I was quite happy when I found out that Mark Lawrence had just released a collection of short fiction titled Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire. Though it is probably one of the most divisive fantasy series published in recent years, I was a big fan of Jorg's tale and relished the chance to find out more about the supporting cast. Indeed, although Jorg's companions play important roles in Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns, Lawrence is not very forthcoming about information regarding that group of hard men.
In Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire, the author offers us a closer look with back stories featuring Makin, Red Kent, Rike, the Nuban, Gorgoth, Father Gomst, and even Jorg himself. Be forewarned that this collection is for people who have read the Broken Empire trilogy and who are looking for more. It is not meant for newbies who would like to give Lawrence a shot, for each short story contains spoilers for the books.
The problem with anthologies and collection of short stories is that they usually contain a few worthwhile reads, while the rest is often half-assed and lackluster material. Not so with this one, I'm pleased to report! Some tales are better than others, that goes without saying. Yet each short story was a quality read that gave us insight into the lives of the Road Brothers. They all focus on events that helped shape them into the battle-hardened men we meet in the series.
Here's the blurb:
10 short stories from the lives of Jorg and his Road Brothers. Contains spoilers for the Broken Empire trilogy. 5 of the stories have previously been published in anthologies. Contains the short story 'Sleeping Beauty' that is also sold separately. A total of 43.000 words or just over half the length of Prince of Thorns.
Oddly enough, "Sleeping Beauty" turned out to be my favorite tale of the bunch. It's surprising because this short story was written when a reader dared Mark Lawrence to write a Jorg/fairy tale mash-up. The result was simply awesome. As the title implies, it is a nod to Sleeping Beauty and it occurs upon Jorg’s return to Ancrath from his first visit to Vyene. Jorg wakes up strapped to a table with Builder technology all around him. Ghosts from the past will discover that Jorg doesn't like to be threatened. I'm always a big sucker for back stories, so I've always loved all the glimpses from the past the author has offered over the course of both the Broken Empire and the Red Queen's War trilogies. Hence, having Jorg deal with a remnant of the Builders' era was a treat.
"A Good Name" wasn't far behind as far as quality is concerned. It is essentially the story of the Nuban and even features Snorri ver Snagason’s father. Focusing on the Nuban's development from a young man to a fearsome warrior, this short story makes us understand how he became some sort of mentor to a young Jorg.
"A Rescue" and "Mercy" feature Makin at different stages of his life. In the former, having lost his family he becomes a soldier for King Olidan. While in the latter, now a bitter and vengeful man, Makin tracks down those men who killed his family and makes them pay the ultimate price.
"Bad Seed" is the tale of a boy named Alann Oak and whose fate is to become Red Kent. "The Nature of the Beast" shows Rike being cursed by a witch and explains why he acted the way he did at the end of Emperor of Thorns. "Select Mode" is an interesting tale featuring Jorg and the Nuban, as well as a malfunctioning remnant of Builder technology which spawned a brotherhood of warriors.
"Choices" features the mutants Gorgoth and his sister Jane right before the arrival of Jorg. It explores the notions of free will and destiny, as Gorgoth attempts to be a good man in a harsh world. "The Secret" features the assassin Brother Sim posing as a storyteller. "Know Thyself" is the last short story and it brings the collection to a close with style, as Father Gomst realizes that educating young Jorg and his brother William might be the death of him.
All in all, Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire takes the focus away from Jorg Ancrath for the duration of a few short stories and by doing so adds layers to an already convoluted grimdark saga. Fans of the Broken Empire trilogy will find a lot to love about this collection, especially since you can download it for just a couple of dollars.