Saturday, November 16, 2013

Book Review: The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence

"Every man has his thorns, not of him, but in him, deep as bones"
                                  - Mark Lawrence, Emperor of Thorns

  These days, heroes in stories are becoming very dark. I wonder why?

Remember heroes you used to read about in stories from your younger years? For example, heroes from The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, had very black and white moral outlooks. They (Heroes) are good, villains are bad, each have their roles to play in the story, they fight each other, good versus evil. The good triumphs in the end, and everyone lives happily ever after.

We see this less and less in modern day stories.

These days, heroes are no longer the perfect embodiment of good. In modern day stories, a hero's action is often driven by mixed intentions, sometimes selfish, sometimes selfless. Along a hero's journey, the hero has weaknesses and makes mistakes, baring his/her flaws in front of the readers' eyes. Sometimes the hero can be redeemed by the goodness that lies within, the readers will hope for this, especially when the story gets very dark.

 In other words, heroes in modern day stories are becoming more and more like us. If we write fictions to explore our human nature and condition, then in an age dominated by the desire for realism, it makes sense for heroes and their journeys to be dark, because their stories can resonate with our own struggles, as we try to make sense of this strange world we live in. Since the dawn of time, the complexity of the human nature, is often expressed through story exposition.

The Broken Empire trilogy is an epic fantasy story with a dark hero, written by the author Mark Lawrence. The trilogy consists of 3 books: Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns. The story arc follows the protagonist, Jorg of Ancarth, and his ascension to become the emperor of the broken empire. Firstly, a word of warning, these books are not for the lighthearted. You will not find a typical heroic fantasy story here. In fact, I am not even sure if the protagonist can be called a "hero". But if you can stomach a very dark story, a hero that's more like a sociopath, and some violence, then you will love this truly marvelous tale.


  When he was nine years old, prince Jorg witnessed the murder of his mother and brother in a political assassination, which was arranged by his uncle. During the murder, Jorg was trapped in a bush of poisonous thorns, concealing him from the assassins. He was the sole survivor of the assassination. The brutal event left a traumatic impact on the young Jorg, filled him with much guilt that developed into hatred, eventually drove him to flee from his father's castle, and joined a group of bandits on the road.

At 14, Jorg could swing a sword as well as any man. He also became the leader of a bandit group, they called themselves The Brothers. Jorg led The Brothers in many successful raids, earning himself a fierce reputation by leaving behind a trail of blood and rapine. But Jorg is not content with just being the leader of The Brother. Jorg's ambition is much higher than that. Firstly, he wanted revenge for the murder of his mother and brother. In this act of revenge, Jorg planned to take out his uncle. Yet, this is only the first step to Jorg's plan, on the journey of his ascension. This is a journey to claim the throne of the emperor to reunite the broken empire. Jorg will not stop, he is willing to sacrifice anything, including his followers, friends, relatives... after all, they say a king climbs the road to power, by stepping on the bones of his followers. It's like a chess game where Jorg can play very well, and he doesn't always play fair...

What I think about this trilogy:

 I really like this trilogy. It combines elements from some of my favorite authors: It has Court intrigues like in George R.R Martin's A song of Ice and Fire series, the grittiness of Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy,  and actions like in Glen Cook's Black Company series,

The trilogy is set in a very interesting, post-apocalyptic world. Where humanity had once again, reached the level of civilization that resembles the medieval world. However, it is also a world flowing with "magic and sorcery", which the author explained as a result of advanced progress in science from the previous civilization, which blurred the difference between the reality and the will.  

The pace of the storytelling in this trilogy is good. I don't recall boring moments while reading these books. This trilogy is mostly narrated in first person perspective, enabling readers to resonate with Jorg's story. Readers travel inside Jorg's head through his journey, gaining insight to Jorg's thoughts and mind in every moments of the story. Jorg's innermost character is laid bare in front of the readers' eyes, and Jorg's thoughts aren't always pretty.

I also want to give credit to the author, for ending this series on the high note instead of dragging the story and turn it into a cash cow.

Some fantasy series start off strong, but gradually slip down hills because authors don't want to kill their cash cows and refuse to end the series on the high note. I am glad to report, the Broken Empire trilogy, does not suffer from the cash cow syndrome.

