Road Brothers is a collection of Mark Lawrence’s short fiction. As the title implies the focus is on individuals from the band of rapacious mercenaries that surround Jorg, the protagonist from Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. In some cases, these are origin stories, looking at who these individuals used to be, before they became hardened killers. In other cases, they’re side stories, looking at members of the crew acting alone for their own purposes. And in others, we see Jorg travelling with members of his band, spreading the unique blend of justice and misery that is his hallmark. It’s worth noting that several of these stories have appeared in other collections, or been available for individual purchase before now – but some are entirely new, and it’s great to have them all amalgamated into one collection.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Lawrence’s work; his ‘The Liar’sKey’ was near the top of my list from last year, and I’ve always found his Broken Empire world to be compelling and imaginative. So I went in to Road Brothers with fairly high expectations – and had a great time. There’s an artistry to the protagonists of these tales, an economy which encourages the reader to exercise their imaginations, whilst providing a degree of narrative elegance that makes the book very easy to pick up and rather hard to put down. Rike’s placid viciousness in one tale is juxtaposed against, say, Sim’s cool precision in another. Getting at their points of view, if only for a few pages, gives us an insight into the Broken Empire, puts us, a little, outside of the red hot iron-and-blood of Jorg’s focused will.
We don’t spend a lot of time with each of the Brothers in this collection, but we do see enough to give us context, to make the world a bit more colourful. And behind that colour are a set of diverse personalities, ranging from the cunning to the brute, from stoic strength to rabid intensity. Each of them have a sense of individuality, and the stories woven around them only enhance that, enriching the other works in the collection as well as the narratives of Lawrence’s other trilogies.
There’s some great stories here too – though they are laced through with spoilers for other Broken Empire works, so they should be approached with caution, or after reading those books. There pacing is spot on – in some cases - as with Sim - hauntingly, terrifyingly languid, and in others it has the rapid pace that comes with hurtling escapes and hand-to-hand combat with creeping technological terrors.
Honestly, if you’ve already read Lawrence’s Broken Empire works, this is a great supplementary piece. It has a lot of genuine points to make about the human condition, tied up in entirely human (and often utterly terrible for that) characters. It’s putting more detail in to an already deeply fascinating world, and doing so with high stakes, great action, and a wonderfully nuanced view of humanity at its best, and, perhaps more often, its worst. It’s worth reading for any one of those things, and together, they make a collection whose only real flaw is that it isn’t two, five, ten times as large. Definitely worth picking up.