I read this trilogy last year, but got so busy I couldn’t blog about it until now (Maundy Thursday).
Note: SPOILERS here!!!
The Broken Empire trilogy is set in what would be Europe a thousand years after a nuclear holocaust. Prior to that, scientists and engineers (“Builders”) had previously discovered and exploited a way for man to “control his environment directly through the force of his desire, rather than through machinery” (Fexler Brews in Emperor of Thorns, 170), thereby altering “by just a fraction” (Fexler Brews in King of Thorns, 321) the orientation of what could be viewed as the wheel of the ship that is reality. Since then, this wheel has kept on turning albeit in the wrong orientation, resulting in various kinds of magic in the post-apocalyptic world, including the ability to control fire (“fire-sworn”), inhabit bodies (necromancers), soul-fly (“sky-sworn”), enter and influence dreams (“dream-sworn”), or see the future (“future-sworn”). Unfortunately, the more these magics are used, the thinner the barrier grows that separates life from death, and the collapse of this barrier is now imminent. Fortunately, the Builders had also managed to create “data echoes” – virtual models of themselves – so that they could somehow survive the holocaust. One of these data echoes is Fexler Brews, who seeks to right their wrongs…
BOOK 1: The Prince of Thorns
Four years ago, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, then only nine, witnesses from inside a thorn briar the murder of his mother and of his younger brother, William, by soldiers of his uncle, the Count of Renar. Vowing to kill the count, he frees a band of mercenaries who are prisoners of his father, King Oliden of Ancrath, and escapes with them. With the protection of Kashta the Nuban, wisest and deadliest of the mercenaries, and Sir Makin, whom Oliden ordered to bring Jorg back but who would turn to follow Jorg instead, Jorg becomes their chief, leading his band of Brothers with fearlessness and uncanny success.
Now 14, Jorg discovers that his father is about to proclaim his new queen’s child as the new heir to the throne, so he returns to his father’s palace with his Brothers. To prove his worth to his father, he agrees to kill the King of Gelleth, which he accomplishes by piecing together the accounts of the Builders, and detonating what (he didn’t know) was one of the nuclear bombs the Builders had left behind underneath the mountain on which the kingdom of Gelleth stood. In the process he befriends leucrota (mutants made so by exposure to radioactivity) and kills a couple of vampiric necromancers, the heart of one of which he eats, as a way to bolster the dying courage of his mercenary band. When he returns to Ancrath, he is murdered by his own father, but he comes back to life due to vampiric contamination. While dead, he is released from a powerful spell of compulsion placed upon him by his uncle’s sorcerer, Corion, which prevented him from even coming close to his uncle’s lands. The same spell also lent him sorcerous powers without his being aware of them. Jorg eventually kills Renar and his sorcerer, and crowns himself King of Renar. His next goal: to become Emperor of the Broken Empire.
RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Though the characterization in this trilogy is not impressive (only Jorg’s character is developed; everyone else’s is one-dimensional), the trilogy quickly startles and then polarizes its readers by beginning its tale with an amoral antihero killing the leader of a small town and participating in the rape of the leader’s girls. (Jorg does make it a point to say that he did try to talk to the leader, but the leader wouldn’t budge.) But the cause for such apparent mercilessness is slowly revealed as a confluence of the boy’s traumatic experience, genetic and environmental predisposition (his father was even crueler), and being bound by a spell by an even crueler sorcerer. Sure, a murderer is a murderer, but in God’s economy, in which every human being is sinful, even killers can become heroes (cf. Moses, Joshua, David, Paul).
The character I liked most in this book is Kashta, whom Jorg describes thus: “I never knew a man more solid… Few among the brothers sought his counsel, men upon the road have little use for conscience, and although he never judged, the Nuban carried judgment with him” (195). Why did he have to die this early in the trilogy?
BOOK 2: The King of Thorns
Soon after he becomes a king, Jorg meets the charismatic Prince Orrin of Arrow, who, like Jorg, wishes to lead the Broken Empire, but who, unlike Jorg, has more statesmanly goals, which is why smaller nations have been flocking to him. Orrin defeats the younger Jorg in one-on-one combat, but Orrin, who is everything that Jorg is not, lets Jorg live. Jorg then decides that to become Emperor, he has to get the support of his mother’s father, the Earl of Hansa, and brother, Lord Robert. On his way to his grandfather, Jorg has some interesting side-adventures that leave in him the powers of fire-magic and necromancy, insatiable powers that both try to consume him. At his grandfather’s castle, he encounters a “ghost”, actually a data echo, Fexler Brews, who gives him a lens (see the cover of Book 2),which enables him to view any part of the world through satellite and terrestrial surveillance systems, and a pistol. He also gets engaged to Lord Robert’s twelve-year-old niece, the fiery and independent-minded Miana.
