The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence (#3 The Red Queen’s War)
The Wheel of Osheim brings to a conclusion the Red Queen’s War by Mark Lawrence and what a bloody brilliant and epic conclusion it is. For those of you who want the TL: DR version of this review I can say from the outset that this is the best book I’ve read for a long time and on top of that a fantastic conclusion to a really great series. For those of you who wish to read on please be aware that this review may contain spoilers for the previous two books in series although I will endeavour to keep it spoiler free.
To be frank I don’t really want to go too much into the plot as I think this will ruin the journey for other readers not to mention the twist in this tale will make your jaw drop. From the book blurb, not to mention the dramatic ending in The Liar’s Key, we know that Prince Jalan and Snorri Ver Snagason have, using Loki’s key, literally gone to Hell or Hel, depending on your system of belief, and are about to face all it’s furies. On top of this we have reached by now a certain understanding of Jalan’s character and it’s fairly obvious that whilst he may consider Snorri a friend he really doesn’t want to stick around for this particular adventure and hankers for a return to his easy and indulgent lifestyle back home. Of course, things rarely go according to plan and in this particular instance the lack of a plan at all really doesn’t help. Like I said, difficult to say too much more so I’ll leave the plot for you to discover on your own.
What I can talk about in this review are the things that for me personally made this book so special. Fantastic world building, characters that are so well developed that they’re conjured before your eyes, imagination and creativity that almost made me weep all tied together with such beautiful writing style that it creates the perfect bundle. The scope is again massive, we look at things from Jalan’s and also Snorri’s point of view (although not as much). We visit the Red Queen and her sister and, without wanting to delve too deeply, finally get to see them in their element. We are introduced again to Lisa DeVeer, not to mention a couple of surprise characters and we travel once more, overland and oversea, across the desert and into the wastelands.
The world created in this series is the same that we encountered reading of Jorg Ancrath in The Broken Empire series and in fact Jalan meets characters and visits places that we’re already familiar with from that series. The world here is one set in the future, I hesitate to use the phrase but I guess you could say it’s a post apocalyptic setting where mans’ own self destructive nature finally laid waste to the landscape we know and this new fractured world eventually took it’s place. This is a world where myth and superstition have grown into a beast of their own, a world of magical possibility and more than that a world where the veil separating the living from the dead is growing thin. What I particularly like about the world building aspect is that I imagine different readers will take away different aspects. For example, if you haven’t read the Broken Empire you might not notice characters making the odd appearance here but this won’t detract from the read and I would definitely say this series can be read without the benefit of having read The Broken Empire first, in fact I would suggest that you could read this series first and then continue on with Jorg’s adventure. On top of this there are no info dumps. None of those little tricks that are sometimes used to offload a history lesson onto the reader. Everything about this is subtle. Little hints that over the course of the book build up a gradual picture.
So, the world may be the same but the characters are certainly not. This is a small group of characters that share very little in common with Jorg and his band of reprobates. Jalan readily admits to his faults, cowardice womanising and other vices and yet in many respects he does himself a disservice. He frequently talks about taking the easy way out but rarely does so and in fact his character has developed massively during the course of his journey with Snorri. In fact this almost has a coming of age feel for Jalan and, could it be, has the Prince developed a conscience. To be honest, whilst he was surrounded by royalty and family – he had little to live up to and actually very few to look up to. In becoming tethered to Snorri both of those things changed and not only did he find a purpose, whether he wanted it or not, he grew up a little and found a friend or two at the same time. Snorri – another excellent character to read about, I absolutely love him. A giant of a man, seemingly fearless and relentless in his pursuit to see his family again. Kara and Hennan also show up again in something of an air punching moment, one that makes you feel like the troops are rallying. In fact, I’m not going to highlight all the characters here. There are other peripheral characters, ones that we’re already familiar with and that even given a limited amount of page space still manage to feel well drawn. The thing is – I care about these characters and this makes the story compelling for me to read.
To the writing. These books are brilliant, they’re intelligent, well plotted, at times very amusing, at times very touching. There’s dramatic fights, undead armies, magic and much more but the absolute star of the show for me is the writing. It’s frankly the style of writing that I enjoy. It sets the frame perfectly, it’s descriptive but not overly so, it has emotional depth tempered with wit. It flows so well that reading it is easy – sometimes you can read a book and have to reread a few paragraphs because you’re puzzled about what you just read or what exactly happened. Not happening here. This story just flows and the writing appears deceptively effortless. In fact, reading this story is one of those few times where you’re totally transported to another place. Books like this are the reason you become hooked on reading – that search for the elusive book and the feeling that you experience whilst reading it! And, if that wasn’t enough it’s so very clever. With both of Mark Lawrence’s series there is an element of needing to read the entirety of the series before you can truly see the full scope of what has been achieved and this is no different.
Every time I pick up one of Mark Lawrence’s books I end up thinking there’s no way he can get any better. I picked up The Wheel of Osheim almost with a feeling of nervous anxiety. How could this storyline possibly be concluded in a satisfactory way? For once I thought that Mr Lawrence had written himself into a corner – there was no way (in Hell or elsewhere) that this book was going to end well – I mean, we have a guy travelling through Hell to find his dead family, we have a world rushing towards it’s own end and a number of people only too anxious to give it a nudge in that direction! And yet here I sit writing a review for a book that not only did I love and am unashamedly gushing about but I would suggest is the author’s best book so far.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book and this series. I think it’s absolutely brilliant and the ending is rather spectacularly twisted. This book is an absolute thrill ride of an adventure that had me gripped to the page and reading late into the night. I only wish I could do it the justice it deserves with this review. I strongly expect that over the next few weeks there will be plenty more gushing from readers who are equally as enamoured as I am – the only thing left to say is do yourself a favour and go pick up a copy.
I received a copy of this from the publishers for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.