While I was reading these books, I was fascinated and chilled by my own reaction to the story. Despite Jorg being (probably) the most ruthless, twisted, and self centred protagonist ever penned in the history of fantasy, I still cheered for him whenever he succeeded, and I still hoped that somehow he could show some redemptive qualities as the story developed. But I was also wondering, can someone like Jorg ever be redeemed?

As I read Jorg's story, I began to sympathize with Jorg, because haunted memories from his past made him who he was. I won't spoil the story here, but the story of Jorg asked me, if I was put in his place, under the same circumstance, would I have acted differently?

As I close the last page of this trilogy, both satisfied and surprised by the ending, my thoughts wandered off to explore a question the author seemed to be asking:

"As we are all bound by our human conditions, can we really judge a person as being beyond redemption?"

 The Broken Empire Trilogy, is a marvellous fantasy series. It has court intrigues that will rival George R.R Martin at his best, and it has grittiness that will make Joe Abercrombie proud.

Happy reading!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book Review: The Godborn by Paul Kemp

I don't play Dungeon and Dragons games. In fact, I've never played D&D RPG. But I really enjoy reading novels based on D&D universe, because it has a fantastic, imaginative world packed with epic stories about heroes and villains with intriguing characters. And this is why today, I am going to write a review for this book (another thing I love about this series is these books have very beautiful cover arts).

The Godborn, is the second book in "The Sundering" series. The Sundering, is an event that took place in the D&D world, where past heroes and villains walked the world again. There are 6 planned books in The Sundering Series. Each of these books is a stand alone novel, featuring stories of individual heroes in different parts of the world. The first book, was R.A Salvatore's book, The Campanions, featuring the beloved Drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden and his friends, the book was mostly very light hearted and very warming at certain places.

However, this second book, The Godborn, is not the same as the first book. It is much darker and more complex, and I love it!


Erevis Cale's son, Vasen Cale grows up in an abbey, and became the servant to the Lord of Light who raised him. Shielded by the dead god Mask, Vasen Cale was protected from the evil schemes of his father's enemies. However, Vasen is constantly haunted by dreams about his father. Deep down inside, Vasen knows his peaceful life at the abbey will eventually come to pass, and he will one day assume the role he has to play in the drama of the sundering, which was taking place across the world, lest the world as he knew will cease to exist. For Vasen, he knows failure is not an option...

What I think about this book:

As I have said already, I love this book. Mostly because all characters in this book are intriguing. They are not cardboard characters to fill the gaps in the story, no, all characters in this book are 3 dimensional characters, with lots of development through personal struggles. While the story is quite dark, but it is also accompanied with interesting perspectives embedded with much welcomed complexities.

But I do have to say, although I really like the story and characters in this book, but I did find the story started a bit slow. In fact, I only found the story becoming interesting after the first 100 pages (and this is a 300 page book), this means the first 100 page of this book was quite slow. Thankfully, the story unfolds with thunder and lightning in the last two thirds of the book, and it is a very, very good story.


Book Review: The Wise Man's fear by Patrick Rothfuss

"“It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he'll look for his own answers.”
                                                                - Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear, is the sequel to Patrick Rothfuss' Award-Winning novel, The Name of the Wind. This book is almost twice as long as the first one, it is a 1000 page tome. But is longer = better? Let's find out.


The story in this book picks up where the first book ended. Kvothe continues to tell the chronicler his story on the second day. In this part of the story, Kvothe described how he was forced to leave the University to after his feud with a fellow student. After leaving the University, Kvothe traveled to the city of Severen and enlisted under the mayor's service. From here, Kvothe took his first step into becoming a legend, by leading a group of mercenaries to hunt down bandits, and acquired martial skill training from the city of Ademre... things are finally looking up for Kvothe, but how long before his story becomes dark again?

What I think about the book:

Like The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear is very well written. The author really has a way with words and writes beautifully. The story and the character developments in this book is gripping like the previous book. However, truth be told, I prefer The Name of the Wind. The reason is, the pace of the story in The Wise Man's Fear is too slow, and at times I just can't be bothered to read all the details but simply browsing and paging the book forward; and this book is too long. I wonder, if the book is cut down to 300 page from its whopping 1000 pages, it would have read better.

Having said this, I still enjoyed The Wise Man's Fear, it is still a good book. Well written, good story, and interesting characters, and I look forward to reading the last book in this trilogy, which is to be released in 2014.