‘Dark times call for dark choices. Choose me.’
For all you Jorg haters out there, that one line, that simple declaration, sums up The Broken Empire better than anything I might be able to coax from my tired brain. Yes, for the second night in a row, a book has gotten its hooks into me and demanded I stay up far too late reading the final 200 pages. Fortunately, Emperor of Thorns delivered in almost every respect, defiantly answering my every conflicting emotion resulting from its predecessor, King of Thorns.
Mark Lawrence has taken the successful formula of the first two books, tweaked it, twisted it, and triumphed over the most problematic - and predictable - portions. Once again we find ourselves on a journey, but it's rediscovered some of the novelty and macabre sense of wonder that made the first book so fun. As was the case with the first two books, we have two interwoven stories, but whereas I found the flashback portion of the second book a bit weak, here it's strong enough to carry a tale all on its own. As for my concerns about the artifacts of Builder technology playing such a crucial role in the climax of the first two books, I am very pleased to say that they've proven to be completely unfounded. In fact, what Lawrence does to bring that aspect of the tale to the forefront here is one of the novel's most pleasant surprises.
Another pleasant surprise is the continuing growth of Jorg. Yes, he's a right royal bastard, and about as far from a knight in shining armor as you can get, but he's human. We saw some growth in the second book as he matured and grew into his role as king, but here we see him grow into the role of expectant father as well. Of course, that brings about a whole slew of issues, given his dark relationship with his own father, but Lawrence develops it well, making it a key focus of the story, without overdoing it. In fact, there are some very nice parallels with the first book, including a surprise appearance of the very carriage that carried Jorg's mother and brother to their doom. Sadly, Miana feels a bit wasted here, given her developed in the last book, but I thought Katherine's role in things was very nicely played out, with more than a few surprises.
An even darker book than the first two, with the Dead King's armies sweeping across the land, Emperor of Thorns still manages to provide a little dark humor, and even some genuine emotion along the way. I could have done without the interludes of Chella's story, but that's a minor quibble on my part. As for the climax . . . well, there are really two endings to the tale, both of which are extraordinarily well played. Without getting into spoiler territory, the first is largely inevitable, but still a hell of a lot of fun to watch come to fruition, while the second is a complete and utter surprise, an entirely bold choice on Lawrence's part to provide a note of finality to things.
I said in my review of King of Thorns that it was a bigger book than the Prince of Thorns in every respect, and a tale that leaves even bigger expectations. Well, even if this is a somewhat smaller and more intimate tale, it more than manages to deliver on those expectations. An entirely satisfying conclusion to an original and exciting saga. Highly recommended.
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