Maybe not a King (of Thorns), But I Am Willing to Keep on Reading About The Broken Empire

I recently commented on the macho, mysoginistic writings of Lee Child in my foray into the world of Jack Reacher. I have been delaying on this post a bit because I have been trying to reason out what makes the protagonist of The Broken Empire series so different and why I find myself liking him, even though he is arrogant, power hungry, violent and woman using.

Now, when I say “liking,” perhaps I should clarify a bit and say it is more of a willingness to be swept away into the improbability that makes Jorg (now King Jorg in the second book explaining the title) the boy/man/killer that he is. Mark Lawrence takes this character beyond the comprehension of feasible existence, allowing this anti-hero to have killed his first man by the age of 12 (if memory serves). It is like the author is trying to make sure that his main character will accomplish enough in a short span of time to be called a legend.

Left on the road for dead and witness to the slaughtering of his brother and mother at the hands of soldiers of his uncle, Jorg is motivated to exact revenge, not in a precise manner at all, but by hooking up with a band of thugs and robbin’ and killin’ all throughout the region. Even this band of murderers is described by Jorg as a blood thirsty group of no-good-nicks.

Unfortunately, as much as I love a good hyperbole, the first person description and the completely exaggerated capabilities of these hoods leave a lot to be desired in Lawrence’s prose. It was hard for me to cheer them on or support them in any way as they completely lacked the depth of character that is usually created by a slowly unfolding, intriguing, solid backstory. Jorg’s narrative offers snippets into how this band of un-merry men came into turning to a life of criminal behaviour and gathering around him, but it was never quite enough for me to overcome their greatly exaggerated exploits and super-antiheroic deeds.

I realize that there is the trap of the unreliable first person narrative and I have pointed it out often enough, but at some point the author has to lay off the hyperbolic descriptions and give the reader a chance to orient, figure out what is really happening, grasp onto a feature that is worth finding out more about, before carrying on reading the account that is filtered through the eyes of a protagonist that is progressing toward becoming a megalomaniac and is in no hurry to stop it.

So, the question is, “Why do I feel hooked enough to read the next book?”

To start, the prose is (thankfully) not dense, which makes this a speedy read, even for me. While I might find myself confused by skimming over a nuanced point here and there, it quickly rights itself through the explanation of Jorg and I carry on none the worse for having missed it the first time it cryptically appeared. Next is the main character, and while his narration might not be great or even very appealing, I do enjoy a break from the “do-gooder” gene in me so that a romp on the dark-side, where negotiation is done at the end of my Jorg’s blade, not with fancy words.

The biggest reason though is there is something about the world that Lawrence has built up that makes me want to find out if it is really worth continuing to read him. Obviously, with what is written above, it is not the handful of characters that we meet as much as the hints of Jorg’s story being told at another rise of human civilization. The trolls and magic does not come from the fabric of the universe, but more like the radioactive remnants of what was progress to generations before; the Builders.

There is something there, quirky maybe, mysterious enough to hold my interest through through the weak secondary characters and side plots, that makes me want to see how it will play out. The Builders are the disappeared, the Old Ones, the creators of unimaginable power who are no longer there to use it (or explain how it is to be used). There is enough familiarity that readers will understand the technology, as explained by Jorg, as our own or slightly futuristic. I am pulled along by my curiosity of how Lawrence will explain these elements of our technologist world and how they were muddled up so fantastically that they degenerated into the world of Jorg, complete with necromancers, magic swords and dream walkers.

For his sake, I hope that Lawrence has something shockingly good up his sleeve for the next novel giving details and insight into what could be a neat twist and justify the time I have spent mucking through the weak bits. If it is haphazard and unworthy of my time, he is going to find himself at the end of my blade!!! a victim of a scathing review on this blog.

Leave a Reply