Tag Archives: Broken Empire Trilogy

Festivus Book Pimping: Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Second in the most Festivus of Book Pimping is Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy. It was The Wheel of Osheim, the last in the trifecta, I read this year. This book also has the honour of being the first story I read on my kindle (I have the paperback also, because having only two books of a trilogy sitting in my bookcase makes me twitch – it ain’t pretty).

The Red Queen’s War trilogy is the second in Lawrence’s grimdark series – the first being The Broken Empire trilogy, but there’s no need to read that first as while there is a most excellent crossover in the second series, each trilogy stands alone.

Right then, trilogy equals three books: Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and rounding it out is The Wheel of Osheim ­‒ a hell of a tome. Like, doorstop size. Makes sense, there’s a lot to tie up in the final book of a trilogy.

So, what’s this about? I mentioned grimdark earlier, and while there’s always some debate as to what that is, I think the most simple explanation is a story that doesn’t pull punches when it comes the darkest depths of human behaviour. Unapologetic characters who do what they must to survive, to thrive, and let the consequences fall where they may. Redemption? Pfft, spit that from thy mouth!

Don’t ever go into Lawrence’s books looking for a rainbows and unicorns and elves and shit – fantasy this may be, but these worlds are filled with darkness and the dead. It’s really kinda cool. The Red Queen’s War trilogy borrows heavily from the Norse mythos, especially with one of the two main characters: viking Snorri ver Snagason – warrior bard. Snorri holds his own (and then some) with Prince Jalan Kendeth – craven tart. They make quite the pairing. It’s magic that tethers the two together, and ultimately what may tear them, and the world, apart.


I could go on, but here are the back-cover blurbs for each, which are far more succinct than my ramblings above.

Prince of Fools

The Red Queen is old, but the kinds of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson, Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince names Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the while seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

The Liar’s Key

The eyes of the mighty are on the North. Loki’s key has been found and lies in the hands of a feckless prince and broken warrior. Winter has locked Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxury of his southern palace. The North may be home to the viking, but he is just as eager to leave. However, even men who hold a key that can open any door must wait for the thaw.

As the ice unlocks its jaws, the Dead King moves to claim what was so nearly his. But there are other players in this game, other hands reaching for Loki’s key. Jalan wants only to return to the wine and women of the south, but Snorri aims to find he very door into death and throw it wide. The warrior will challenge all of Hell, if that’s what it takes to bring his wife and children back to the living world. He has found the key – now all he needs is to find the door.

The Wheel of Osheim

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans t return to his debauched life of wine, women and wagering. Fate, however, has other plans. Larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. In the end, it’s win or die.

Look, I can’t recommend these books enough. I once described Mark Lawrence thusly: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Once you start with the man’s books, you’re so immersed in the story that your idea of half an hour reading before hitting the sack turns into hours that no amount of coffee can fix the next morning (adulting be hard).

If that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, grimdark, stabby-stabby, and dead things – there’s a whole lot of dead things.


Review: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while, and as I’m heading away to the glorious countryside for a week (and some much needed rest and writing time), I figured I should get my arse in gear…………….sorry, I was already imagining myself away.

Ahem. Okay. Emperor of Thorns, the last in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy is… well, damn, this ride is over.


Yes. It’s true.

I was definitely late to the party with the trilogy, but Lawrence made me a fan pretty much from book one. So when it came to picking up the last book, I vowed to take my time and savour. Seems Lawrence’s storytelling had other ideas. *shakes fist*

Now my previous reviews have been quite a bit on the spoilery side, and while I’m not going to give away those most excellent, gob-smacking moments that make you gasp and/or swear (both of which I did), here’s the relevant housekeeping…with orange warning lights:


Emperor of Thorns

Well here we are, the back cover is closed on King Jorg of Ancrath’s crusade, and with it the fates of those who’ve tied their lot with him (that includes the reader, don’t ever doubt that). And there’s no messing about here either; with each of the ‘Thorns’ books, Lawrence doesn’t treat the reader a fool and recap; it’s straight into the story, which is great when you’ve got them stockpiled near your bed, just waiting for you to finish one then move onto the next.

This book doesn’t disappoint… only it does in that it’s the end of the trilogy. It’s not often I come across a series of characters I could continue to read, with Jorg being one I could follow through many a slaughterhouse. And slaughterhouse it oft is. Jorg kills on both small and large scale, and though not without forethought, death does come to all who stand in his way.

There’s a lot going on in this third book, as well there should. There are threads to be woven and tied, character stories to be continued and ended, and more beautiful word-smithing to be done by Lawrence. Seriously, the man knows how to make a writer feel inadequate. Lawrence’s world-building is magnificent, and there’s so much more of the world and its people we see in this book. So much more of the magic that permeates here, which only reinforces the ‘realness’ of this world.

EoT quote

The storytelling takes place both in the present and the past, with those times soon to converge. And with that convergence comes the biggest battle of Jorg’s life: the Dead King. Of course nothing is ever simple, and there are some fantastic death scenes here, but the focus is on this battle – the Dead King is coming, and he’s coming for Jorg. It’s more than just the empire at stake here, as the arrival of a certain someone (see? That’s me not spoilering), throws a bit of a spanner in the works, but ultimately gives him more clarity than he’s seen in his tumultuous life. While not a game-changer, as the end-game remains the same, it’s a slight refocus of the why, and this does play enormously into the final battle scene.

While I’d figured out who the Dead King was about halfway through (kudos to Lawrence on that subtle foreshadowing throughout all the books), it doesn’t take away from the final reveal at all. If anything, it really drives it home. And even knowing who’s coming, and knowing it’s going to be achingly, bloody and poignantly painful, I devoured those words, those emotions, that whole shitty, gritty, wonderful scene.

There are so many things I want to tell you about this book; about how it’s all tied beautifully together with the previous two; about what happens to Jorg, Brother Makin, Gorgoth, Katherine, Miana, and all those who’ve trailed in Jorg’s wake (both willingly and not so), but the last thing I’d ever want to do is spoil what is a brilliant trilogy.


Yes, Jorg may come across as unsympathetic to a lot of readers (I’m not one of them); he may come across as self-centered and arrogant (huzzah, I say!), and the amount of bodies he leaves behind is staggering, BUT (of course there’s a but, there always is), there’s an intensity to Jorg’s storytelling that pulls you in, that has you root for him, that has you forgive him his transgressions to see him take that throne.

There aren’t many books (trilogies/series) that have left a lingering impression on me, that have had me want to wish there was more, oh so much more. The Broken Empire trilogy sits at the top of my list. It’s made me a fan of Lawrence’s work. Hell, I’d read the man’s grocery list. Instead, I have Prince of Fools and The Liars Key at the top of my ‘to read’ mountain, and I can’t wait to be immersed.

If there’s one thing I can leave you with, it’s this: go out now and buy The Broken Empire trilogy. Do it. Do. It. Now.

Why are you still here?

Oh, yeah. On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars.

five stars

Now get off my lawn, I’ve packing to do.

Review: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

As I’m powering through the final book, I thought it best to get onto the review of King of Thornsbook two in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Second books are tricky beasts, and on more than one occasion I’ve been burned by slow pacing, plot meandering, and character veering, so I tend to enter into that second book with a little trepidation (please be good, oh *please* be good).

But… Ah, King Jorg, such a gloriously grey character. Such defiance, such cunning, such dark fun.

Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of this book, there’s some housekeeping that needs doing. So in keeping with the grimdark and me writing reviews any way I please, let’s make this bloody:


King of Thorns

I’m usually a little wary when beginning the read of the second book in a trilogy, especially when I’ve so enjoyed the first. What I tend to find is a rebuilding of the world, a rehashing of previous events and mansplaining the crap out of everything (totally unnecessary – give your reader credit, they have a surprising tendency to remember what happened, with like memory and stuff), not so with King of Thorns. Can I get a hallelujah? No? Too much?

We’re thrown right back into the mix; into the words of Katherine, to be precise – the woman/aunt with whom Jorg is obsessed before making our way to his wedding to child-bride Miana. But with the Prince of Arrow’s legion now marshalled at the castle gate, this isn’t a happy day by any stretch of the imagination. Happy isn’t something Jorg is at all familiar with – happiness would be a weakness, and weakness is something King Jorg will not tolerate.


A hasty marriage ceremony is on the cards, and given Jorg’s distaste for bedding someone who is essentially a child, an even hastier ruse is contrived to show Jorg’s subjects the deed has been done. This is also where we get the first glimpse of Miana’s mind and strength, and with each of her appearances throughout the book, Lawrence unveils a little more of that intellect and crafty perception she holds – she’s quite the tactician. Something Jorg will soon come to value.

This book also keeps to the format of moving from past to present and back again in its storytelling. While it took me a wee bit to get into the gist of this with the first book, I slipped seamlessly into the rhythm this time round. This type of storytelling is difficult to pull-off, let alone successfully, but Lawrence manages it remarkably well – it forces (allows?) the reader to think, to wonder why Jorg does the things he does in the present before taking you back to give you clues and scenes to decipher. It’s something I value when reading. I don’t want to be hand-held down a garden path with the writer pointing out all I need to know and why – let me do some lifting as well, it creates the connection with characters I’m wanting.

Connection is something I’ve noticed some readers find difficult when it comes to Jorg. Not me. I have about as much empathy for Jorg as he has for himself, but I like the way he forges ahead with his goals, how he sacrifices much to achieve them. There’s something to be said for writer who creates a character that has little with which to empathise but with whom I find myself cheering on. Yes, even when committing deeds that seem totally sociopathic. Is Jorg a sociopath? There’s definitely evidence to suggest as much. Doesn’t make me like him less.

jorg 1

Jorg is again joined by Sir Makin and his Brothers (who are slowly and violently dwindling) and the monsters he’s collected along his travels – Gog and Gorgoth. Gog, ever the fire-child, does hold a special place with Jorg, but would you call it love? No. Gog is a kindred, while I believe Gorgoth is the conscious Jorg struggles to find. Both will suffer because of this, Gog more so, but that demise powerfully links the two, and Jorg will always have that puckered reminder staring back at him.

One of my favourite scenes is that within the marshes – the rising of the dead, all of them, and the confrontation with the necromancer, Chella. Here Jorg and the Brothers fight those they’ve killed, those who died with the Builder’s sun and even fellow brothers in various states of decomposition – it’s hard, brutal and unforgiving. I loved it!

(Psst! You gotta love a review where I get to use the words: monster, necromancer, decomposition and sociopath.) Here’s where we find out a little more of the Dead King, and that’s a showdown I’m very much looking forward to.

But Jorg is first moving steadily toward a showdown with the Prince of Arrow – the light to Jorg’s darkness. We’re taken back to their first meeting, and we’re shown the allure the Prince has; so much so that even Jorg questions his motivations to take on a man who even he would follow. The Prince of Arrow is a man of the people, looking to unite the empire and bring peace and bounty to all within. He’s a forward-thinker, and also the one who will marry Katherine. The two set up for a mighty future battle (yes, the one that take place on Jorg’s wedding day), but first, Jorg makes for the family he knows little about – his mother’s.

It’s here, upon meeting his uncle and grandparents (and ghost Fexler), that plans for this upcoming battle really do start to fall into place (while creating a new foe). And that’s one thing a reader cannot doubt – Jorg’s ability and determination to see things through, no matter the outcome, no matter the cost. Jorg gets the information and [redacted for spoilery moment] that will have him win this war. It’s also where we learn more about the Jorg’s world and the Builders that makes Lawrence’s Broken Empire so damn awesome (this is a revelation future readers need to make, and something I won’t spoil for them).

bloody handprint

We see the return of Jorg’s memory from that copper box he carries with him, and how madness really does ride side-saddle with him. But through it all, Jorg is a tactician’s tactician. And despite the shenanigans of dream-witch Sageous, Jorg remains true to his path to the throne, albeit sometimes wandering off-path to deal with those who threaten his rise or to find… stuff… that will aid him in that battle.

Katherine plays a far greater part in this book, although most of what we discover about her is told through journal entries. We see her develop some interesting yet dangerous talents with regard to accessing her dreams and moving through them. We’re given greater understanding of the Prince of Arrow (Orrin) and his sullen brother Egan, and slowly, slowly the layers are peeled away and all are shown the truth.

It’s this final scene, this final battle between King Jorg and the Prince of Arrow (will not spoil this revelation either) and Jorg’s ensuing internal battle where Lawrence really delivers some killer blows. While I saw that spoilery bit coming just moments prior, it didn’t lesson the appreciation of the delivery; same with the big burn baby burn!

Lawrence didn’t take the easy way out here with this second book and use it to solely set up the final book. There are twists and turns; a subtle leading and plot punches to the face; there’s death on the tiniest but most powerful of scales (that’s a hint, not a real spoiler) and deaths bordering genocide. All of it woven with a delicate hand that drags you in and makes you see life in this world for what it is – not at all pretty. That this is told from Jorg’s point-of-view, one who doesn’t pretty-up the world, its people and their action, only makes this a more compelling read.

We’re introduced to new characters and we watch others die, usually violently, but anyone who says that’s a surprise is kidding themselves. This is as dark a book as was the first, which makes me a happy reader and more eager than ever to get stuck into the final book.

On a Goodreads scale, I give King of Thorns 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars


Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Without incurring the wrath of the Jinx Faerie *invokes sign*, my reading for pleasure is going well this year, and it really has been pleasurable reading. While I have a few other reviews to write, I’m jumping ahead here with Prince of Thorns as the book is still very fresh in my mind.

This is the first of Mark Lawrence’s work that I’ve read, and I want to thank my pal, Tracy, for nudging me toward it. Prince of Thorns is the first book in the Broken Empire Trilogy and sits well within the ‘grim-dark’ of fantasy, and it’s a sub-genre in which I’m happy to spend a lot of time. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘grim-dark’ is, as it sounds, a story that is grim and dark in tone and doesn’t shy away from the realities and brutality of such themes. Lawrence hits the ‘grim-dark’ mark with Prince of Thorns.


Now before we get into this, it’s spoiler-alert time, now while I haven’t gone into too great detail with the plot (this really is something you need to experience in all its awful glory), I’m warning you all the same:

SPOILER ALERT: *clanging of bells; blaring of sirens* READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. REPRISALS WILL OCCUR TO ANYONE BITCHING OR COMPLAINING ABOUT READING SPOILERS. (I have an angry cat and I’m not afraid to use him. Grim is his name, and he lives up to his moniker.)

Prince of Thorns is told from the first-person point-of-view of main character, Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath, we begin in the aftermath of a village plunder. Right from the outset the reader is plunged into the blood and death that surrounds Jorg, and it’s unapologetic in its telling – as it should be. The first surprise for me, which came at the end of the first chapter, was Jorg’s age – just shy of his fourteenth birthday, his savagery is something a reader would expect in one much older.

Jorg has been on the road with his outlaw ‘brothers’ since he fled from his father after an ambush that killed his mother and younger brother. Jorg, held firm within the thorns of a hook-briar, could do nothing to help his mother and brother, nothing except watch. The betrayal by his father to not seek vengeance on the man who orchestrated the ambush, pushes Jorg to seek vengeance on the mastermind on his own.

Slowly, the story unravels, but just when you think you have a hand on what’s at play, Lawrence manages to turn it on its head, and does so adeptly. There are connections with everything, foreshadowing done so well that it’s not until a revelation appears that those connections shine through.

The cast of support characters, especially Jorg’s band of brothers, are a motley crew, and by ‘standard’ fantasy tropes, not a good one amongst them (apart from Sir Makin and the Nuban – both favourites of mine), but in keeping with the grim-darkness of the book, they’re a perfect fit for not only Jorg, but the story as well. These are interesting, quirky, yet disturbing characters that I was more than happy to get to know better.

But it’s Jorg who commands the story here, and while he embraces the doing of evil deeds with much gusto and little-to-no conscience, there’s an honesty about him I liked. Hell, I was rooting for the kid the whole way. With Jorg, there’s no half-measures, and in a story such as Lawrence’s, there can be no half-measures, for those who lack commitment live very short lives and tend to die horribly.

bloody handprint

Jorg is driven by the murders of his mother and brother, but there’s more at play in Jorg’s choices and ‘non-choices’ than meets the eye – another revelation that sat well with me. Magic – there is much of it – and yes, dark magic it is. You expected different? And the monsters, aaah, the monsters, they’re plentiful and unique – the scenes that take beneath Castle Red are some of my favourite. Gog, you scamp!

There’s a revelation in this section (no spoilers – it’s well worth the wait) that puts a lot of Jorg’s… learning into perspective – at times I was pulled toward the alternate-universe theory, but this revelation was punched right out of me and I was glad for it.

Right from the beginning you know, Jorg is bound for home, for a confrontation with his remarried father. Another queen sits on the throne, one who bears the king’s preferred heir. Jorg, torn between present and past, finds himself vulnerable in ways he hasn’t been for four years – a dangerous place for him. He’s a wily fellow, Jorg, resourceful and ruthless, and the more I read the more I liked this ‘wholly unlikeable’ character. That’s the thing, I can see why some would find him unsympathetic, soulless, reaping of all that befalls him, but for me… well I liked him. Is he a sociopath? Odds kinda head that way. Is he a monster? To those who get in the way of his goals, yes. Or, is he a product of his environment and history? Aren’t we all. And it’s that honesty, the not shying away from the darkness that lives inside Jorg that makes him wholly likeable for me.

The structure of the storytelling took a little getting used to as Lawrence jumps from present to past and back again often during the storytelling – but this is clearly marked by the different fonts (and the fact it’s signposted: Four years earlier). It’s also how Lawrence gives you the breadcrumbs to Jorg’s story, his history, and the why of his nature.

I have the next instalment of The Broken Empire Trilogy – King of Thorns, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Lawrence takes Jorg and his ever-dwindling band of brothers.

For those who are looking for more standard fantasy fare, this might not be for you. And for those who don’t like the blood, gore, death and torture that comes with war, then this probably isn’t the book for you either. But if you’re looking for a story that doesn’t shy from the vulgarities of conquering lands and kingdoms, that is as dark as it is twisted, and has characters who have less redeeming qualities than those you find in most fantasy epics, then this is definitely the book for you.

On a goodreads scale, I give it 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars