The Waking Fire – Hotter Than A Sleeping Ember

25972177I know it’s terrible, but I like puns in my titles. Anthony Ryan caught a lot of flack for Queen of Fire, his final book of The Raven’s Shadow. In the days since I started and finished his new book, The Waking Fire, I have had an alarming number of people come up to me and tell me unasked that they won’t be buying The Waking Fire because of their feelings about Queen. Each and every time I have responded with two comments; judging an author by one book is dumb (I even wrote a post about it), and it is your loss because dear god The Waking Fire is good. I was really nervous to read Ryan’s new book, because regardless of how you feel about Queen, authors often have some trouble breaking into their second major series regardless of how good their first is. I was actually sitting on the subway when I finished my previous book and decided to crack open The Waking Fire and give it a glance. I was so engrossed, so quickly, that I missed my subway stop twice.

So what is The Waking Fire? That is where things get interesting. Ryan’s new book has an enormous scope, and it seamlessly combines three different kinds of novels; spy thriller, military fiction, and an adventure quest. The book is set in a fantasy industrial world where technology is fairly far advanced, but there is still a reliance on magic. Speaking of which, the magic of the book revolves around the consumption of the blood of dragons, of which there are four known types; green, blue, red, and black. By drinking the different blood types, rare individuals can gain incredible powers for a short period of time. The world of The Waking Fire is built on the industrialization of this blood, and the economies of nations ride on the ability to produce the product. The main plot of the book revolves around the hunt for a mythical fifth dragon type, the white, but there are also a number of subplots that run throughout the book that would take too long to list. The book has three major protagonists, one for each of the different categories listed above (spy, military, and adventure). The first is Lizanne, an industrial spy in the employ of a large trade conglomerate, who is tasked with gathering cover knowledge about the location of the white drake. The second is Hilemore, second mate on a ship in employ of the trade conglomerate and tasked with protecting the assets of the company. Finally there is Clay, a younger character from the ghettos who is roped into an adventure to search for the mythical white drake against his will. The book follows each of them separately as they set about their tasks and blends their narratives to tell the full story.

The strengths of The Waking Fire are numerous. The first is that it offers a refreshing and unique setting for a fantasy world with its industrial technology and intense focus on the economy. In addition, the book might be only part spy, part military, and part adventure but it feels like it is an all star novel in each of the genres. The spy craft is intriguing, the military exciting, and the adventure awe inducing. The Waking Fire outperforms books in all three genres, yet doesn’t feel like a mish mash of different books thrown together. Next, the characters are incredible, from protagonist to side characters. I particularly enjoyed the complex relationships that develop all across the book between family, friend, and love interests. The book is also a lot more mature in its philosophies, concepts, and execution than Ryan’s past work. This is a more subtle and clever work than The Raven’s Shadow and I cannot wait to see how it develops. Speaking of which, the plot is good, really good. I don’t really understand how he did it, but somehow Ryan managed to convince me I learned a million things about The Waking Fire as I read it, yet came out feeling like I knew nothing with 1000 questions. It is one of the few books I finished and immediately wanted to reread just to make sure I got everything.

While the positives of the book are numerous, I would be remiss if I did not also talk about the two negatives I encountered. The first is that The Waking Fire really could have benefited from a small synopsis of the different factions at the start of the book. This is a problem that has plagued Ryan in the past, and it took me some time to understand who was working for who and led to some initial confusion. It did not help that my ARC copy did not have this awesome map, but as it was an ARC I can’t dock it points for that.The second is that while the three protagonists stories are all fully realized and equally good, Hilemore’s chapters fall off the face of the Earth (or wherever The Waking Fire takes place)  in the last part of the book and I would have liked a little more time with him than I got.

The Waking Fire is not like Blood Song or the rest of The Raven’s Shadow in the best way possible. Instead Ryan has created a second universe that I like even more than his first and cannot wait to pick up the next installment. With its genre boundary-breaking adventure, The Waking Fire easily will make my list of best books of 2016 and demonstrates that Ryan is more than a one trick pony. The Quill to Live recommends you pick up this fantastic story as soon as you can, and start your own quest for the white drake.

