The third and final instalment of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy proved another gripping read that leaves completely engulfed in this half sci-fi, half-medieval fantasy world that our anti-hero King Jorg inhabits. Following on from Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns, the Dead King’s power continues to grow and he has started to capture lands and increase his massive dead army. Jorg is the only person bold enough to stand a chance of stopping this deathly character. Beware, this review contains spoilers!
Similarly to the other two novels, the book is split into two timelines. One is set in the present moment as Jorg and his party travel towards Congression, where various rulers get together once every four years to try and crown an emperor of the broken empire. The other follows Jorg’s travels across the kingdom five years prior to the present day narrative, expanding both Jorg and the reader’s understanding of the vast empire and its secrets.
Alongside this dual timeline narrated by the Honorous Jorg Ancrath, we are offered small sections of ‘Chella’s story’. Chella is a necromancer that has tried to seduce Jorg towards necromancy numerous times. Sometime after Jorg and Chella’s initial meeting, the Dead King began ruling her. She is utterly terrified of this Dead King and her narrative offers a disturbing insight into both his power and the effect he has on all things around him.
In the Five years earlier sections of the book, Jorg travels across the world blindly following a red dot on an interactive map a being of artificial intelligence gave him a year earlier (I know it sounds bizarre, but it makes perfect sense when you’ve read it the trilogy!). This takes him into a harmful wasteland where a previous civilization had used nuclear arms and onwards into the kingdom of a man who hates Jorg’s maternal family. After his dangerous adventures here, he moves onto Vyenne where Congression takes places every four years, he learns secrets and makes friends.
In the present day narrative, the novel starts with Jorg ready to leave for Congression without his wife, Mianna, who is now pregnant. After leaving his castle with an escort of troops and a contingent of his advisors, he dreams a member of the church tries to assassinate Miana. He sends some of his men to check her welfare and discovers his dreams were actually reality. Mianna joins the party and they travel the long journey to Vyenne together. Along the way, they end up collecting Jorg’s aunt and love-interest Katherine and come across some of the Dead King’s vile ‘Lichkin’. These monsters skin humans alive and the party try to defeat them in a town on their way to Vyenne. Whilst this is happening, Mianna goes into labour and gives birth to King’s Jorg’s son.
Jorg finally reaches Congression and goes about influencing people to make him Emperor. He does so hastily through questionable means as the Dead King approaches Congression. The Dead King enters Congression alongside a cohort of dead soldiers and he faces Jorg. It is up to Jorg to figure out whom this maniac is, how he can defeat him and to what lengths he will go to defeat him once and for all. Alongside this drama of mere mortals, the intelligent beings who live within machines have told Jorg that reality as he knows it may cease to exist. The magic of King Jorg’s world is only there because of the advanced technology that the Builders of a previous civilization made. However, these changes have started the turning of a wheel that has not stopped and is on the verge of destroying reality.
All of these components combine to make an exhilarating read. Moreover, all the questions that are raised in the first two books of the trilogy are answered. There are some brilliant moments of poignancy as Jorg reflects on the terrible life he has led, the horrible choices he has made and the outcomes of his familial relationships. The philosophical qualities of these reflections will resonate with most people as the murderous king meditates over time, people and choices.
Whilst all of the storylines in this novel combined to create a spectacular finale, towards the end I found myself looking at the pages and wondering how it was all going to be summarised within the fifty or so remaining pages. Perhaps, however, that is a symptom of what Lawrence’s afterword summarises. He chose to end the trilogy when he could have made two or three more novels, but that may have ruined Jorg’s story. Lawrence suggests it is far better to leave people wanting more rather than less, and more is exactly what I wanted as the pages began to wear thin.
I am both happy and sad to have finished this trilogy. Happy because I began to look forward to Jorg’s murderous and aggressive personality and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sad because the glimpse into Lawrence’s fantasy world is now over. Of course, there is always The Red Queen’s War trilogy by Lawrence which is set in the same world. I will read this in time, but for now I’m going to let the epic Broken Empire trilogy sink it. Read the first book and if after the first book you are not hooked, move on knowing you gave Jorg and his villainous ways a try.