Not A Review: Emperor of Thorns – Mark Lawrence

About the Book

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 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.

Published on August 1, 2013
Published by Ace
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.


I kind of hemmed and hawed over when to post this review. I usually wait until the publication date or after to post a review, but I’m so excited about this one I decided to break my own rule here. Hey, it’s July 29th and the book is set to be released on August 1st. That’s close enough, right?

Emperor of Thorns was, hands down, my most anticipated release of this year. When I got this book in the mail everything (yes, everything) stopped. I rarely came up for air. Now, you might be wondering why you care. Well, you really shouldn’t care, but I’m telling you my incredibly high level of anticipation for one very important reason. If you are expecting an unbiased review, you won’t get it here. I’m a huge fangirl and I won’t hide that. This is probably going to be less of a review and more of a foaming at the mouth about Lawrence’s epic genius.

You have been warned.

All right, now that I have my disclaimer out of the way, lets get onto the nitty-gritty stuff.

Emperor of Thorns is the last book in Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. If you’re reading this book, I’m assuming you’ve already read the previous two (which you really need to do). I’m also assuming that you know the basic rundown of Jorg’s character and the various points of his life that impact who he is and the often brutal actions that he undertakes. I’m not going to rehash any of that. This is a review… erm… gushing fangirl soliloquy, not a summary, so I’m going to skip the “remember when this happened in book (number here)” parts and just dig in.

Emperor of Thorns is a true masterpiece in a lot of ways. First of all, the attention to detail that Lawrence shows is absolutely stunning, especially in regards to Jorg’s development. He’s not a teenager anymore. Now he’s twenty with a wife, prosperous kingdom and a kid on the way. Lawrence takes all of that into consideration. While Jorg is still the kill happy protagonist we all have grown to love, it’s less frenzied and more thoughtful than it was before. Jorg’s actions have a level of thought and adult depth behind them that he didn’t display in previous books. He’s lived a lot, and maturity has caught up to him. It’s actually quite incredible to see what a man he’s turned into. Lawrence has developed the adult Jorg with stunning realism. He truly leaps off the pages. He isn’t just a character in a book anymore. In Emperor of Thorns, Jorg is so incredibly real.

Going along with the maturity I mentioned above, the book itself has an interesting, almost memoir quality to it that other books in the series didn’t really have. A lot of the flashbacks and Jorg’s current adventures/journey feel very full circle. For example, in one of the flashbacks, Jorg runs across a group of bandits, one of whom is a young kid much like Jorg was at one time. It’s nearly impossible to read this part of the book and not realize that Jorg is seeing himself when he looks at that girl. These small, intimate moments pepper Emperor of Thorns and give Jorg a very intimate and personal quality that I never really felt before. He’s not just guts and glory. This Jorg is a man looking for answers to the riddle of his life, and Lawrence provides them in spades with these subtle but powerful moments and the insecurities of impending fatherhood that Jorg deals with.

As with all of his other books, Mark Lawrence has this sort of epic writing style that packs such a powerful punch with an amazingly few words. While this quality is obvious in his previous books, Lawrence really ups the ante here. There were so many points I had to put the book down so I could write certain quotes in a notebook so I’d never forget them. The prose is probably what puts this book over the top, for me. Jorg’s more thoughtful and pondering nature really allows Lawrence to explore just how eloquent he can be, while never losing touch of the dark tone of the novel. For example:

“Every man has his thorns, not of him, but in him, deep as bones. The scars of the briar mark me, a calligraphy of violence, a message of blood-writ, requiring a lifetime to translate.”

Furthermore, as with everything else in Emperor of Thorns, Lawrence circles back to symbolism that readers would have encountered earlier, making it an important, pivotal piece of the novel. The scenario that comes to mind is when Jorg talks to one of his companions about why leaves turn color in the fall. It’s a poignant moment that is rife with symbolism, but that symbolism isn’t really revealed until later in the novel, toward the end, when Jorg sees an autumn leaf and he truly realizes what he is. It’s just amazing that that one leaf can be so incredibly important on so many levels to the novel, and that Lawrence can use one conversation about halfway in the book to bring about a stunning, absolutely emotionally jarring conclusion later.

