This review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the trilogy, Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns.
Emperor of Thorns, like the previous book, starts off a few years after its predecessor. Jorg is now 20 years old and ruler of 7 nations. This, coupled with his cruelty and unpredictability, makes him one of the more powerful rulers of the Broken Empire. The world that Mark Lawrence has built here is fantastic but it is really Jorg’s cruelty that makes this great. Fantasy books often have people who are heroes or, bare minimum, anti-heroes. Jorg is by no means either of those things.
Saying that Jorg is a villain would be a bit of a stretch, but not by much. We have seen him murder, torture, rape, lie, cheat, and steal with a smile on his face. But he does not act this way out of glee or a sick sense of satisfaction. Jorg’s demeanor is, “This dark world is ruled by monsters, so let me be the greatest monster.” Despite being a morally terrible person, Jorg does mellow out a bit as the trilogy progresses. He goes from “I will take what should be mine” to “the world needs a strong leader”. He just sees himself as the best candidate to be a leader who can kill the true villains.
The series was full of other wonderful characters as well, like Sir Makin and Gorgoth. While the story very much focuses on Jorg, we still get other character development. We see Jorg’s brothers and other people around him transition from soldiers to leaders, enemies to allies, and more. Making Jorg an unstoppable force through intellect and some dumb luck instead of making him a legendary warrior or prodigy mage is also a nice touch compared to some other fantasy series.
Like King of Thorns, Emperor of Thorns does feature flashbacks. These kick off where the previous flashbacks stopped, so they still take place between the first two books. The jumping around between these two times, and between multiple characters, can make things a bit muddled. I was almost tempted to read the flashback parts separate and then carry on and who knows, maybe the story would have seemed smoother that way. Despite that little bit of confusion, the Broken Empire Trilogy is truly a gem. The characters who are terrible yet “the good guys”, the combination post-apocalypse sci-fi/fantasy world, and Mark Lawrence knowing when to stop instead of milking a franchise for decades make this one of the best modern fantasy series.