The Broken Empire Trilogy
After finishing A Dance With Dragons I took a bit of a detour through some lighter urban fantasy and sci-fi to counterbalance all my dark fantasy reading. Mind cleared of AsoIF I picked up Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. The first novel in The Broken Empire Trilogy that follows the brutal and violent rise to power of Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, heir to Ancrath and self proclaimed contender for Emperor of the Broken Empire. I finished the first book and immediately went on to read part two and three. Because I read the whole trilogy as one book I will cover all three with one review.
“The way to break the cycle is to kill every single one of the bastards that fucked you over. Every last one of them. Kill them all. Kill their mother, kill their brothers, kill their children, kill their dog.”
Prince of Thorns follows the exploits of 14 year old Prince Jorg Ancrath, self exiled and leading a group of blood thirsty bandits raping and looting their way across a war torn countryside. Several years earlier Jorg was riding in a royal carriage with his mother and younger brother when soldiers sent by his uncle ambushed them. Jorg managed to escape by being trapped and hidden in copse of briar thorns from were he witness the brutal murder of his mother and brother. After his rescue he becomes disillusioned and bitter at his fathers uncaring reaction and swearing to avenge his mother and brother he leaves his home with a group of escaped bandits. Prince of Thorns narrative bounces between the present where Jorg has become the leader of the band and the past where he recollects the path that led him towards his final revenge and his overreaching ambition for the throne. Sprinkle in a Necromancer or two, some mutants, and a few evil dream witches and you have a kick to the teeth kind of novel.
A fantastically brutal 1st person narrative and great setting take this novel to an outstanding level. Jorg Ancrath according to Mark Lawrence is based on Alex from A Clockwork Orange(a side effect of knowing this while reading is that Jorg is forever Malcolm McDowell in my mind) and just like Alex he’s a thoroughly selfish and unapologetic sociopath. Jorg is consumed by revenge and the desire for power, he wants to fill the void in his life left by the murder of his family by rising to the top and ruling above all. He murders, steals, and causes the deaths of thousands in his quest for power and he does it all unapologetic and without remorse. The strongest point of the novel, and the series as a whole, does not lie in the individual events or adventures but in the inner thoughts of a man with nothing to lose and the overwhelming obsession for ultimate power. Pretty much Jorg is Batman if instead of deciding to fight crime after his parents were murdered he decided to kill every criminal in Gotham and take over as the ultimate crime lord.
I also want to reserve a special mention to the setting. The Broken Empire takes place in Europe but over a thousand years from now in a post nuclear holocaust world that has reverted to a medieval cultural and technological level. It’s easily one of my favorite settings and holds some of the best surprises in the series so I will leave most of it out of this review.
Several years have passed since Prince of Thorns and we return to King(yeah, hes a now a King) Jorg on his wedding day. Unfortunately Orrin of Arrow has brought an army ten times the size of Jorg’s with the intention of destroying Jorg and unifying the Empire under his leadership. Prince Arrow is everything Jorg isn’t, attractive, just, intelligent, fair, and loved by the people and should rightfully become the Emperor. Of course Jorg wont stand for any of that nonsense, unfortunately for him besides being grossly outnumbered he is haunted by the ghost of a dead child and part of his memories are locked away in a magic box.
Part two of the trilogy once again uses a time split narrative between the present battle with the Prince of Arrow and Jorg recollecting his adventures and travels after the events of the first book. The present narrative is a bloody battle, where Jorg is outnumbered and on the brink of defeat. The other narrative follows his exploration through the world in search of knowledge to help him attain the goal of Emperor. Book two reveals a lot more of the world as Jorg travels to his Grandfathers castle, the Viking North, and through a undead infested swamp where he encounters my favorite character Chella. The two narratives play into each other and split off into a third involving some tucked away memories. Safe to say that the complex format pays off and connects all the lose ends and delivers a cool ending.
The final part of Jorg’s story finds our hero a few years older and now King of seven kingdoms, traveling with his pregnant wife(the fantastic character Maina) and his closest allies towards Congression to put in his bid for Emperor. Jorg has to pull out all the stops to deal with the murderous nobles and the disgusting church of Roma all scheming each others downfall. Making matters worse the agents of the Dead King are leading an army of undead towards the gathering.
Just like the previous books Emperor of Thorns employes a split narrative flashback. Here we have Jorg recalling his travels to Afrique taking him through radiation wasted deserts and pitting him against cunning mathmagicians intent on controlling him. The chapters devoted to these flashbacks reveal sa lot more of the secrets of Jorg’s world. This book also offers a new convention, chapters devoted to the point of view of Chella, a necromancer leading the army of the Dead King. Her chapters are the highlight of this book in my opinion and allow the reader to see Jorg from a different perspective.
The Broken Empire trilogy is a fantastic read for anybody that enjoys modern dark fantasy. Hands down this series is one of the best I have read and is a serious contender for most enjoyable read this year. I highly recommend all three books.
On top of being a big fan of the books I am also a fan of the author. Mark Lawrence seems like a great guy who always interacts with his fans on Reddit r/fantasy, twitter, and his blog. Most of all he’s earned my respect for standing up to the crazies that threw all sorts of nonsense sexism and racism claims at these books for not having “strong female” characters or too much “rape” or whatever stupidity they use to bully authors into submission to some incoherent progressive philosophy. I recommend his blogs on the topic and applaud him for having the guts to stand up to these assholes. More authors should follow in his footsteps.
P.S. The scene with Justice the dog…