Genre: Fantasy – Grimdark
Series: The Broken Empire #3.5
Publisher: Self Published (December 14, 2015)
Length: 124 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
By now, most fantasy fans have either read or heard all about Mark Lawrence’s seminal work Prince of Thorns and The Broken Empire trilogy it launched. Some love Jorg Ancrath and his world; others hate him and/or the place; but everyone has strong feelings about the story. Yet Jorg’s tale is not a solitary one. In fact, throughout his journeys, the young Ancrath prince is accompanied by many companions, the most important of which are his road brothers. These individuals filled with passions, tragedies, and vile acts all their own; their personal stories demanding some of the spotlight which Jorg so greedily dominated.
Well, in this collection, Mr. Lawrence gives fans exactly what they have been craving: a closer look at Jorg’s “road brothers.” Here the curtain is pulled back on Makin, Red Kent, Rike, The Nuban, Gorgoth, and even Father Gomst. Each individual getting to air, at least, some of their hidden secrets for everyone’s reading pleasure.
It all starts with “A Rescue,” where Makin takes center stage. The tragic lose of his family at the hands of marauding knights is touched upon, used to explain why the jovial, beloved Makin of the past no longer exists, replaced by a bitter, vengeful man whose presence makes everyone uncomfortable. And when he becomes a soldier to King Olidan and helps avert a fiery end to young Jorg, the future seems set, especially as he foresees his own role in helping the young prince grow to manhood.
“Sleeping Beauty” is a Jorg centered tale, which I have previously enjoyed and reviewed.
“Bad Seed” chronicles the poignant yet grievous tale of Alann Oak. This youth committing a horrible crime at a tender age; the act haunting him his whole life, even as he tries to forgive himself for it, deny his baser nature and live a peaceful life as a farmer, husband, and father. Something he seems to be successful in doing until fickle fate destroys it, turning him into Red Kent.
“The Nature of the Beast” takes a closer look at Sabitha the witch and her interactions with and observations of Rike, as he and his road brothers pillage her village. Naturally, a witches curse is involved.
“Select Mode” finds Jorg and the Nuban as prisoners of brigands. Their captors driving them toward “the arc” where they will be judged worthy or unworthy to join this band of “Select.” Broken remnants of the Builders technology play a major role here, as an ancient message is mistaken for something much more divine.
“Mercy” sees Mr. Lawrence returning to Makin. Now, his quest for vengeance upon his family’s murderers takes center stage. A woman named Ellen is his co-conspirator, while the terrified Gorlan is the cowed youth, who attempts to negotiate his own survival. And during the three’s conversations, Makin’s desire for justice through vengeance becomes very clear.
In “A Good Name,” readers finally get a glimpse at the Nuban’s mysterious past. The how and why of his presence in the Broken Empire is suggested, even as a special guest star (the father of Snorri from The Red Queen’s War) plays a major role in the Nuban’s growth into a man. All of it offering a logical reason why this warrior would go on to become somewhat of a mentor to the young Jorg.
“Choices” centers on the choices of Gorgoth. This enigmatic monster of a man risking all to save his family from the dangerous, toxic depths of their mountain home. The whole story somewhat of a morality play, as Gorgoth wishes to be a good person in a harsh world — even if he might be selling his soul to the devil to accomplish what he believes is right.
With “The Secret,” Mr. Lawrence takes his storytelling to new heights. This tale within a tale mesmerizing in its pacing and progression; the narrator slowly weaving his story of betrayal and assassination to a bedazzled princess, who never sees the truth until it is too late.
“Know Thyself” ends this collection on a high note, as Father Gomst and his interaction with King Olidan’s two young sons is highlighted. Naturally, Jorg and his brother William steal the spotlight with their youthful viciousness, but Gomst’s feelings toward his old student is certainly put into a new light.
For me, short story collections work best if there is a narrative focus; a common thread which holds the separate pieces together, molding them into a coherent whole. And Road Brothers has exactly that quality. Each of these diverse tales highlighting the hidden past of these characters, exposing their personal travails, and grounding their actions in The Broken Empire into a realistic whole. All of which means that if you love Jorg and his story, then you will love this collection of tales, but if you hate the Ancrath prince and his road brothers, then these stories won’t change your mind about them at all.