Mark Lawrence has become one of my favourite fantasy novelists thanks to his riveting revenge fantasy series The Broken Empire. I picked up the first book in the series, Prince of Thorns, based on its cover and its prominent place on the fantasy novels shelf in the Amazon bookstore. Judging a book by its cover could have never been so absolutely right.
Mark’s writing flows like beautiful poetry. Gripping. Dark and defying prediction. The pace of the first book, Prince of Thorns is as sharp as a newly forged blade. And just as easily the first person narrative of a bitter 14-year-old rogue runaway prince Jorg Ancrath gets into your skin.
I guess, it could be considered a spoiler, but Jorg says it enough times, that am going to go with the assumption it is okay to state here. Jorg was 9 when he hung helpless terrified on a thorny bush as his mother was raped and murdered and younger brother’s body was smashed to pieces. There is a bitterness that festers inside him and haunting anger that shapes him.
Jorg Ancrath is the anti-hero. Early on in the stories we see he kills, tortures, rapes. Over the course of the three books, we get to see multiple other facets. His character does not necessarily get gentle and honourable, but he is a survivor; smart, ruthless and strategic. Open to the lessons of the past and unafraid to embrace the possibilities of the future as long as he gets to negotiate on his terms. Battle tactics, far off lands, alliances with an overshadowing mix of terror and magic. Jorg’s story gives us a chance to experience it all. The writing has this visceral intensity that instantly connected with me.
The books cover Jorg’s ages from 14 to 20. In Game of Thrones style 14-year-old prince Jorg is no innocent and already battle worn jaded. His dynamics with his father, bond with his road brothers adds depth to the tale. Commander turned bandit turned Commander Makin, honourable assassin Nuban, deformed gentle Gorgoth and confidant straightforward Coddin are memorable characters essential to the forging of the Emperor of Thorns.
The Prince of Thorns book is brilliantly and flawlessly paced. King of Thorns stretches in some parts but has its moments. Emperor of Thorns meanders at times. Mark is ambitious in this last instalment of the series in the vast content he and his hero cover. It adds an epic element to the series, but I found the randomness distracting even if necessary to enforce how big the stakes were.
Jorg is not a good guy. His unhealthy fascination with his aunt Katherine is only one example of how the book enters the grey territory. After I ended the series and kept the books aside I am still caught up with the story. I have come to appreciate how some story arcs were not neatly tied up. It forces the reader to come up with our versions.We can only guess. We won’t know. In this case, that is why it makes for intelligent story-telling because we don’t know why some things were left off the pages and why other things got as many pages dedicated to them.
The first book in The Broken Empire series is undoubtedly the best of the lot. And am willing to bet, if you complete the first book, you end up invariably caring enough to read on to find out what happens next to the Prince of Thorns.
If you stuck with George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire then you will love this series by Mark Lawrence. A
highly recommended must read for fantasy readers.