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The Wheel of Osheim (The Red Queen's War) Hardcover – June 7, 2016
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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Praise for Mark Lawrence and The Red Queen’s War
“Mark Lawrence is the best thing to happen to fantasy in recent years.”—New York Times bestselling author Peter V. Brett
“Lawrence’s epic fantasy is a great summer read, full of humor, revenge, and perils that this warrior-and-coward duo must evade in order [to] save their kingdoms and themselves.”—The Washington Post
“Exciting action and quick-witted dialog make it a fantastic summer page-turner.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Jalan Kendeth is a fine addition to this Loki-like roster of tricksters, knaves, and cowards: heroes and antiheroes we love to hate and hate to love...Mark Lawrence’s growing army of fans will relish this rollicking new adventure and look forward to the next one.”—The Daily Mail
“As richly told as the earlier trilogy: The author makes this place, a post-cataclysm earth of the far future, feel as real as any place you’ve ever visited. For fans of the Broken Empire series and readers who enjoy a good, epic-sized fantasy story (readers of, say, George R. R. Martin), this is a must-read.”—Booklist
“Shrewd Jalan and honorable Snorri make a marvelous team, lightening a very dark story with wry humor. The brisk adventure and black magic will leave readers eager for the next chapter in the series.”—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Mark Lawrence is a research scientist working on artificial intelligence. He is a dual national with both British and American citizenship, and has held secret-level clearance with both governments. At one point, he was qualified to say, “This isn’t rocket science—oh wait, it actually is.” He is the author of the Broken Empire trilogy (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns), the Red Queen’s War trilogy (Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and The Wheel of Osheim) and the Book of the Ancestor series (Red Sister).
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So overall, I would highly recommend this series to everyone, and I think both Fantasy and Science Fiction readers would find a lot to love within these pages. The Wheel of Osheim was an excellent conclusion to an outstanding trilogy, and I look forward to reading whatever the author puts out next.
Jal has been through Hell…literally. And now that he’s escaped, the mortal world isn’t looking any nicer. The war being fought between his grandmother, the Red Queen, and the Lady Blue is reaching its climax as the Wheel of Osheim turns toward the world’s destruction. Add to that the fact that Loki’s key is still attracting the attention of any dead thing that can be reanimated, and Jal’s got quite a few problems on his hands. As much as he’d might like to pass these problems off to someone (anyone) else, the task of stopping the Wheel seems to be his alone. He has his friends Snorri, Kara, and Hennan at his back to help, but he also has the Lady Blue offering a tempting proposal of Godhood in the new world. Whatever he decides to do, his decision will determine the fate of the world and everyone in it.
The book opens with a bang with Jal literally falling out of the sky as he escapes from Hel/Hell. Following the cliff hanger ending of “The Liar’s Key,” this start provides more questions than it does answers. What’s going on in the world? What happened in Hel/Hell? And speaking of Hell, where the Hell is Snorri? There’s a sense of mystery with these unanswered questions that both keeps the story moving forward while also filling in what we’ve missed. As has been the case in the previous novels, Jal soon finds himself in a conundrum involving several attractive women (sheikh’s daughters, specifically) and then the plot takes off. And damn, is it a ride. Once I got over my “if I keep reading, the book will end” issue, I found the story to be enthralling and difficult to put down. The plot fills the pages, and Jal gets up to quite a lot between the first and last page. There’s never a dull moment, never a point where you want to urge everyone to just get on with it. Jal meets some fellow drunk named Jorg, who tells him how to deal with his Maeres Allus problem, rescues Lisa DeVeer from slavery, and then returns home to Vermillion where he serves as the Marshal and does his damnedest to protect the city from an undead attack. And that’s all before he even heads for the Wheel. The answers we get to long burning questions are fascinating and the characters’ individual stories tie up well. I can’t comment on how well it all ties in with the “Broken Empire” trilogy since I haven’t read those books, but I was immensely satisfied with the events that occurred in this final installment.