Rating: The Waking Fire – 9.5/10

Mechanical Failure – Literary Success

26850100This year I am spending a little more time trying to read new and upcoming authors. As such, I have identified a few books that I am keeping an eye on as they come out. I like to think of them as ‘Dark Horses’, or books that I know little about, have fairly unknown authors, and I think are likely to be surprise hits. My first dark horse was a bit of a flop, but the second, today’s review, is showing a lot more potential. Please welcome Mechanical Failure, by Joe Zieja, a science fiction comedy about the difficulties of being a space marine. The book follows Wilson Rogers, a ex-military sergeant and complete degenerate, who left the military to pursue more lucrative, and less legal, avenues of income. The book begins with a series of unfortunate events that rapidly results in Rogers’ forced re-entry into the service upon the very ship he used to serve on. Excited to be back at his old stomping ground, Rogers begins to believe that this might not be the worst turn of events. However, things seem a little different from the last time Rogers was in the service and the space marine life seems to be a lot different that it used to be back in the day (a whole few years prior). There have been sweeping changes that make no sense, no one seems to have any idea what is going on, and the space navy has become a lot more difficult than he remembers.

The book’s plot revolves around both Rogers’ reintegration into the service, and his attempt to determine what is going on. The book reminded me strongly of a whole slew of post apocalypse/tragedy games where you try to figure out what happened to create the huge mess you are presented with; except instead of horror Mechanical Failure reaches for humor. The book is quite funny, with a great sense of humor along the lines of the classic Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Rogers is constantly being placed in humorous paradoxes with terrible outcomes. In addition, the book has no problem making fun of several Sci-Fi tropes and can be refreshingly original in many places. While the mystery of what is happening to the ship is fairly obvious, the real power of the book comes from Rogers’ hilarious detective work as he discovers it for himself. The characters are all original, relatable, and interesting, and the prose was simple and clean. The book is very easy to read and I found myself losing track of time as I flew through it.

While the book was consistently laugh-out-loud funny, it did very occasionally miss a beat with its humor causing me to cringe. In addition, this is the first book I have read in awhile that had a few noticeable typos; though they were almost completely contained to the first third of the book. Mechanical Failure definitely could have benefited by one more full pass from an editor, but I never found the errors egregious or that offputting. Finally, there were a few minor elements of the plot that were confusing or unexplained, but as this is only the first book in a series, and the focus was more on the laughs than the plot itself, I wasn’t really bothered.

Mechanical Failure is definitely worth picking up. It is a first entry Zieja can be proud of, and I will definitely be picking up the sequels. It is rare that I find a book that makes me laugh as much as this did, and while there are some problems, the humor makes them extremely easy to overlook or ignore. If you like science fiction or laughing (so everyone) then this is a book worth your time and Zieja is an author worth watching, as I expect him to continue making great things.

Rating: Mechanical Failure – 8.0/10

The Winter King – Sometimes You Need The Audiobook

68520Right off the bat I am going to say The Winter King, by Bernard Cornwell, is probably a bit too long and could use a thorough editing. Why am I starting with this point you ask? Well funny story, The Winter King is my book club’s book this month, and I had an eight hour drive to do, so I decided to pick it up on audio book. I was able to listen to all seven hours of The Winter King, go to a book club discussion about it, hit every single plot point, and then find out I had an abridged copy of the book that is only a third the size of the normal novel. If you can read a third of a book and come out with the same experience as someone reading the entire thing, you might need an editor.

Getting back on track, let me tell you a little about the book first. The Winter King is a historical fiction novel about King Arthur’s Legend, written as though it were history and not myth. The story follows Arthur after his childhood and begins when he has come to one of the many thrones of England. The book picks during the time where he tried to band together all the English provinces and recreate a whole England in the wake of its shattering by Rome. The purpose of the book is to ‘tell it how it is’ and give the ‘accurate’ accounting of Arthur’s legend. Our protagonist is the flawed narrator Derfel (pronounced apparently something like Dervo, don’t get me started) who is one of Arthur’s right hand men. We see Arthur’s life through his worshipping eyes and watch him grow up to help build Arthur’s legend.

The positives and difficulties of this book are actually quite clear. On the one hand, the book does a brilliant job of making Arthur feel like a real person that existed. All of the incredible feets and people in the legend are brought to life and feel real enough that you will think you are reading a history book. The characters are deep, interesting, and flawed and help drive the deeper philosophical idea behind the book: that these noble knights were actually just people; and often really shitty people who just had ballads written to cover up their awfulness. Through Derfel’s eyes we get to see him exalt Arthur’s victories to exaggerated heights, and sweep Arthur’s failings under the rug to be ignored. The narration is brilliant, and the book would be worth reading just for it. However there are also some pretty clear difficulties.