This is Jorg’s final adventures, and Lawrence doesn’t toy with that fact at all. It is the way it is, and the ring of finality that opens up the book sets an incredible tone that Lawrence carries throughout the rest of the novel. This allows him to be as introspective and symbolic as he is in Emperor of Thorns. It’s really an incredible way to write a book, and it translates well for the reader. There are no ifs or ands. This is the end, and the fact that it’s the end allows Lawrence some wiggle room that I don’t think he had in previous books and he uses it to infuse his novel with symbolism, poetic prose, and incredible character building.

Jorg isn’t the only person that grows and develops in Emperor of Thorns. His wife, Miana, is a delight to read about. She’s a tiny woman, but a true firecracker and the perfect companion for Jorg. Their relationship is interesting, and truly reflects how emotionally damaged Jorg has become from his rough life. Miana is a stalwart companion, and she has grown into her own woman, but she is a rather back seat character, which is fine. There really isn’t room in Emperor of Thorns for any other primary characters. Jorg takes up all the space, and readers will love him for it. That being said, the attention to detail I’ve mentioned over and over again isn’t overlooked with the secondary characters. They are all just as vibrant, believable, and interesting as Jorg himself.

The ending of the series is the only part that I think will be hit and miss for readers. While, in my mind, it’s absolutely perfect, some readers might think it’s a little too much of a left turn. Lawrence explains why he ends things the way he does, but even with the explanation, I had to put the book down and process it for a day or two before I decided if I liked the ending or not. Once I thought about it long enough, I realized that there really isn’t any other way to end a character as raw, brutal and abused as Jorg. Lawrence really did a good thing for his character, and it balances the narrative perfectly. The truth is, no matter how Lawrence ends this series, it’s going to piss people off. The ending could be perfect, and people will still hate it. My personal theory is that people will dislike the ending because it is an ending, rather than the form the ending takes. It’s really, really hard to part yourself from such an intense character as Jorg. It’s almost painful.

Perhaps that’s the last point I should touch on, as this not-a-review has gone on long enough. Emperor of Thorns is perfectly balanced. This is an incredibly dark and often disturbing series, and Lawrence keeps that going here. However, Emperor of Thorns balances that darkness with some incredible light. There’s a lot of hope, transition, growth, development, and introspection that goes on here. I felt like I was reading someone’s private journal through much of it, but that’s not a bad thing, because this journal is a lot more hopeful and bright than you’d expect. While there are still key Jorg carnage moments, they are balanced so perfectly with surprisingly powerful (and almost understated) bright moments, that they are less oppressive  than they might have seemed before. These instances (like the time Jorg realizes that he loves) actually will serve to give readers a much more well-rounded, unique and insightful perspective into a character that has started epic fandom fawning like this. I so wish I could go on and on about this point, because I could. The truth is, if I say anything more than I’ve already said I’ll be giving up far too many spoilers and it will ruin your fun. This balance of light and dark is so well done, so intimate, so absorbing, so riveting, that it’s probably the part of the book, aside from the stunning prose, that really moved me the most.

Honestly, I don’t even know how to end this review. I could sum up the main points I’m making neatly, but I don’t even really know if I’ve made any points here. Emperor of Thorns is just amazing. There’s nothing else to say. Lawrence has crafted a book that’s less book and more art form than anything I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s full of symbolism and some absolutely stunning prose that I’m sure will inspire artwork. It is probably one of the most intensely personal books I’ve ever read. Jorg isn’t just a character, Emperor of Thorns graduates him from an interesting, dark protagonist to part of yourself. You can’t read this book and remain detached. No matter what you take away from it, you’ll find yourself in some of these pages. That might be uncomfortable or surprising at times, but it is truly amazing. Lawrence isn’t afraid to put himself out there and in so doing, he will manage to move everyone who reads this book. I’m sure of it.

That’s, perhaps, the greatest thing I could ever say for a book. Emperor of Thorns isn’t just a book or a character study, it’s an examination into the darkest and lightest parts of the human psyche. Lawrence works his magic with grand mastery. It won’t let you go.

Read this book.


143 stars/5

14 Responses

  • Hélène

    143 stars/5 ? I’d be curious to know how you reach this total 😉
    I’m eagerly waiting for August, 1st! I remember quite well the shock Prince of Thorn gave me. In my “dotage”, it’s become more and more infrequent to experience such a thing and I treasure these experiences the more for it.

    • Well, it was either 143 or 912 stars. I figured 143 was more believable. 😉

      I hope you love this book when you read it. It’s one of my all time favorites.

