the Little Red Reviewer

Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

Posted on: February 27, 2014

emperor of thorns 2Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (book 3 of the Broken Empire Trilogy)

published August 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher











It’s no secret I was a huge fan of the first book.  Prince of Thorns was unlike anything I’d ever come across before. It was everything I was looking for in the departments of grimdark and horrible things happening to people. For a short time that book  polarized the fantasy fan community, with people either really loving it, or really hating it. Lawrence took risks that other authors simply would not take, and you’ve got to applaud him for that.


A year later, I kept finding reasons not to pick up King of Thorns. The first book in the series was so good, how could the second one possibly live up to my expectations? Long story short is I was lukewarm on King of Thorns.  I had a tough time wrapping my head around the disparate plot lines, and found the dream transitions to be confusing and awkward, but I enjoyed Katherine’s scenes and was moved by the loss of Gog. The dog scene? Didn’t hold a candle to what I went through losing Gog. Yes, I’m heartless, we’ve already established that,   I’m the kind of person who likes this kind of thing, remember?


A year later, I was again avoiding reading Emperor of Thorns. Which was it going to be? Mindblowing like Prince? Or middling like King? Or something else entirely?

Things I loved about Prince of Thorns included Jorg’s relationships with his road brothers, his heartbreaking memories of the deaths of his mother and brother, the banter, and not being told explicitly when or where the story took place (my ARC didn’t have the map in it, so I was kept guessing a little longer).  I found the prose to be sharp, the pacing to be spot on, and the book to be unputdownable.


In Emperor of Thorns, little Jorgy is all grown up. His wife is about to give birth to their son, he rules over seven kingdoms, he’s become an administrator. There’s no over the top action with his surviving road brothers, and very little banter. Where and when we are is no longer a secret, so Lawrence takes multiple opportunities to pepper the narrative with idioms and name dropping. I wasn’t just being told when and where we were, I was being force fed it over and over again. All of the magic and mystery of not knowing had completely evaporated.


The only mystery left was the Dead King.


As in previous installments, Emperor of Thorns is written in two timelines. The “present” time line, where Jorg and his wife and their retinue are marching halfway across the continent to Congression, and a “five years earlier” timeline, where newly crowned King Jorg is doing some globetrotting to learn about the world and the peoples he plans to rule over.


In the travels of the younger Jorg, he mostly depends on the view-ring, and the builder technology it leads him to.  The way the view-ring was handled gave me reason for concern. Jorg rarely knows why he’s going somewhere. He always meets someone who will help him later and learns something important, but for the most part he is traveling blind. The unfortunate side effect is that it makes the view-ring look like nothing more than a plot device to get him somewhere so something required for the plot can happen. And that’s too bad.


As an older Jorg is marching off to Congression with his wife and plotting to get enough votes to be voted in as Emperor, the armies of the Dead King are marching as well. It’s the classic “you’re marching the wrong way” bit.  Jorg’s future lies at Congression, but every person he’s killed along the way becomes another corpse for the Dead King’s necromancers to raise up.  What does voting for a new emperor matter, when the entire continent is about to be over run by corpse soldiers? It was kind of cute to see Jorg as a new father. He’s madly in love with his son, which I’m sure came as a surprise to him.


Pacing, again, was an issue for me.  This is more of an introspective book, so there was far less action, and far less character interaction and banter. As in King of Thorns, much of the narrative was Jorg’s questioning his own actions. Did he do the right thing, should he have done this other thing, or listened to this other advisor, or spent more time on whatever, and it got repetitive.


I did appreciate the handful of chapters from Chella the necromancer, and it was interesting to see her point of view, as she’s the only person who has had interaction with both Jorg and the Dead King.  As the end of the book got closer, and some hints were dropped as to the identity of the Dead King, I began to get very worried.  We do learn the identity of the Dead King, and while the timing made sense, I simply could not for one second buy into the Dead King’s identity. I could accept the timing, but from what I knew about this character, their transformation into the Dead King made no sense to me.  Unless of course, the only reason for that person to have become the Dead King was so that the very last scene could occur.  Was the Dead King then, nothing more than another clunky plot device?


Suffice to say, I was incredibly disappointed with the conclusion of this series. Mark Lawrence is ever the risk taker, it’s earned him well deserved applause and attention.  The risks he took with this entire series worked for a lot of people, as can be seen from the many glowing reviews. But when it came down to it, the further down the road I went towards the conclusion, the less satisfied I was with the journey.


The experience of reading this trilogy reminded me a little of Bubblelicious bubblegum from when I was a kid.  Getting a pack of that stuff was a treat, I could barely jam a whole piece in my mouth. That flood of intensified sugary flavor, it was heavenly.  But within a few minutes I’d chewed through the thin layer of sugar, and had a mouth full of heavy flavorless tar. How long was I supposed to chew on it before giving up and spitting it out?


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23 Responses to "Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence"

Ah, I love this series. Never have I read a book about a main character so hateful than I end up actually liking him. Sorry you had issues with the pacing and that you were ultimately disappointed with the conclusion though; it does seem to be a pretty polarizing ending, I see people either love it or hate it. I was glad at least to see that Mark Lawrence put his foot down and said that an end is an end, that he told Jorg’s tale and that this was going to be it. It was a bittersweet conclusion for me, but I also thought it was good that he ended here.


I completely agree with you about Jorg being a character you want to hate, but end up liking. Shit, I liked that little bugger from the start.

