Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence
Posted February 27, 2014on:
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?