I knew while reading The Wheel of Osheim that I would have trouble reviewing it. The reason? I’m a total fanboy of author Mark Lawrence. I picked up his debut novel, Prince of Thorns, a little later than most people, but once started, I was addicted. I raced through that first trilogy, and I have devoured this second trilogy.
So all I can do is put this disclaimer up front. Take my review with a grain of salt if you want, but the fact that I have snatched up six of Lawrence’s books, and the fact that I will continue to grab everything he writes as soon as possible should tell you how much I enjoy reading his stuff. The Wheel of Osheim is no exception. If you’re not reading Lawrence, you’re missing out out on one of the premier talents in fantasy.
Readers finished the second book in the Red Queen’s War trilogy, The Liar’s Key, on a cliffhanger, standing at the doorway to hell. But The Wheel of Osheim doesn’t pick up right where book two left off. Instead, it jumps forward a bit, only filling in the gaps with flashbacks.
And once Jalan gets out of hell (relax, it’s really not a spoiler, it happens immediately), he finds his way back home after a run-in with Jorg, Lawrence’s other protagonist. But danger lurks in Vermillion. The Red Queen and the Blue Lady prepare to end their war and possibly the world. The Wheel of Osheim turns faster and faster. Should it be stopped, buying the world a brief reprieve, or should it be sped up, in the hopes of saving a few? Jalan (and the rest of the crew, now reunited) journey to the heart of the Wheel and face the ultimate decision.
What I Thought
While I would understand if some readers were upset with not starting in Hell or going half a book without Snorri, I liked these decisions for a couple of reasons. First, Lawrence loves to surprise readers and upset conventions. Picking up immediately in Hell was the predictable choice. Second, this trilogy, and this book in particular, reveals how Jalan, originally the cowardly heel, has grown and matured.
Over the course of this trilogy–and, again, this book in particular–Jalan has experienced several adventures and misadventures that have changed him in dramatic ways. Yes, he still prefers to lose himself in the bottom of a cup or in a woman’s bed, but he’s started to care for others, and if he doesn’t run toward danger, he at least doesn’t run away like he used to. Which is all to say that I loved watching Jalan face hard decision after hard decision, temptation after temptation, as he steps closer and closer to the edge of things. It’s quite a different arc from Jorg, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Lawrence once again shows off his clever world building, revealing more about the Builders and their experiments (another big surprise). Although zombies are quite popular, Lawrence creates a horrific spin on an undead army. And he also shows off his humor once again. Yes, there are dark moments, but this book made me laugh very often.
Bottom line: if you’ve never picked up Lawrence, fix that. If you’ve been enjoying this trilogy, breathe easy. Lawrence sticks the landing. This is a tremendous ending to a fantastic series. Lawrence has earned a place on every fantasy reader’s bookshelf. While I hate to say goodbye to the Broken Empire, I can’t wait to read Lawrence’s next book.