Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

As the third and final instalment of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, Emperor of Thorns brings the series to a fitting close. The story continues to follow Jorg, the young anti-hero in his efforts to achieve his life’s dream of becoming emperor, while contending with the rise of the Dead King and rivals to the Empire throne.

Emperor of Thorns cover

The story reveals more about the complex post-apocalyptic world Jorg and his contemporaries live in and how it came to be the way it is. This final instalment answers the mysteries set up in the earlier books, in dribs and drabs so the reader has a chance to work things out for themselves before it is spelled out.

Jorg faces further character growth in Emperor of Thorns, but Lawrence keeps the core of his personality rooted in the Jorg of Prince of Thorns. This is exactly what character growth should be – Jorg doesn’t change who he is at heart, but he gains maturity and different perspectives, new lessons to add to the old – and the old lessons and regrets are still very much a part of Jorg.

A point I raised about King of Thorns was that the side characters felt underdeveloped, but that Jorg’s essential self-centeredness means that their personalities don’t come through well. I feel the same can be said of Emperor of Thorns. Even characters who play a large part in the narrative feel like they lack the depth that this more mature Jorg should by now recognise.

Those sections written in third person from the point of view of the necromancer Chella provide her with greater depth than other characters who aren’t Jorg. She is also the only character who appears to experience any growth or change in her arc in Emperor of Thorns; the other characters, including Katherine who saw some growth and change in King of Thorns, now feels static and ancillary.

As previously, Lawrence’s prose and pacing is spot on. He keeps the story moving forward and full of interest and uses flashbacks to good effect, smoothly integrated and placed appropriately within the narrative.

One element of the story that felt rushed was the side where the Church was involved; it seemed like an underdeveloped subplot, and some information relating to the relationship between the Church and the governing forces of the Empire could have been better established earlier on.

The conclusion of the story feels organic and natural for what has gone before not only in this book but across the whole trilogy. Themes and elements running through the whole story are used well to bring the climax and what follows together. As with the earlier books, the plot doesn’t feel predictable but does have a strong basis on what has preceded it and what has been established within the narrative.

Lawrence handles the twists and turns of the narrative, and the revelations about the world and characters, very well. They are delivered with appropriate pacing and once revealed don’t feel like they should have surprised; some can be worked out by an observant reader through hints sprinkled at appropriate points throughout the story.

Overall I rate Emperor of Thorns 8/10. It was an engrossing read, well paced, set in a world with remarkable depth. Jorg and Chella’s character arcs and characterisation were very strong, though characterisation for other characters could have been improved. I don’t feel it was as strong as the earlier books, which were very compelling, but it was still a very enjoyable read and a strong story.

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