Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of The Red Queen’s War
Publisher: Ace (June 7, 2016)
Length: 432 pages
There’s so much to say about The Red Queen’s War series, even more so now that I’ve finished this third and final installment and realized to my joy and horror that yes, my time with the remarkable Prince Jalan and his crew has indeed come to an end. Taken as a whole, this trilogy may be Mark Lawrence’s finest work ever, and this stunning conclusion that is The Wheel of Osheim has left me with my mind completely blown.
After we were left with that cruel cliffhanger at the end of The Liar’s Key, I just couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. And indeed, The Wheel of Osheim is a book that will ultimately reveal all—though admittedly in its own time and in its own way. It’s a story that guards its secrets jealously, opening with a bizarre sequence that sets the beginning of this novel in stark contrast to the terrors experienced by the characters on the journey to get where they are. In fact, if there was ever an award given for “Most Hilarious Escape from Hell”, I have a feeling Jalan will remain the undisputed champion for years to come.
His goals to ditch Loki’s key and return to his old life of drinking, gambling, and womanizing don’t go as planned either, as he returns home to Vermillion to find everything changed. The end of the world is said to be coming, caused by a large construct in the north called the Wheel of Osheim. All of reality will unravel as the Wheel turns faster, unless someone is willing to go into the heart of it to shut it down. In the middle of this looming threat, an old enemy also makes its move, taking advantage of the confusion to make a bold strike at Jalan in the capital of Red March. Our poor, luckless protagonist has never wanted to be a hero, but unfortunately even a coward has to step up sometime.
Yep, this one’s all on Jalan, and don’t you doubt it for a second. Though his friends Snorri, Kara, and Hennan are also along for this crazy ride, most of this book is driven by our main character, who has all but shed his former persona by replacing the insouciance with actual initiative and responsibility. The impending destruction of the world isn’t the only reason why he can’t go back to his old life; it’s because he’s also not the old Jalan. That said, this change is not something that occurs overnight. We’ve actually been seeing this shift in Jalan’s personality since the last book, and only now are we seeing the results of that transformation. Thankfully though, Jalan still retains a lot of what made him the “Prince of Fools” we fell in love with when this series first started. While his experiences in the past year have hardened his soft edges and impressed upon him a sense of honor, he’s still far from the picture of gallantry—and I’m perfectly fine with that.
With Jalan coming into his own though, it did mean seeing a bit less of the supporting characters. Not even Snorri presents himself in the flesh until later in the book, but we do get to witness snippets of his and Jal’s time in Hell together, woven into the early parts of the story. Compared to the books that came before, The Wheel of Osheim has a more distinct “ethereal” vibe, due in part to the structure of the narrative as well as the strange, otherworldly nature of the main conflict.
I also found the story to be darker, a lot twistier. The tensions between the Red Queen and the Blue Lady have been building up for a while now, and their war finally comes to a head in this book. More puzzle pieces also fall into place as Jalan encounters Jorg once more, further linking the events of The Red Queen’s War to those of The Broken Empire. How surreal it was to watch these two very different young men get drunk together and give each other life advice. And finally, we get a lot more background into the mysterious Builders. The revelations here confirm that Lawrence is still the undefeated master at turning this genre on its head; with six novels by him under my belt, you’d think I would be used to the surprises by now, but somehow he still manages to amaze me every single time.
Still, when it comes down to what makes this novel truly special—and why I loved this entire trilogy, really—my reasons are actually quite straightforward. Very simply, this book made me laugh. There’s horror and darkness in this series, but also genuine humor. Few books in this genre can claim to be funny in the traditional sense, but then, most books in this genre don’t have a protagonist like Prince Jalan. He was a coward, a cheat, and a liar (and still a bit of all those things, I admit) but it didn’t matter; because of the fantastic way he was written, I loved him from the start. Jalan is, I’m convinced, an honest-to-goodness once in a lifetime character, the likes of which we’ll never see again. Now that the trilogy is over, I’m going to miss him very much.
What else is there left to say, really? The Wheel of Osheim is a masterpiece. You need to read The Red Queen’s War trilogy. The end. Full stop.