Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Perpetual Man

Tim James
Jun 13, 2006

A long time ago an online friend mentioned that there was a book worth reading by a new author. As the author was at the time a member of the same forum it seemed that a good idea to take the recommendation and I read Prince of Thorns. Along the way there were plenty of fun conversations and it was a boon being able to go to the source himself, Mark Lawrence.

I mention this because since then Lawrence has gone on with his writing career, proving that all the potential spoken about at the time was no flash in the pan, his books go from strength to strength and he is being recognised as one of the big fantasy writers, with a number of series behind him, while I… have only just read Emperor of Thorns, something I bought 5 years ago, on the day it came out.

The tale of Jorg of Ancrath picks up and heads towards it’s conclusion, proving that it is just as brutal, cringeworthy and shocking as its two predecessors, if not more so.
Jorg seems a lot older, more world-weary and it’s a shock to realise how young he actually is. It is a solid reflection of the world he has grown up in. In many societies he would still be a young man, footloose and fancy free, here he is a grizzled, scarred veteran, who has clawed himself into a position of power and is capable of wielding it like a weapon. By his very nature, Jorg is not a nice person. His solution to problems is often the most brutal and direct, expediency over compassion, but at the same time although the decisions he makes are harsh, it seems his ultimate goal is for the greater good.

With the big revelation about the land in which the characters live now firmly out of the way, it loses part of the mystery, something that is easily replaced by the fun the reader has in trying to work out what the names would have been before the fires burned the world.

The story itself is told in two times, the ‘current’ story, that sees Jorg making his way across the land with his retinue, being joined by the other rulers of the various kingdoms, as they go to elect (or not elect) an Emperor to rule over them all. The dead king is gathering his forces and preparing to invade and make himself a power in the living realm, his identity becoming more and more important as we close on the climax.

At the same time we get to see more of this twisted world, as we follow Jorg’s earlier journeys in flashback, secrets being revealed and pieces put in place for the finale.

There is so much grimness on show here, particularly the events at the monastery from Jorg’s youth and the various predations of the dead, things that even the moments of Jorg’s cleverness – which can inspire humour – even the misconception that he might not be that bad. In fact, it is this clever dichotomy that really makes the character and these books work. Jorg is a nasty piece of work, much of what he does is unforgivable, but as in real life, we often do not know what drives people to make the decisions they do, and seeing just glimmers of it are what make Jorg work as a character, you can quite easily condemn him, you can understand him, and despite everything he gives everything, damning himself time and again, but in doing so makes the world a better place.

Is that not the definition of a hero?