Synopsis (per Goodreads):
The path to the throne is broken - only the broken may walk it.
To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.
The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end of days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Don't think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me.
Follow me, and I will break your heart.
This is book three in The Broken Empire series. Here are my reviews for Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns. Potential spoilers to books one and two in the primary body of the review. Spoilers to book three after the break (you also may want to avoid the comments section if you are looking to avoid spoilers).
The conclusion of The Broken Empire trilogy (ignoring the fact that Mark's next book - Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) takes place within The Broken Empire world). This is the dramatic end to Jorg's quest to be emperor at all costs. In short, it was a thrilling journey of murder, mayhem, betrayal, self-deprecation, self-exhaltation, denial, acceptance, etc. etc. etc. Before I go into a few of the minor things that bugged me (may as well share those too) I just want to say that this is an excellent series well worth your attention (Goodreads rating 4 out of 5). I greatly look forward to seeing what else The Broken Empire has to offer in Prince of Fools.
I can't even begin to guess what age I was, sitting in the back seat of my parents' car, driving home after a long evening out and about, staring out the window at the full moon in the sky. The moon is something special to children. Particularly a full, bright moon. It's mysterious, with its face staring down at you from the black of the night sky. We are driving down the rode, and come upon a turn, and young me watches the moon follow - because as children we know the moon is following us. We may ask our parents why, and maybe they're the kind who laugh a little to themselves at your naiveté or egocentrism (whatever you want to call it), but maybe they play along. But sooner or later the curtain drops and you learn. You learn about the rotation of the earth, the gravitational pull holding the moon in orbit. And in that, the mysticism... the magic... of the moon vanishes. The world is never the same.
This isn't going to be a fair judgment on my part (frankly, take most of this review with a grain of salt. The books are great). You learn in the previous novels of the setting of the Broken Empire. A world so far post-apocalyptic that it has recycled to medieval; a medieval with the undercurrents of our ("Builder") technology that is (mostly) lost to the world's inhabitants. I LOVE the concept. HOWEVER, as the story goes on we learn more and more of the Builders and the technology left behind plays a larger and larger role in the outcome of the story. As much as I love the idea, it irked me a bit how much the setting played into the story. But, like I said, that's not really fair. It worked, so it really was a minor issue for me. It's the moon - something that was mystical and different that feels less magical when explained. And maybe that's part of the point.
Then there was the continued fear of the taming of Jorg. On one hand, Prince Jorg made such an impression in book one. He was violent and without remorse. Book two saw Jorg older and being wed (though his wife is also a force of her own). Now in book three and we have A LOT of reflection and some insecurity. What had initially ingrained Jorg as the anti-hero to cheer on was how he was so far broken that he was beyond humanity. He gave no pause to the impulses that society tells us we need to suppress. Again, an unfair judgment as you can't assume a character will not grow. And in book three we have growth in Jorg. Maybe you can call it "taming" though he certainly remains no saint. He lies, cheats, fucks, kills. Yet somehow it seems less. And again that's maybe part of the point.
I told you they were minor things. Don't let them stand in the way of you purchasing these books. There is one other thing (and I still stand on the fence of whether or not I like this - I lean more towards it works), but let's hold that until after the spoiler cut.
Minor squabbles aside, repeating what I said up top(ish) - this is an excellent series well worth your attention. Buy this series and wait impatiently for Prince of Fools with me.
I give it... skeletal Jack Sparrow.
We can't stop here, this is SPOILER country.
(seriously... major spoilers will be "discussed" below)
The Dead King.
Redhead over at The Little Red Reviewer (she's a great reviewer... check her out) posted a review of Emperor of Thorns just as I was in the very early goings of the novel (less than 25%). I made sure to read quickly so potential spoilers may not seep into my brain. But something she said stood out. Hopefully Red doesn't get mad at me quoting her (I complimented her and pointed some people her way, so she can't be too mad, right? RIGHT?!).
"...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 a clunky plot device?"
I read this and immediately needed to try to figure out who the Dead King could be. I had been reading along not making the Dead King a connection to anyone - just another baddie trying to get in Jorg's way. So maybe the comment was slightly spoiler-y in that it let me know it was SOMEONE. And not just someone, but someone maybe disappointing. So, who could the Dead King be that would disappoint me as an ending. Well. First person to come to mind was William - Jorg's brother, whose death set off Jorg on his spree of murder and mayhem back in book one (and that's who it was). It always irks me when the villain's secret origin ends up being family to the protagonist. It's nothing we haven't seen before.
HOWEVER (and maybe my opinion is a little skewed from expecting the worst - so perhaps I owe a thank you to Red); I think it ended up working. Could it have worked better? Absolutely (what can't be?). I know younger Jorg was so ashamed and angry at what happened to his brother that all thoughts of him were skewed to the good. It isn't until book three that you learn that William was a bit of a hell raiser. Perhaps it would have felt a tad less clunky having had some of that peppered in earlier. But overall, the Dragonball Z-esque battle of wills worked for me.
It's hard to end a series with a loved character (amazing how such a despicable character can be called "loved") on a note that will make everyone happy. Sometimes the ending isn't happy. And Jorg's sacrifice happened the only way it could have without feeling forced, to protect the brother he couldn't before. Perhaps there was some weakness here, but I would still HIGHLY recommend this series.
And on a side note, I appreciate Mark Lawrence's Afterword explaining the story needed an ending rather than milking the cash cow and allowing Jorg to continue down the path of Dexter Morgan (that ran, what? 4 seasons too long? and the books are still going?).