Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Emperor of Thorns review

    And so the adventures of Jorg Ancrath come to an end.

    At the end of the novel, Mark Lawrence gives an afterword explaining why he didn't make Jorg an ongoing franchise. I give the author credit that he felt the story was going to be told in three volumes and decided to tell it in three volumes. Too often, fans demand authors continue on a story indefinitely rather than let it come to a proper close. Other times, the authors themselves don't know when to quit.

    Here, it's a complete story and, dare I say it, a classic.


    Actually, no I don't dare say it.

    Emperor of Thorns is a good ending for the franchise but it's the Return of the Jedi of the Broken Empire Trilogy. The ending is good because the accumulated good will of the previous two volumes is atmospherically high. It's enough that we overlook the repeat of the Death Star, tiny wookiees, and the fact Boba Fett dies in the most ignominious manner possible. You know, until the Prequels taught us what bad really was and...wait, where was I? Oh yes, Emperor of Thorns is a good book but I definitely think its the weakest of the three volumes. Granted, being the weakest of the Mark Lawrence novels is still pretty damn good and I have nothing too big to complain about.

    But complain I will.

    For me, the biggest problem of the book is the wrap-ups for the characters aren't really all that satisfying in many places. Katherine, after a spectacular build-up in King of Thorns, becomes a near-nonentity. The conflict between Jorge and his father ends with a whimper rather than a bang. The book also decides to spend a good sixth of its text following the adventures of the newly-resurrected Chella, a character who is hard to care about since she's a one-dimensionally evil sexy zombie necromancer (and she's lost the last two parts). I'm also not sure what happened to Chella either, which is kind of irritating given how much space is devoted to her character.

    The ending to the trilogy shifts the conflict to one between Jorg and the Dead King. The Dead King is the emperor of all the necromancers, zombies, and monsters spread throughout the world in a manner reminiscent of Sauron. His identity is meant to be a shocking secret as well as provide a massive amount of dramatic oomph but, honestly, I found it to be somewhat contrived. Much of the story is built-up to give Jorg a chance to deal with his guilt, horror, and self-loathing in a manner which frees him from them. Since the nuclear destruction of a city by his hand and his freedom from mind-control, Jorg has sought redemption as much as the Imperial throne. He's not aware of this burning desire within him but it's driven his actions every bit as much as his other pressing needs.

    The ending, while powerful, is a bit unbelievable in how convenient events have folded to give him this chance. If I were to make a comparison, it's the equivalent of Batman ending his story by going back in time and taking a bullet for his parents. Yeah, that's good for Bruce Wayne but that's not really an option for other people who have to cope with their sins. One can't say Jorg's ending isn't earned through immense sacrifice but I can't help but express my skepticism.

    Despite this, I'm going to say there's a lot of really fun stuff in this book. Watching Jorg venture down to the present-day Libya and deal with the culture there, Jorg's furious anger at those who were willing to shelter someone who tried to murder his child, and watching our hero cope with fatherhood in general are all entertaining bits. I had no doubt Jorg would be able to pull off seizing the Imperial throne but the process to getting there was one I appreciated from beginning to end. There's even some black humor like an ancient "custodian" in cryogenic slumber who gets awakened, only to discover his worshipful descendants aren't happy with the fact he's nothing more than a janitor.

     I also have to say that Mark Lawrence deserves credit for being willing to wrap things up the way he did. While I was disappointed I didn't get the final showdown I wanted between Jorg and his father, real-life rarely gets those kind of clean endings. Indeed, one might easily argue that I'm in the wrong for being unhappy with that sort of aversion with his father while being unhappy with the ending for being the kind of epic set-up that allows Jorg to come to terms with his sins. If so, yeah, Mark Lawrence is right and I'm wrong.

    It's only my opinion, anyway.

    I will say there were many moments which tugged on my heartstrings and had real power to them. Mark Lawrence is a master of world-building with the post-apocalypse elements wonderfully woven into the narrative. Discovering what castles were like in "our" time be they skyscrapers, airports, or otherwise by their description is hilarious. I also liked figuring out what the Imperial throne was by its description. It was both funny as well as appropriate. I also am unfair referring to Chella as one-dimensional given she gets a lot of surprising character development this novel.

    In conclusion, I think Emperor of Thorns is a worthwhile ending to the story but I don't think I would have liked it nearly as much as I had if not for the fact it was a novel containing characters other books had convinced me to love. Mark Lawrence has a wonderfully visual literary style which makes all of the various locations and peoples come alive in the mind's eye, something that is maintained throughout. I still want to know about Mian, Katherine, Jorg's son, and, God help me, even Chella.

    But the story has to end sometime.


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