  • I have a review in the works. John made me edit it so its not quite as rambly as this. 😉

    (I mean that with love, Sarah, I know exactly where you are coming from)

  • I really enjoyed your review! I’m a massive Jorg fangirl as well! I’m curious about Miana in this one. I’ve been more interested in the relationship between Jorg and Katherine more so than Miana and Jorg, but hopefully I’ll warm up to her. I’m scared that I won’t like the ending of it and you’re right-the ending could be perfect and people will hate it because it is the end. But The Broken Empire Trilogy will always be one of those series that I go back and re-read. Maybe not the whole books, but parts that I really enjoyed. I loved the fact that you wrote some of the quotes down :). I might just use post-its when I read the book.

    • Honestly, the Katherine thing is really interesting, but I’m glad that Lawrence spent more time building up Miana. She’s a fascinating character. You’ll see when you read the book. I think she’s very well done, especially regarding the character she’s married to.

      As for quotes, I had a creative writing teacher a hundred years ago who made us write down book quotes in a notebook. I never stopped doing that. This one is FULL of writedownable quotes. You’ll have fun with that.

  • Nolan

    This review has me even more excited. I must know how does the Dead King prove as the main antagonist in the book? I already had an idea that the ending won’t be what I expect so I do believe as an avid reader I’ll excuse it due to the storytelling MLaw has provided.

    • The Dead King is a kind of interesting antagonist. He doesn’t make his full appearance until later in the book, which kind of makes him feel like less of an antagonist, while another character kind of fills that role. At least that’s my opinion. I think everyone who reads it will view it a little differently, and it’s hard to discuss without giving anything away. I will say that the role of the antagonist is so incredibly well done. It adds a lot of depth to Jorg, which I didn’t expect. Usually antagonists serve to further the plot, but this one serves to really illuminate Jorg in new and unique ways.

      Also, sorry for not replying sooner….

  • mikey

    I have the first book in this series but I’ve been hesitant to read it. This review kinda makes me wonder. Guess why I haven’t is it because the main character comes across evil. Murdering. Killing. I’ve read Abercrombie so I’m not sure if I’ve formed a unfair opinion.

    • He’s definately a very uncomfortable character. He’s probably one of the most uncomfortable characters I’ve ever read, but that’s what I love about him. He’s not for everyone. Give it a try, but it is a very dark series.

  • Man you just went to town on that one huh?

    I only just finished it, it had been sitting on my desk for about a month before that. I am totally with you for pretty much the entirety of it, I loved everything right up until (not wanting to spoil for anyone reading this beforehand) the voting. From then on, it just seemed like it was rushed and schizophrenic, and I left it with a very anti-climactic and sort of unsatisfied feeling. 🙁 I was trying really hard to like it and I just couldn’t. I was pretty tired when I read the last 50-100 pages, so maybe I was too busy nearly passing out to consume the amaze, but yeah.

    • Heh.. yeah I did just go to town on this one. I loved this series, and I let my fangirl enthusiasm take off unchecked. I’m surprised you made it through my whole foaming-at-the-mouth review.

      The ending is the point where I think a lot of people will struggle, and I’m not surprised at all. It’ll either work or it won’t. It wasn’t the way that I expected it to end, but I enjoyed it, regardless. That being said, you’re not the only person who has had these issues with the ending and mentioned them to me. No, I’ve heard those comments from quite a few people. I think the ending is divisive.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

      • Oh god yeah, Prince and especially King are two of my favourite books of all time, and Emperor isn’t far behind even though I didn’t enjoy the ending. I just felt like for the last book of the trilogy he could afford to spend a few more pages drawing it out a bit more. I know that sort of flies in the face of his writing style, but the culmination of everything Jorg and co had been working towards (mainly Jorg, really) taking place in the space of 50 pages felt sort of disappointing. I finished and I was like, “Wait.. that’s it?”

        Just my opinion, anyway. It doesn’t help that it had been about a year since I read King. I need to set aside some time and read the three of them back-to-back, see if that lifts the ending a bit for me.

        • I have to agree, I did feel like the ending was pretty rushed. One thing I didn’t put in my review, but I probably should have, is even now, looking back on it, I’m not sure if I quite grasp exactly what happened to Jorg in the end. I mean, I think I do, but it was never crystal clear to me.

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