This is not a spoiler free review, it is more my commentary on the end of Emperor of Thorns and The Broken Empire trilogy, so it is full of complete and total spoilers. Only read on if you have read it!
UPDATED April 20, 2014
OK, I have decided to revive and update this post. I think I just decided I did not give a balance view of how I feel about the book as a whole. So I decided to add these couple of paragraphs explaining what did not work for me with the book. Pretty much, when I finished Emperor of Thorns, I did NOT love the book, I was irked. Why? To be completely blunt, I felt the ending was a complete and total cop out. I know, that sounds harsh, but I just couldn’t buy that Jorg’s brother was the Dead King and really could not understand any motivation that made sense to convince me otherwise. The entire resolution about turning some wheel (whether it was CERN or not) ending everything…. was …. just… urgh! Too damn easy. Seriously, WTF? This series went from awesome, to part where I felt like it was some fly by the seat of your pants, Book of the New Sun wannabe, where random things could suddenly happen. NOT the entire book, or the entire ending. But these two sticking points for me are not minor. I posted something online (much much nicer, and much less blunt than what I have said here), and based on reactions, really felt I was alone in this assessment. I decided to look deeper, maybe I missed some critical point, maybe parts of the book were over my head, I don’t know. The only thing I did know is that I did not have the glowing reaction that I saw from other fans. And not to be entirely negative, I do stand by all the strengths I listed in my original post. There were parts of this book I did love. And I certainly had much that I loved in the first two books.
This is both fiction and SFF (this last one felt more Science Fiction than the first two), so a realistic ending is not what I was expecting. I just…. I wasn’t expecting what I got. That is also not necessarily bad. It’s nice when a book can take you somewhere unexpected. But in this case, I did not feel that there was sufficient build up or history in the book to allow me to believe the resolution as it came. I have noticed I never recommend the series any more because of my conflicted feelings on the ending. I think I have come to terms with the fact that I really did not love this book, I did love parts of it, I can respect other parts as well. But overall, I did not feel the ending came together as well as it could have. I often hate saying things like that. This was not my story to tell, so I don’t know that it is my place to say that anything about it is ‘wrong’. But I will say that unfortunately, the execution did not work for me as a reader.
You can read most of my original post below. I think what happened is that I loved the first two books so much, and I also see Mark Lawrence around in online communities, I just wanted to love the third as much as the first two. I originally wrote this when I was at most most accepting of the book. Since then, I have gone back closer to my original reaction. I think when it comes down to it, I have to accept that as much as I loved the first two books, as much as I wanted to love the entire series, as much as I enjoy seeing the author interact with fans of fantasy online, sadly I did not love this book. I do still enjoy Lawrence’s writing, and I am definitely going to read his books after this. My complaints here really come down to two details that I had a hard time accepting.
Originally posted Sep 1, 2013
Jorg is such a fascinating character. Even from the first book, I can’t say I “liked” him, but I was so intrigued by him, and wanted to see him accomplish his goals. I wanted to see him catch a break. I found myself rooting for him in a way I would not have expected. King of Thorns began to explain him better, and Emperor of Thorns completed that as well as finally gave him resolution and peace. Let’s face it, if Jorg had lived, could you see a life of peace for him, a simple life filled with love of family? It’s a nice thought, but he was so broken. And I just don’t see an ending like that “working”.
I wanted to love everything about it, but I do have to admit, as much as I hate to, I was originally a little conflicted with the resolution over the necromancers. I have to confess to feeling like the bit with turning the wheel was just …. a little too convenient to end a trilogy. Almost cheated, that just turning a wheel was enough to do away with the dead army. But, the more I thought about it, maybe this is fitting. Good things in life often can come as easily as they can be taken away. Which is quite easily and sometimes as quick as the blink of an eye. And this world that Lawrence created, anything is possible, it just takes a strong belief and the will and perseverance to make it happen. It can be both a story of both hope and pain.
I have spent more time thinking over the end of this book than any other book I have read in recent (maybe longterm) memory. And while with some books, questions can be an indication of the book not giving the reader the answers, I don’t feel that way about this book. The Broken Empire may be on the surface a story about a troubled young man destined to become powerful. But it is deeper than that. I feel like this is a book that is better when you think about the questions. What made William take such an evil and bitter path, what made him and others so much more discontent with his death that put him on the course to become the Dead King? Asking questions is not necessarily bad. In the end, I still gave this book
At this point, I will also mention that something about Emperor of Thorns reminded me a bit of Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe. I found that comparison interesting because I did not feel that way about the first two. Perhaps it is because we get more the science fiction view of the world in this book than in the first two, which felt definitively more fantasy. (This is really very much a science fiction piece of work, readers just don’t see it in the beginning.) But I never had a distaste for Jorg like I did Severian. Even though Jorg did just as reprehensible things, I somehow managed to look beyond that. I think the humor, dark as it may be, that was interspersed with the story is a huge reason why Lawrence was able to turn Jorg into a character I wanted to read about. Having the humor can not only lighten some of the dark, but it also gives a good way to connect with the character. I can’t help myself. As many bad things that Jorg did, many of which are explained later in the series, even in the beginning before we knew the reasons why, I still enjoyed reading about Jorg.
The ending in general, I like. I think my complaints are more in the details of how they got to the ending. And the identity of the Dead Kings.. Of course, the selfish reader in me would love more Jorg stories, but I actually think Mark Lawrence made a good call ending it how he did. And I am confident that he will come up with new characters/worlds for us to explore that I really look forward to!.