.

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King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Just finished reading King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and before I place one more word to blog I will just say ‘wow’.  Last year Mark Lawrence brought to us Jorg, the Prince of Thorns, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, in fact it was in my top 10 for the year (thank you again Little Red Reviewer).   For me personally it brought a new sort of perspective to fantasy.  The anti-hero who, in spite of himself, you couldn’t help eventually shouting in support of.  I mean, it’s a pretty nasty world that Lawrence has created here but Jorg, who, in fairness, is plagued by his own demons, is not necessarily the worst of the bunch.

I picked this book up with a certain sort of trepidation.  Part of me wanted to rush head long and part of me was afraid of the ‘second book syndrome’ that I’ve experienced in the past and which usually succeeds in my losing interest in the rest of the series.  As usual impetuousness won the day and I rushed in ….. but fear not on this account.  No longer a Prince, the King of Thorns rises above it’s first instalment to truly become the successor to the throne.  I loved this book.  Where the hell Mark Lawrence has been hiding for the past few years I have no idea but I hope he has no immediate plans to return.  This book is just pure genius.  I don’t know how he did it but he’s written this wonderful and complex plot where all the strands come together, like magic, and where very little is left unanswered.

Okay, enough gushing.

The plot starts with Jorg aged 18.  We’ve moved on and he’s now King of the Highlands.  However, his domain is threatened, a mammoth army sits on his doorstep, he’s outnumbered 20:1 and the battle of wits is about to commence.

The story is told in two time frames so that even though we’ve jumped forward in years we still get to see how Jorg has reached his current whereabouts. This is such a brilliant device and works really well here.  We move to one time frame and get to take part in the current battle whilst moving back in time to read about seemingly random and meaningless events – albeit interesting.  This also helps to keep the momentum going rather than reading the plot in a straight line and watching the story unfold we seem to jump from one action scene to the next barely catching breath inbetween. This story is woven like the most complex tapestry and really is a thing of beauty, I was practically clapping my hands in appreciation at certain points.  I started the read and almost had a headache in the first few chapters (okay, maybe I’m not as smart as some and sometimes had to stop and think ‘what?’) but then without any discernible effort on the part of the author I was totally immersed.  He had me.  I was on a tractor beam and couldn’t get off.  I just sat and read and it wasn’t until I realised that I was completely alone and the house was deathly quiet that I noticed that it was about 2.00 am in the morning and everybody else, without my even noticing or acknowledging it, had gone to bed.  Talk about casting a spell!

In the Prince of Thorns we were introduced to this strange new, I don’t know, post apocalyptic world that has almost returned to  mediaeval times, war rages and Kings plot against each other and yet we have strange remnants from the past that lend the read a certain sort of grim fascination.  But, in this new world things have moved forward apace and we also have a strange thinning of the veil that separates the real from the unreal.  Ghosts, strange misshapen monsters and cruel mistresses of death.  The King of Thorns builds upon that world further bringing all sorts of creepiness in its wake.  The imagination is just amazing and the situations that Jorg finds himself in seem almost desperate or without hope and yet ML manages to find sneaky ways to manoeuvre around impossible odds in a plausible way.  (Okay, methinks maybe I have returned to the realm of gushing).

Jorg is a different character in this book.  He appears to have developed an odd new sense of humanity.  I mean, I don’t think he’s going to ever be accused of being ‘soft and fluffy’ but he suddenly seems to have acquired a conscience – probably helped by the fact that he seems to have his own personal ghosts lurking in shadows to remind him of his past (although, and I won’t go into it further – memory can be a funny thing, particularly in this world).  He’s still pretty unsavoury but he and his crew – who are developed much further in this novel as the pages speed by – seem to be on a different type of mission.  The first instalment saw Jorg consumed by revenge.  This sees him stubborn and unwilling to bend the knee.  He’s ambitious and he has a plan. I quite liked this ‘new’ Jorg – he’s still quite capable of lopping off the odd head here and there if he’s displeased but it feels a little bit more judicious – in that you generally don’t feel any immediate sympathy for the person who has just found themselves bleeding on the floor without aforementioned noggin!  Jorg’s wit, however, remains the same, he’s clever, dry and just frankly made me laugh.  In this novel his band of motley men are also developed – which isn’t to stay they all remain intact, as in No.1, ML takes no prisoners, but we get to know them a little better.  Makin has become something of a favourite as has Gog.

