Emperor of Thorns  - Mark  Lawrence Update: Interview with the author on my book blog http://bibliosanctum.blogspot.com/2013/08/building-broken-empire-interview-with.html

4.5/5 stars. This was a book I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, so thank you to Ace books and Penguin for this most excellent reading opportunity. The cover of Emperor of Thorns proclaims, "All reigns must end..." and I have to say, the prospect of getting my hands on this third installment of The Broken Empire series and finding out what will become of Jorg Ancrath made this one of my most highly anticipated fantasy novels of 2013.

I was not disappointed at all. A caveat for this review, though: this being the final book of the trilogy, the following summary and my subsequent thoughts may contain possible mild spoilers for the two books that came before. In any case, Emperor of Thorns would not serve as a good starting point for someone new to this series; best to start with book one, Prince of Thorns, in order to watch the main character grow and develop throughout the course of these books.

Indeed, Jorg Ancrath is twenty now; the boy prince has become a king, the ruler of seven nations. But where there is more, Jorg will always want it. He has set his eyes on becoming the emperor, a position decided only by vote during a truce period which comes every four years, when the rulers of a hundred fragmented kingdoms of the empire convene for an event called Congression. In the hundred years of the interregnum, however, no one candidate has managed to secure a majority of the vote.

But Jorg has plans to change all that. On his journeys across the broken land, he has made even more discoveries about the mysterious Builders of their past, and he will use their secrets and technology to suit his purposes. And yet, equally as ambitious and bloodthirsty as Jorg is The Dead King, watching events unfold from beyond the veil. Jorg may take care to guard his fears and weaknesses, but the Dead King and his necromancers and army of lichkin are waiting, ready to strike at Jorg where he is most vulnerable.

As with the previous book King of Thorns, this one also takes us through different timelines in Jorg's life, with one thread following Jorg on his journey to Congression and the other focusing on events "Five Years Earlier." There are time-jumps aplenty, which makes rereading the first two novels a fine idea, but the author also includes a handy little refresher crash course before the prologue. Or you might be like me: whenever I came to a memory or flashback sequence in this book, I found it easy to figure out when and where in time I am using clues like which one of Jorg's companions or acquaintances are still alive! Those familiar with Jorg's character likely won't be surprised to hear you can form a rather complete history using the impressive trail of death and destruction he leaves behind, but more on that later.

Let me just say now that it has been a pleasure following Jorg on his anti-hero's journey, watching him mature from a boy to a man. But Jorg has never truly been young in the first place, not really; he's seen way too much death, betrayal, cruelty and brutality for that. Yes, he is a selfish, violent, deeply disturbed and deplorable character, but above all, he's also honest and unashamed of everything he is. That and the fact the only predictable thing about him is his unpredictability made him a very interesting character to follow.

Still, I suppose you could say I've never really felt connected to Jorg, because believe it or not, I actually find it very hard to relate to someone I honestly think is quite insane. And the years since the first book have in no way cooled his temper or impudence. However, in spite of it all, I still like him. I can't help but be drawn to this refreshingly original protagonist who calls himself a "broken boy" and wraps himself up in his anger to escape his past. So, can I really find it in myself to fault Jorg for going all Kill Bill Medieval-style on his enemies or anyone who even looks at him wrong? Not really, no.

The thing I love best about this series, though, is that nothing is as it seems. I've mentioned before in the past that the first two books contain relatively familiar fantasy ideas, except Mark Lawrence takes them all and spins them on their head. The third book is no different at all, and pretty much every chapter past the midway point contained something that made me stop reading, shake my head and go, "Whoa." There are just so many unexpected surprises, and even the setting itself is a twist, which I remember was a huge mind-blowing moment for me when I read the first book. Emperor of Thorns explores that setting a lot more, and we're seriously treading into genre-bending territory here.

And finally, WHAT AN ENDING. Needless to say, readers who have been following The Broken Empire up to this point will have no excuse to miss this. Even though Mark Lawrence wrote in his Afterthought that this will be the last book in this series, I don't find myself overly upset. I'm actually quite satisfied with how everything wrapped up. I am just grateful there is an ending, and to me, it was perfect.