Not only was I never bored, but I also couldn’t guess what was coming – a rarity in fantasy for me. In a genre that’s often rife with tropes and clichés, Lawrence has created a story that’s both entertaining and original. This novel departs a little from the first two by taking a turn that is both more epic and sci-fi in scope. The journey through the afterlife gives the book an ethereal, almost larger than life sort of feel while the scientific roots of the Wheel and learning what exactly happened to the builders (us in a few years after some crazy scientific breakthroughs, basically) lends a unique flavor not often found in fantasy. The story twists and turns as it goes on, and I often found myself genuinely surprised by what was happening…and in a good way! When you’ve read a lot of fantasy and are at least somewhat knowledgeable on its oft-used tropes and story conventions, it can sometimes be difficult to find a story that manages to provide an element of surprise, but Lawrence more than delivers.
I also want to comment on the great use of flashbacks. Usually when I see a flashback, my reaction is to sigh and lament, “Oh great, a flashback” usually because they end up interrupting the story’s flow but Lawrence deftly places them in such a precise manner that it’s something of a joy to encounter them. Whether it’s Jal’s adventures in Hel/Hell or Snorri finding his family, these recollections are woven so well into the story that they add a unique element. But then, Lawrence has proven with the previous two novels that he’s an expert in combining a novel’s current events and a character’s past encounters in an enjoyable way that benefits the plot. In this case, Snorri’s storytelling serves as a way to distract Jal and his (dangerously) overactive imagination as they navigate the Wheel. I’ve just seen so many authors fumble with flashbacks that it’s both surprising and refreshing to come across one that handles them with such expert precision.
The writing is witty and on point. If there’s one thing that puts Lawrence’s writing above many other author’s, it’s his use of humour. Make no mistake, there’s an overwhelming sense of urgency to what’s going on. The evil forces in the world are becoming more powerful and stopping them is looking like an impossibly daunting task. So, yeah, things get pretty bloody grim and dark…yet Jal always manages to add an air of levity and humour to everything. Whether it’s his internal observations, his personal conflicts, or just his attempts at working through an awkward situation, he almost always has something amusing to add. A large part of why I’ve loved this trilogy so much is that, no matter how hopeless a situation may otherwise seem, there’s usually some quip or phrasing thrown in that makes me laugh. And it doesn’t feel forced or unnatural, it’s just an integral part of the prose. I’m rather sad that I won’t be getting any more of this.
A huge highlight for me with this trilogy has been the lack of romance. In a genre that seems to try shoehorning a romance into every novel, I’d been delighted by the absence of it in “The Red Queen’s War” and how the author instead chose to develop the (non-romantic) relationship between Snorri and Jal. I was afraid that that was going to change in this book. See, I have this really nasty habit of reading the last page of a book (if I have a physical copy) before I even start it and I wasn’t so sure that I liked what I saw. In short, the last book ends where the first one begins: in Lisa DeVeer’s bed…and given that Jalan had grown more fascinated with her during the second book, I feared that we’d finally see the romance that had up until now been avoided. This is a habit that I need to break because it sometimes makes me worry about things without having any context for them. While Jalan and Lisa do find themselves getting close under the sheets at the book’s conclusion, the circumstances surrounding it are so typically Jalan that I couldn’t help but be amused by the whole thing. So, worry not fellow romance haters, Jalan doesn’t break down and become a lovesick fool; he doesn’t “settle down” in the traditional sense; and he certainly doesn’t decide to become a straight-laced family man. At the end of the day, no matter how infatuated with Lisa DeVeer he might be, Jal is still Jal and he’s always going to go about things in his own way. And once again, careful attention is given to solidifying Jal’s relationships with Snorri, Kara, and Hennan. They’ve all come a long way as a group and their parting brought bittersweet tears to my eyes. I don’t know how long it’ll be before I find another book that focuses more on interpersonal relationships than romantic ones since they seem to be something of a rarity in general, but I’m glad to have found this one.
