150 pages into this book and again I am really torn about what to think of The Broken Empire trilogy. There are two elements pulling me in different directions: the excellent writing and plotting and the excessive violence. These two elements were part of the trilogy since the first pages of Prince of Thorns, in which a rape occurs, while the prose itself is really gripping and masterful at the same time.
In part two, King of Thorns, it is toned down, but halfway through Emperor of Thorns we are already shown two torture scenes and another rape scene. It is really quite excessive and feels like a gimmick to be ‘edgy’ and sadly, Mark Lawrence doesn’t need a gimmick because his writing is really extraordinarily good. So let’s turn instead to what I like about the book.
One thing that is so good is that most scenes in the book serve multiple functions and hold multiple meanings.
I’d like to take just one scene from the book and unpack it. At one point, Jorg is away from home and falls asleep. Katherine battles him at night by sending him nightmares and this time the dream is about an assassin’s attempt to murder his queen. This scene simultaneously tells us many things. It tells about the relationship between Jorg and Katherine; it tells about the threat of Rome; it tells about Jorg’s emotional development and past; it tells about the character of Queen Miana and the homefront situation; it moves the plot forward as Jorg needs to adapt his plans. And so on; I’m sure it serves more functions than this.
In case you’ve read King of Thorns, here’s a similar favorite scene with overlapping meanings: Jorg is chased up the mountains by an army, and he uses his memory box to remind himself what to do next. The memory that surfaces is of him climbing a pillar and seeing the layout of the valley. This scene is simply stunning and gives us at least five meanings. It tells us about Jorg’s psychology, about his understanding of the mountain people and their language, about his getting to know his country, about his physical prowess, and last but not least, about his solution to wipe out the army that chases him.
End of spoilers
While many writers treat their plots in a very episodic manner – first one thing happens, and then another thing happens – Lawrence uses single scenes to address multiple dimensions of his story. It’s using only the most significant scenes to tell a story; it’s using the least amount of storytelling to tell as much as possible. This is a sign of a master storyteller.
Towards the end, Emperor of Thorns becomes a study of darkness, and the fate of the world turns around the themes of darkness and redemption. Jorg gives up on being good, he feels that his past crimes weigh too heavily on him to save him. He seeks it out now, the darkness. Shamelessly, he confronts everything that would pose a threat to him and has little respect for anything or anybody. He walks a tightrope between a carelessness born from apathy and suicidal tendencies. Where in the past he might have dared someone to kill him to gain their loyalty, now he finds that he means those words and doesn’t care much either way.
At the end of the book, I am once again convinced that I am reading a masterpiece.