"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.