In the first book, we ended on a strange sort of note – did we really know Jorg.  Had we met the true man.  At the conclusion of No. 2 I experienced a similar feeling.  I don’t think we have met the real Jorg yet (you’ll know why once you’ve read the book).  I’m waiting for the third book to see who he really is.  Oddly enough, although a different character in both I’ve enjoyed reading about Jorg very much. This is dark and gritty.  It’s pretty uncompromising and there are a few scenes that frankly made me squirm – the dog!  That’s all I’m going to say!  I had to cover my eyes for that scene until I realised that I couldn’t read any longer – then I just covered my ears and held my breath (until I fainted).  Not really, but you get the impression.  Dark.  Gritty.  However, if you like fantasy I just simply cannot see how you could fail to like this.  It’s different but it has something about it that’s familiar.  If you took a look at all the other fantasy books you’ve read, took all the ideas and melted them into plasticine, then remoulded it into a different shape, you might capture a little bit of the essence of this book.  But only a little bit.  It’s fantasy Jim, but not as we know it!

For the avoidance of doubt and in case of a lack of clarity above I very much liked Prince of Thorns, I loved King of Thorns and I now wait with baited breath to see what ML will do next!  Frankly, it can’t come quickly enough.  It’s going to be a l o n g wait!

King of Thorns

King of Thorns

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Just finished reading Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence which in defiance of my early impressions turned into a very good read.  And, to explain myself with that remark – this is quite a gory bloodfest of a read told by a protagnoist who is the very epitome of a anti-hero yet the author not only manages to engage your attention and keep it but also makes you want the lead character to succeed.

This is a story of revenge, set in a futuristic post apocalyptic world where the inhabitants and their world resemble something from mediaeval times with dark castles, kings and jousts and yet this is a twisted future where ghosts can roam, dark magic is possible and strange mutated people have evolved in the aftermath of destruction.

The story starts with Jorg and his band of reprobates killing, pillaging and looting, taking whatever valuables and pleasures they can along the road.  They’re not really nice (and that’s a big understatment).  And yet, though you would think this would be a very unpalatable read, you’re almost immediately interested in Jorg.  The story jumps back and forth between the present and four year’s earlier and thereby gradually provides you with some very relevant and illuminating background to Jorg.

This is a gritty and fast paced read which seems to lurch from one impossible situation to the next.  I think as you read along, although Jorg and his band are an unsavoury bunch you come to realise that they are not the worst.  Treachery and political maneouvering are rife and not everone or everything is always as it seems.  I will say, and not that you probably will, don’t get too attached to the characters because ML shows no hesitation in sacrificing them!

I don’t want to elaborate further because it would be too easy to give away spoilers and I think this book is best read with no prior knowledge.  In particular there’s a twist at the end which leaves you wondering how Jorg’s character will develop in the next installment.

In terms of criticisms I did find it a bit of a stretch to believe that Jorg was capable of everything written about him – mainly because of his age and also because I couldn’t help thinking that some of the characters he kept company with would probably have just slit his throat whilst he slept rather than let him give them orders.

But, I came to like Jorg, he’s well written and you spend a lot of time inside his head listening to his own thoughts.  He’s certainly not soft and fluffy but there was the odd glimpse, when the barriers came down, that you could see how things could be very different.  I think this is a really intriguing story and find it difficult to believe that this is a debut novel!

It will be interesting to see how the next book develops.

I would definitely recommend this if you don’t mind your adventure to be quite gritty and blood soaked.

Rating A

Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns