Tag Archives: grimdark

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.

noooo

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:

SPOILERS AHEAD, KEEP TO YOUR LEFT… KEEP TO YOUR LEFT. I SAID LEFT! AH, GEEZ…. CLEAN-UP IN AISLE FOUR!

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.

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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: Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson

Well it’s the first of the month here (those of you in the northern hemisphere will catch up soon enough), and I’ll be leading August off with a review. Yes, it’s review time!

Today (tonight) it’s Australian author, Donna Maree Hanson, and her book Shatterwingbook one of her Dragon Wine series. I met Donna at Sydney Supanova when I was trawling for books. Now the only thing better than books, is signed books; as an author, I know there’s not much better than having someone ask to sign the book you wrote – so it was a win-win on both sides of the table.

It was great to have a chat about the books, too, as I really had only a vague idea about their content, although the cover does point you in the general direction.

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Now before I move on, it’s requisite spoiler-alert time:

THE SHIFTING OF AIR UNDER WING WARNS OF INCOMING SPOILERS. RUN. NOW. LEST YOU BE BURNED BY THE RUINATION THAT IS THE SPOILER.

Okay, so yes, from the cover, Shatterwing is a book with dragons, but dragons form only part of this story. At its essence, this is a story about a world on the brink and how society (or what’s left of it), deals with an apocalyptic world – not well, I have to say. The white cover and golden wings are a great juxtaposition for a tale that firmly sits on the grim-dark side of things.

The book is divided into two parts, and in the first we’re introduced to the major players: Salinda, Brill, Danton and the Inspector. The Inspector runs the winery, which is more prison than lush vineyard, and from the beginning the reader is left in little doubt the Inspector is a cruel, sadistic son-of-a-bitch.  The scenes underground with both Brill and Salinda are brutal – not at all for the faint-hearted, you’ve been warned.

The vineyard is where they make Dragon Wine, which is vital to those of Margra for not only its healing powers, but as a source of currency and political power.

The story is told mostly from Salinda and Brill’s point of view, but even so, I found it difficult to connect with either of them. It wasn’t until under-dweller, Nils, is introduced that I felt that connection. I slowly warmed to Brill and Danton (Danton especially), and it took longer to really connect with Salinda, which was a shame as she’s quite vital to the story.

Now there are dragons, but they are creatures to be feared, especially by those working the vineyard. Run and hide or become a meal. All but one dragon – Plu – a fledgling Salinda briefly raised and to whom she can call on when needed.

Shatterwing, however, isn’t a dragon as I’d first thought, but one of the moons that orbits Margra. Only Shatterwing is a fragmented moon, and those fragments are continually falling to the earth. There’s a lot going on with this world, and Hanson does a great job of drip-feeding the world and its culture through her storytelling rather than the laborious info-dumps I’ve found in other books (authors take note!).

It’s a slow piecing together of what’s happened to bring the world to the brink, and how the different cultures within this world interact and try to survive – some for purely selfish reasons, and others for the good of all. And I have to say, there isn’t a lot of good in this world.

blood spatter

There are those, however, who have magic. Salinda is one, although she doesn’t quite know its power or how to harness it. The ‘cadre’ (a collection of memories and untapped power) was passed to her via her mentor. Another with power we discover in the second part of this book.

Here, we’re introduced to Thurdon (rather briefly), and to his apprentice, Laidan. Thurdon has the cadre, which he passes to Laidan before his death. Of course she has no idea what’s happened or what it is that she now possesses. Held prisoner by the fratricidal prince, Lenk, she has a rather fortuitous rescue from a childhood friend, Garan who has the cool job-moniker of ‘Skywatcher’ (note: this is the title of book 2 in the series).

Fortuitous might be the wrong word, as things really don’t go well for the pair. At all. This really is a fucked-up world, and that Hanson doesn’t shy from the brutality humanity can bestow on one another is to be commended.

This is a desperate world made up of desperate people, which makes the journey of Salinda, Brill, Danton, Laidan and Garan all the more treacherous and desperate. It’s Nils, though, who sees the world and its people for whom and what they truly are – he’s almost the conscience of Margra. It’s to him, though, I believe the fate of this world rests.

I liked this book, and it was an easy read as well. I would have liked to have found that connection with the characters a lot sooner, and I think a lot of that has to do with being unable to find something within each of them that resonated with me. It came, just later than I wanted.

I’m looking forward to reading the second instalment, as the book really did pick up the pace from about the halfway mark. I’m invested now, and that’s all a reader (and writer) wants.

I’ll repeat my warning here that this isn’t a high-fantasy book about dragons, but rather a grimdark, brutal fantasy that delves right into the depths of inhumanity. For me, it’s these types of books that show humanity at its best. Small band though they may be.

On a Goodreads scale, I give Shatterwing 3.5 stars.

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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:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND IF YOU’RE NOT WATCHING YOUR BACK, A SPOILER WILL SNEAK UP BEHIND YOU AND SLIT YOUR THROAT EASY AS YOU PLEASE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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.

jorg

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