The bloody tale of Jorg Ancrath spans three novels: The Prince of Thorns, the King of Thorns, and The Emperor of Thorns. The first novel is like the hushed quiet before a musician takes his stage; the eyes of the crowd trail behind him as he slowly mounts the platform and into the center of the audience’s attention. Onlookers lean forward as the player enters his second act, The King of Thorns. He touches a few pegs, checks that the microphone is plugged in, and settles himself before acknowledging his audience. Their suspense swells and fills the outward edges of the room. They sit, all rapt attention, yearning for the final act to come. Emperor of Thorns takes all these pieces and plays a lilting song, a dark song, and ties the books together in a melody of red.
The matter of genre is difficult to pin down: fantasy, dystopia, sci-fi…all these definitions fit neatly between the pages Mark Lawrence has written. I found it interesting that the world was not the medieval alternate universe I had first expected. True, there're plenty of magics, swords, and thatched buildings to be set afire. However, Mark built a world on top of ours where the sea levels have risen from the wake of a nuclear war, and reality has shifted due to scientific meddling. The people living in the Broken Empire build their infrastructure around the bones of the long-since dead and much of technology is lost. As the story progresses, you learn more about the world and the role Jorg plays within its borders.
At nine, Jorg watches his mother and brother die as he struggles against the chains of a hook-briar. At thirteen, he’s leading a band of “Road Brothers” to shed blood and sow salt. By fifteen, he is king and ready to carve his place as Emperor of the Broken Empire.
Jorg is no hero, nor is he an anti-hero in any typical sense. His path is his own, and he will not hesitate to maim and murder his way to the throne (even if it means dousing a few fires with the blood of friends). But he is not without remorse for certain characters he encounters as well. Jorg is a clever man with charming features who makes Vlad the Impaler and Napoleon Bonaparte look like cuddly stuffed teddy-bears by comparison.
Getting the believability of such an evil character is no easy task; it takes a precise mixture empathy and viciousness to get the job done and Mark does so in seamless fashion. What’s more, the writing is imaginative, poetic, and puts the quotability of Henry David Thoreau to shame (not that I would ever read Walden again).
"This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Don't think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me.
Follow me, and I will break your heart." ― Mark Lawrence, Emperor of Thorns
The books are a mix of storylines, one written from the present, one from the past, and another from someone else’s viewpoint depending on which book you’re reading. Generally speaking, I hate flashbacks. Normally they stilt the flow of the novel and are unnecessary in application, and I will admit I had a difficult time slogging through Katherine’s diary. But in this trilogy, the flashbacks work to create a fun little jig-saw puzzle that brings about a larger picture, an extra layer of fun, if you will.
Jorg plays the part of a monarch much the same way a chess player might move his pieces across the board: anything that pins him only makes him weaker, and he has no trouble with sacrificing a pawn or three to get what he desires. Where other chess players might hesitate, Jorg does not. He plays a ruthless hand which often makes him appear reckless, but to think as such would be a mistake. No. The moment you think you have him cornered is the moment you find yourself without a head.
Mark Lawrence’s trilogy is a breath of fresh air in a genre where characters often fall flat, and you will not have to worry about the middle book (or the other books) sagging like so many other trilogies have. If you read nothing else this year, I invite you to read Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire series.
P.S. If you would like to enter the giveaway for a paperback copy of Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows (Brent Weeks), just leave a comment below with your email and you will be entered into the drawing. Readers have until September 1st.
You can also check out this art contest for Tony Jaeger's Chef novel: http://www.creativewritingtime.com/1/post/2013/08/two-big-announcements.html