You know how to break the cycle of hatred? . . . The way to break the cycle is to kill every single one of the bastards that fucked you over. Every last one of them. Kill them all. Kill their mothers, kill their brothers, kill their children, kill their dog.
- Fourteen-year-old Jorg Honorous Ancrath, the physical manifestation of why you gotta make sure to kill the children, too.

What is it?

The Broken Empire trilogy is a grimdark fantasy series by Mark Lawrence. And I mean very, very grimdark. The book opens with our fourteen-year-old villain-protagonist murdering some farmers and raping their daughters, so yeah. It's one of those kinds of fantasy worlds.

It was followed by the much lighter Red Queen's War trilogy, which is set in the same universe and takes place at roughly the same time as the Broken Empire, but follows entirely different characters who are substantially more likeable.

The books in the series are:

Prince of Thorns (2011)
King of Thorns (2012
Emperor of Thorns (2013)

As well as the collection of short stories, Road Brothers, Tales from the Broken Empire (2017)

All of the books contain about half the story in the current day, and half in a flashback secondary stories that provide context for what's going on.

What's it about?

The story takes place one thousand years after the fall of the mysterious "Builder" society-- a society whose remnants can still be found all over the world, such as the strange poured stone with metal bones that makes up some of their few standing structures-- in the eponymous Broken Empire; 100 kingdoms that used to be one empire, but have long since collapsed into their own squabbling nations. Through political wheeling and dealing and alliances (or conquering), one ruler could theoretically earn enough kingdom-votes to become the next Emperor, but in the past few hundred years since the Empire broke, nobody's been able to manage that.

Prince Jorg Honorous Ancrath is the fourteen-year-old son of King Olidan, and the current leader of a band of outlaws he calls his "road brothers." They are bastards, burning, raping, and pillaging their way across the Broken Empire until one day Jorg finds out that his father and his father's new wizard assistant are trying to have him declared legally dead and intends to start making another heir. Upon finding this out, Jorg decides to go home for a reunion, and to finally start acting on his childhood goal of becoming the next Emperor, a goal that, for some strange reason, he hasn't thought about in the past couple years, despite it being his self-appointed life's purpose. . .

As the story progresses, we see how exactly Jorg came to be such a rotten person, what happened to his mother and brother that set him off on this path, and how malevolent outside forces may be trying to guide him down roads he doesn't want to go down.

And while Jorg is busy dealing with family issues and trying to murder his way to the throne, there's some hubbub about an upstart necromancer-creature calling himself the Dead King who's been conquering the afterlife and swears he'll also become the next Emperor. But clearly that's just some rumor. . .

What did you think?

The first time I tried reading these books, I couldn't. It literally starts off with the kid protagonist and his band of outlaws murdering his way through some farmers and raping their daughters. I closed the book and went to go play minecraft instead. But it kept cropping up in the recommendations in an online fantasy book group I am part of, and people insisted it was worth it. The second time, I managed to get past that initial scene and into Jorg and company making their way down the road, when they're attacked by ghosts. At that point, I realized that nothing was making sense, and I could either stop again for realsies, or see what the fuck was up with the ghosts.

So I wound up sticking through, and I don't regret it.

At its core, this is something of a redemption story. Fourteen-year-old Jorg is the worst Jorg ever becomes, and a not-insignificant amount of the second book focuses on the fallout of his choices in the first book. Jorg never becomes a good person, and he's still very much "murder first, ask questions never" in regards to how he deals with opposition, but he becomes bad in the right direction, and he winds up being the least-bad in comparison to every other option. Basically, if you can stomach his actions in the first book, things take a turn for the better-- though again, it's still grimdark and depressing. Don't expect a happy ending.

Speaking of the ending, I fuckin' cried at the ending of these books. I wept like a fuckin' baby, and then the next day when I remembered it, I cried again. And I was angry about it, because how dare this grimdark, everybody's-evil, psychopath-for-a-protagonist surprise me with feelings? It wasn't fair, and I was so angry, and I still get that emotional flutter thinking about the last conversation in the last book.

If you like grimdark fantasy books, I highly recommend. If you do not, then you ought to avoid.

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