I’m find with Lawrence putting foot down and ending things, and you know, props to him for going with a polarizing ending. in a way, it’s almost more important that the ending got some kind of emotional reaction out of people, instead of just ending in a fizzle.


Interesting. I read your Prince of Thorns review yesterday and was looking forward to reading this, also. I am surprised to see how you felt about it, but I know how very differently we can all experience each and every book. I hope you’ll like Prince of Fools more!


I’d read Prince of Thorns again. But I’d probably read it as a stand alone. and ain’t that the truth, that everyone experiences every book differently? I keep giving my favorite books to my husband to read, and most of the time he’s unimpressed with them.


Aw no! I confess I’m in the ‘lovers’ team (that actually sounds all wrong doesn’t it *ahem*). But, yeah, I did enjoy this series. It’s a shame it didn’t work for you, especially as I have you to thank in the first place for putting me on to it. But, we’re all individuals and this is a perfect example.
Lynn :D


hey, loving the ending is great! I’m actually happy that this trilogy worked so well for so many people. i still think it had a fantastic start. Good for Lawrence for sticking to his guns and ending it on his terms.


I read the first book in this trilogy and really liked it, but I haven’t read on yet. I need to get back to them!


if it’s possible, read books 2 and 3 one right after the other. i think part of my problem was I read the books a year apart, and instead of 3 novels, this is really one huge novel that’s presented as 3 books.


I have not gotten to this third book but it amazes me how much you followed the same path. I raved about the first book and avoided picking up the second forever. Then about a year ago I read it and liked it well enough despite almost abandoning it the first quarter. And I said, I will read that third one much sooner!

And I still have not. Someday.


eh, if you were lukewarm on the 2nd one, you might just skip the 3rd one. The things that you and I enjoyed in the first book aren’t really present in the last one.


I was disappointed as well. It took me a while to really come to terms with how I felt about it because I just wanted to love it and felt guilty for not. But there were so many things that just were too hard for me to buy into and I find my opinion of it has decreased over time as I have thought about it more. The identity of the Dead King was certainly one, and then the resolution at the end was another. It all just felt random and convenient. I never like to see other readers disappointed in books, but at the same time, it’s nice to see I’m not alone.


” It all just felt random and convenient.”

that, exactly. I’m fine with stories being backwards engineered, i think it’s good when the author knows what’s going to happen at the end. But this was so backwards engineered that I could see the struts and nuts and bolts. :(

feeling guilty for not loving it? oh yeah can I relate to that. Happens a few times a year to me: Everyone raves about a title, but it just doesn’t work for me.


Nice review. I read it cautiously as I’m only about 100 pages into the book (you were good about avoiding spoilers, but I’m avoiding the other comments just in case). I also thought King slightly below Prince in terms of enjoyment level. And I think part of it is the taming of Jorg. I suppose I’ll see how the rest plays out now. I’ll post my review when I’m done and come back here to reread yours!

Now it’s time to just wait for Brent Weeks to finish the next Lightbringer book.


I should have put in a spoiler warning: major spoilers for books 1 and 2, but I did try to not give any spoilers for the 3rd book. hmmm, “the taming of Jorg”, that would be a good subtitle for this trilogy!


Not sure “The Taming of Jorg” would have sold as well as “The Broken Empire.” Oh well. I am just nearing the halfway point now. I suppose your spiel on unhappiness on who the Dead King is has put a specific character in my mind, and it hasn’t been fully revealed yet, but I think I’m right. /sigh. I’m also not going to be happy about that if it plays out the way I think.


you will have to read till the very end to find out the Dead King’s identity. Keep reading, because I want to know what you think of the finale, especially if you have guessed right (I have no idea which character you have in mind, btw).


I didn’t want to say who I had in mind just in case you inadvertently confirmed/denied my suspicions. :) I’ll post a review on my blog when I’m done (and I’ll attempt to remember to come back here). When I review, I’ll sometimes pop spoilers in there, so long as there is clear warning. So, you’ll see.


When you said you weren’t overly thrilled with who the Dead King was, I immediately thought to myself “who could the Dead King be that would disappoint me the most?” That’s who it was avoiding spoilers since you seem to do that here). There was more than enough clues in there to get it well before the “reveal” (especially when you have a nagging suspicion you know who it will be anyway). Oddly though, I wasn’t really disappointed. Maybe that’s because I was setting it up in my mind to be an utter disaster. I think he played it well enough. Not to say it was perfect, fantastic, OH MY GOD! or anything. I liked the blurb from Lawrence afterwards too. I’ll have my review up shortly where hopefully I can turn some of the babbling I’m doing here into something cohesive.


On a side-note, I hope you don’t mind I quoted you on my blog. I linked back to you and told everyone you’re awesome (hopefully that makes up for the sneak attack quoting). Just wanted to explain my thoughts and you became part of the narrative.


Your kind words humbled me, by the way.


Mogsy was just telling me the other day that she was looking forward to his newest title coming out when I realized I have the first book on my shelf and still have yet to read it. I don’t know how much “grimdark” I’ve actually read but she says this is a good one to wet my whistle with to see if I like it. So …I guess I’ll find out – you obviously loved it!


For grimdark, I also recommend Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. It’s very, very different from Mark Lawrence, but gritty, violent, people doing terrible things. Other than gritty and violent, I need a better definition of grimdark.


Haha – yes I have those books I’ve been meaning to since forever. All the darn review books get in my way.


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