Moving on to characters, “The Wheel of Osheim” is very much Jalan’s “growing into himself” book. His time in Hel/Hell has changed him and he emerges from it with a renewed sense of purpose. That’s not to say the old Jal isn’t still around in some form; there are many instances where Jal tells himself that he’d rather return to his routing of drinking, gambling, and womanizing or where the desire to continue running from all of his problems is hard to ignore, but even he realizes at this point that his role in all of this is too big for him to abandon his sense of responsibility, however much he may sometimes want to. Of course, he’d still rather not be involved with his grandmother’s war at all and would be all too happy to give the Liar’s key to someone else, but he’s resigned himself to what must be done and reluctantly pushes himself forward. Though it’s not without a due amount of complaining. Jalan is easily one of my favourite characters ever and I’m convinced that he’s going to be a once in a lifetime sort of character. Everything about him should be off-putting. He himself characterizes himself as a cheat, a liar, and a coward, we see his lack of morals (especially in regards to wooing women) again and again, and he’s so willing to foist his problems onto others that there shouldn’t be anything redeemable about this fellow. Yet somehow there is. There’s something very relatable about Jal. Maybe it’s his humourous observations, maybe it’s because most people can see a little bit of themselves in this nontraditional protagonist, or maybe it’s because, despite his flaws, Jalan proves to be a loyal friend to the end.
As an aside, I enjoyed where Jal ends up at the story’s conclusion. He’s not named the Red Queen’s successor or given a lofty royal title, he hasn’t developed a sense for adventure and a taste for discovering the unknown, nor has he decided to straighten himself out and live a more moral life. In fact, at the story’s end, we get the impression that all of this has just resulted in putting a band-aid on the problem of the Wheel, a temporary measure to delay the inevitable. The Wheel is still turning, just much slower than before, so the end of the world is still creeping along, but Jal is convinced that it won’t happen in his lifetime…and if it does, he’ll be too old to do anything about it. He’s all too happy to put his adventuring days behind him and continue wasting his time, albeit with the new title of Cardinal. I loved that Lawrence kept Jalan true to his character and had him sort of back to his old tricks, but with a new appreciation for himself and what he’s been through. In short, Jal’s grown up, but he’s done it (as he does everything else) in his own way.
Perhaps the one downside to the book largely being about Jal is that the other characters aren’t as present. Snorri is absent for a large chunk of the novel, and while he has a damn good reason for not being there, I found myself missing him and his interactions with the spoiled prince. When he does show up, though, he’s in top form with a newfound peace of mind regarding his family. As always, he’s there to push everyone along and offer either words of encouragement or reprimand when needed. He’s been fairly constant in his character portrayal and that continues in “The Wheel of Osheim,” though you do get the sense of “what’s next?” for him at the end. Now that he’s accepted the fate of his family, the thing that drove him to Hel/Hell in the first place, what is he going to do with himself? Kara and Hennan reappear even later than Snorri, but it’s nice to be reunited with them, too. Hennan seems to be growing from boy to man while Kara is as mysterious as ever, and both bring their own unique strengths to the struggle of stopping the Wheel and foiling the Lady Blue’s plans. Otherwise, we learn more about the Red Queen, the Silent Sister, Jal’s Uncle Garyus, and the Lady Blue and we see more of Jalan’s family. We also encounter Jal’s unborn sister, a terrible sight to behold. Every character is wonderfully developed, even if we only see them very briefly, and they all seem to play a role in the Red Queen’s complex game.
When I finally read the last words of “The Wheel of Osheim,” I was struck by both satisfaction and emptiness. Satisfaction at having completed this journey with characters that have become like old friends and emptiness at knowing that this is it for Prince Jalan. I finished the book a few days ago, and the book hangover is still in full-swing. I’ll miss Jal and Snorri and I’ll miss this world that they inhabit. I don’t think I’ve come across a trilogy to date where I’ve given each book a five-star rating. In fact, I find with most series that the quality and my overall enjoyment of each individual book drops as the series goes on…but that definitely wasn’t the case with “The Red Queen’s War.” This was a very consistent trilogy with snappy writing, an intriguing plot, and wonderfully complex characters. I don’t know whether to thank Mr. Lawrence for giving us such a great series or shake my fist and grumble at him for making it end. But, of course, all good things must come to an end…and what a climactic, satisfying ending this was. Giving it anything less than five stars would be a sin on my part.
Bottom Line: I kept me enthralled for days and I am glad I read it but the last few pages after everything "heroic" had been accomplished, while in keeping with the authors depiction of our reluctant hero, was still a bit disappointing. 5 Stars for a wonderful story that kept the reader addicted but anyone who has read The Broken Empire trilogy cannot help but compare and find this one just below that very high mark set by that story.