Four years later, on Jorg and Miana’s wedding day, Prince Egan of Arrow (who had earlier killed his brother, Orrin) storms Castle Renar with thousands of Orrin’s men, but Jorg kills Egan using Fexler’s pistol, and unleashes the fire within him, burning Orrin’s men as well as his father’s sorcerer, Sageous, who, Fexler would reveal, was the one who put Jorg in the thorns, and who was the one who dream-ensorcelled Egan to commit fratricide. Jorg himself would survive the conflagration (but with a burnt face) because of the necromantic power within him, and the fire magic and necromancy within him would consume each other, leaving him with no trace of either magic. But though the Dead King may have lost his foothold inside Jorg when Jorg lost his necromantic powers, he has now become Jorg’s – and the Broken Empire’s – most formidable foe.
RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Jorg is growing, and that is good. Though Jorg still has no qualms killing in this book, there’s now a kind of empathy: “Once upon a time perhaps I might have thought two women running around on fire was a free show…But I had grown to understand this kind of pain” (236). The character I liked most in this book is Fexler, the so-called data echo. I’m doing research on persistent virtual online models of students, so it intrigues me how Fexler-the-virtual-model was created from all manner of data from Fexler-the-human, including “…unguarded moments captured in secret, phrases uttered in his sleep, exclamations cried out in coitus, chemical analysis of his waste, public presentations, private meditations, polygraphic evidence, DNA samples. Data.” (319) Cool!
BOOK 3: The Emperor of Thrones
Jorg, now 20, soon-to-be-father, and leader of six kingdoms plus Kennick, travels to Vyene, the former Imperial capital, to make a bid for Emperor at the Congression. Every seven years, the Congression is held at Vyene, where representatives of all the kingdoms of the Broken Empire cast their votes for an Emperor. What makes this Congression different from those in the past is the imminent threat of the Dead King and his army of zombies. While Jorg is traveling toward Vyene, the reader is shown several flashbacks filled with violence, such as the rape of young Jorg by a bishop, and how Jorg took his revenge; the torture of Jorg in a desert, saved only by remnants of fire magic, months of sword practice, and Fexler controlling the body of a mechanical scorpion; and Jorg’s saving the Caliph of Liba from nuclear destruction by an automaton controlled by Michael, another data echo, apparently higher in rank than Fexler.
At the Congression, for fear of the Dead King, whose zombie army is fast approaching, the delegates vote for Jorg as Emperor, since he is the only one who has the temerity to fight the Dead King. The Dead King finally appears in the body of a sky-sworn, while his zombie army kills many of the delegates and scatters the rest. It turns out that the Dead King is none other than William, Jorg’s younger brother, who now chides Jorg for not saving him. It appears that William, whose will (to be reunited with his brother) is apparently even stronger than Jorg’s, fought against death (i.e., annihilation) and won. When he learned that his brother was intent on reuniting the Broken Empire, William then thought of raising the dead so that together they could “take the empire out past all boundaries, in this world and the next, and make it whole, entire, and ours” (386). Jorg eventually manages to kill the body which William used, but knowing that William isn’t really dead (i.e., annihilated) and can therefore come back, and fearing for his son and the world he will live in, he asks his Brothers to kill him so that he may go to his younger brother. When everyone refuses, it was Chella, William’s harbinger, who deals the fatal blow. In the epilogue, Jorg and William set their hands to push the “wheel” (see this post’s introductory paragraph) back to its original orientation, and Jorg’s data echo meets with his son, the young Emperor Will. It seems that Fexler’s ring got more information from Jorg than Jorg got from it, enough data for Fexler to create a model of Jorg to help him (Fexler) determine whether Jorg could be trusted to save the world.
RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 4 stars out of 5. I must admit that at first I didn’t like that Jorg died. But then again, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). My favorite character continues to be Fexler. In high fantasy, I’ve always been more interested in the acts of the master wizard – Gandalf, Dumbledore, Merlin – who aids the hero, rather than the hero himself (unless the wizard IS the hero), but since, in this trilogy, magic-wielding men (Corius, Sageous, Ferrakind) and women (Lady Blue, Skilfar, the Silent Sister) are like Sageous, whom Fexler describes as “nothing but a savage, straining truth through superstition,” it is Fexler who becomes in essence the master wizard, influencing and helping Jorg in the race against world annihilation.
Emperor of Thrones won the David Gemmel Legend Award (DGLA) for Best Fantasy Novel in 2014. I wish I could write fantasy like Mark Lawrence or Bandon Sanderson one day.