Saturday, 26 October 2013

LAST GREAT READS FOR OCTOBER, 2013

Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

Here is the final book of Mr Lawrence’s mighty trilogy chronicling the life of Honorous Jorg Ancrath, scion of one of the cruellest kings of the Broken Empire, all that is left of Europe after a terrible war wrought nuclear destruction a thousand years ago.  (See ‘Prince of Thorns’ review below).
Jorg has not improved as a person since we left him bloody but victoriously enthroned at Renar four years ago; despite gaining a wife and baby son he is still intent on furthering his ambition, be it power or revenge, by any means possible.  Honour and scruples are for weaker individuals, those who lack the heart to stand against him:  so far in his short life he has been able to out think and outwit all his adversaries, as much by his almost suicidal courage as an obstinate and unstoppable instinct always to do the opposite if someone tells him ‘no’.
In his latest epic adventure he has great enemies to conquer, and a huge prize to win – to be crowned Emperor at the Congression of Vyene, held every four years to see if there is one amongst the various kings of the continent who is worthy of such power.  Jorg also dreams of killing his father (who tried to kill him) as slowly and painfully as possible.  As the king of Ancrath, dear old dad wields a lot of power with his vote, and his influence and contacts are legion.  It will be enormously satisfying to get rid of him at Vyene – and the sooner the better.
But.  As always the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray:  on his way to Vyene, Jorg encounters Chella, a necromancer he thought he’d vanquished;  she is now an agent of the fearsome King of the Dead.  He is also disarmed by the unexpected love he feels for his newborn son, so much so that he will murder any and all who mean his family harm.  He is much troubled by these alien feelings, for to Jorg they are fatal signs of weakness.  He should be able to sacrifice his family to his plans for his subjects without a backward glance – ‘it’s useless to save one unless you can save them all!’
And let us not forget the Builders, those shadowy, elusive ancestors who have left their mysterious traces throughout the Broken Empire – their avatars still remain, intent on finishing what they started with their nuclear war so long ago, and to defeat them Jorg must not lose the murder, hatred and evil in his heart, his very best weapons, even though those same weapons are poisoning his soul.  ‘We’re fashioned by our sorrows – not by joy – they are the undercurrent, the refrain.  Joy is fleeting’.
Remorse is catching up with Jorg.
I was very fortunate to be able to read ‘Prince of Thorns’ and ‘King of Thorns’ consecutively, but had to wait more than a year to read ‘Emperor’ – and that is a shame, for I lost the thread of the story, forgetting quite a bit of the detail in spite of Mr Lawrence’s helpful synopsis of the first two books;  consequently I became a bit mired and confused with the flashbacks, exciting though some of them were – in fact the plot became so convoluted and weighed down by scientific and mathematical mysteries that it lost its impetus for me.  (Doubtless there will be legions of readers for whom that erudition wouldn’t be difficult, but my dad made me leave school early, education being wasted on girls.  So there!)
Having said that, the plot picks up mightily when the assembled cast arrives at the Congression:  the action is heartstopping and the twist in the tale at the very end is masterly.  Mr Lawrence’s prose is stark, powerful and superb, as befits and describes his unforgettable anti-hero:  there is a wonderful poetry to his writing and it is a shrewd move to finish Jorg’s story leaving everyone wanting more – this reader hopes and expects that Mr Lawrence’s next work will be just as gripping.  And I hope we’ll see it soon.

Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

You read it here first:  What an adventure!  Mark Lawrence’s debut novel has all the requisite ingredients for the ideal fantasy – a wronged and vengeful hero, warring kingdoms, ghosts, necromancers, murders most foul, and a complete lack of honour, except amongst thieves.
At the tender age of nine, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath was forced to witness the slaughter of his mother and younger brother William by Count Renar of the Highlands and his troops.  If he expected his father the king to avenge their dreadful murders, he is sorely disappointed;  instead, the king negotiates compensation in the shape of land and horses for his loss.  Seeds of hatred and revenge are sown in the fertile ground of Jorg’s grief and heartbreak:  he takes to the road and joins a band of mercenaries and outlaws, and because he no longer cares if he lives or dies, he becomes their leader through sheer recklessness and a bravado that is fearless and suicidal – oh, Jorg has problems, alright – he has already lived five lifetimes and he’s only fourteen!
Mark Lawrence has created a rip-roaring, no-holds-barred, heart-in-the-mouth pageturner in this first book, and in spite of the reader knowing they shouldn’t believe a word of it, they are totally sucked in, swept along with the clever plot and more action than a body should rightly have to endure – oh, it’s great stuff, and this is just the first book of a Trilogy.  ‘King of Thorns’ is next, and a fascinating question for the reader is to figure out exactly the timeline in which Mr Lawrence has set his stories:  a vastly altered central Europe might be the setting, but who can be sure?  Everyone fights in armour with medieval weapons, but Jorg wears a wrist-watch!  (which doesn’t make an appearance till book two) – and he lets loose what seems suspiciously like a nuclear explosion halfway through book one.  I have come to the conclusion (I’m ashamed to say it took me a while) that Jorg’s story is set far into the future:  it’s possible that the world we knew has been destroyed for whatever terrible reason, and the regenerating human race hasn’t progressed beyond another Medieval Age in its attempts to survive.

Which all adds to this trilogy’s great appeal.  ‘ Prince of Thorns’ was a gripping read, but book two, ‘King of Thorns’ is even better.  Roll out book three!  Mark Lawrence isn’t just a good storyteller – he’s a great one.  Whatever I read next, this will be a hard act to follow.            

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