Monday, April 04, 2016

Review: "Road Brothers," by Mark Lawrence

Just when you thought that Jorg Ancrath’s story had come to an end, Mark Lawrence delivers “Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire” ($5, self-published).
This collection brings together 10 tales of Jorg and his road brothers, some of which have appeared elsewhere and some of which are new for this volume. Over the course of these stories, we get some further insight on Jorg’s character, as well as some of his companions that, perhaps, haven’t gotten as much ink.

If I had to choose a favorite from the stories, it would probably be “Bad Seed,” a tale of the former Alann Oak, who most Broken Empire fans will know better as Red Kent. The tale tells the story behind the nickname of the man who is, perhaps, Jorg’s most violent brother. More interestingly, though, it gives us a deeper look inside a man who is deeply conflicted about his nature.

The most interesting story, I think, is “The Secret,” just because of the structure that Lawrence employs as a storyteller unfolds a dark tale of assassination for a princess.

Not surprisingly, Jorg and Makin get multiple entries in the collection. In the first story in the book, “A Rescue,” we learn how Makin came into Jorg’s service and became a protector of sorts. We also get to see a younger, more vengeful Makin in “Mercy,” as he tracks down his family’s murderers.

Jorg, of course, plays some part in most of the stories here, but takes center stage in three – “Sleeping Beauty,” “Select Mode” and “Know Thyself.” “Sleeping Beauty” is a well-done play on the classic fairy tale that finds Jorg falling afoul of some Builder technology. A similar theme runs through “Select Mode” as Jorg and the Nuban are captured by a band of men calling themselves the Select, who have mistaken ancient technology for something more than it is. Jorg solves both problems in the way that Jorg solves most things.

The most interesting of the Jorg tales, though, is probably the final story of the book, “Know Thyself,” in which we see a younger version of the prince at age 6, his brother William still alive, both seeking vengeance against their father King Olidan for the death of their dog, Justice. The story tells of the arrival of Father Gomst, who is to teach the children the error of their ways. It’s Jorg and his brother who steal the spotlight, though, and I’m left wondering what a terrifically terrible team they might have made if William had grown to adulthood.

Elsewhere some of the more mysterious characters get their due. “A Good Name” gives us a glimpse of the Nuban’s history, and as an added bonus, introduces us to the father of Norseman Snorri ver Snagason of Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy.

Gorgoth gets the spotlight in “Choices.” The story, which takes place just before the arrival of Jorg among the Leucrota, offers insight into what makes the twisted giant tick, and also the sacrifice that created his monstrous form.

Finally, the witch Sabitha is the viewpoint character for “The Nature of the Beast,” but it’s the looming Brother Rike who steals the show.

I’m not a big reader of short story collections, as you’ll see if you browse around my reviews, but I greatly enjoyed all of the tales in “Road Brothers.” It was nice to get a little more insight into characters that I already enjoyed, as well as a few that, perhaps, didn’t get as much face time in the original trilogy. The stories here are not essential to enjoying the Broken Empire, but they certainly enhance it.

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