I call them difficulties because while they are not necessarily problems, there is a lot about The Winter King that makes it hard to read. To begin with I didn’t read TWO THIRDS of the book and didn’t notice, so as you can guess the pacing is slow and often can drag a lot as Cornwell describes everything. Next we have the names, which can be next to impossible to keep track of or even read in the first place. My personal favorite is Gorfyddyd (pronounced Gore-Vuv-Vid) which no one could read unless they read the audio book. In addition, while the medieval battles might have been written hyper realistically, they tended to be boring as sin (with one or two exceptions). I understand that swordfighting in the era involved two men standing still and thwapping each other’s ankles for two hours until one of them bleed out and keeled over, but I do not need every battle to completely realistic. However, the good news about most of these problems is they are immensely alleviated by the audio book version of The Winter King, read by Jonathan Keeble. Keeble frankly is incredible and might have sold me on audio books single handedly.

The Winter King is my first book to have two different ratings, one for the audiobook and one for the written version. It reminded me a lot of David Gemmell’s Troy trilogy in which Gemmell retells the story of the Iliad as though it were historical fiction. However, I believe Gemmells simple and direct writing style serves to make reading Troy a more enjoyable experience. Still, The Winter King certainly wasn’t bad and if you have some patience for a slow paced book you might find it’s right up your alley.

Rating: The Winter King – audio – 8.0/10
The Winter King – written – 6.0/10

The Fastidious Reader – Is An Author Responsible For His Plot?

silosagaI had a strange experience recently as I finished Dust, the last of Hugh Howey’s Silo trilogy. I was about 60% of the way through the book when I realized that there was absolutely no way the book could end that would leave me happy or satisfied. Unsurprisingly, I finished the book and one of the two endings I imagined came about and I found myself very unsatisfied. After the conclusion of the book, I spent some time and starting tracing the plot back to the point of no return that lead to this ending, looking for what I would have changed to make it a “better” book. It took some time, but I eventually realized that the point of no return was the first page of the trilogy, this was a story that had been barrelling towards this page from the start. My first gut reaction was to write off the series as not good to me personally, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that I had some expectations that were likely wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the plot of Silo mechanically. The pieces are all nicely woven together, the plot follows the world’s logic, and the story accomplishes what I believe Howey set out to do; I just didn’t like it. It took some time for me to separate it out, but I realize that Wool is a good book that I probably shouldn’t have read, as I was doomed to dislike it from the start through no fault of the author.

When reviewing novels, I hold the author responsible for a variety of different things and I subtract points for failing to follow through in a number of areas. These things boil down to a combination of mechanical writing skill, creating convincing immersive stories, establishing a clear logic and order to the book’s world, and following the established logic. If an author fails to explain the setting they are in, or has characters that do not feel real, or has plot twists that make absolutely no sense within the world, I will deduct points. However, a reader should never fault a book because the author’s story doesn’t match their taste or expectations. An example of this can clearly be seen in the reaction to the sequels to the popular Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan. I feel that the second and third books in The Raven’s Shadow are perfectly respectable books in their own right, however fans of Blood Song tend to decry the sequels as they did not match their expectations and Ryan decided to take his series in a different direction. Does that make the books bad? Well many fans reading the sequels didn’t enjoy it, so it objectively could be said that they were bad. On the other hand, if readers managed their expectations (not that the book was good, but how the book was going to go) they might find they enjoy a lot more of the books they read.

One of the editors for this blog is really good at separating his expectations for a novel from the overall quality of a book. He recently read The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, and came back to the rest of the editors with a surprising opinion; he didn’t like it. When asked to expand on his feelings, he explained that “while he would recommend the book to anyone who asked, he just didn’t like certain aspects, characters, and places. Although the book was incredibly well written, it just wasn’t for him and his opinion could be safely ignored, though he likely would not be reading on as he wasn’t having fun”. In the end I find that he has some wisdom I could have used. While I really didn’t like Wool, Dust, or Shift by Hugh Howey, I can’t in good conscience punish an author for simply telling the story he wanted. I don’t like the Silo trilogy, but it is excellently written so maybe you will.

Age of Myth – A New Era Of Sullivan

17664893Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favorite authors. Not only is he generally a great guy, but he also wrote one of my top series, The Riyria Revelations. The books are about as middle the road fantasy as they come, containing elves, magic, swords, dragons, sorcerers, and everything else you need for your generic cliche fantasy book. Except, the books are about as far from generic or cliche as possible. The Riyria Revelations are the home cooked meal of fantasy, something made with warmth and heart, something that simply tastes better than when anyone else makes it. The setting is great, the characters are great, and the plot is great. It is an incredible introductory series to the genre for new adult readers, and they will renew your faith in the classics in the face of all the bland LotR knock-offs in the world. The first three books Sullivan wrote follow the lovable duo of Hadrian and Royce, and readers loved them so much that Sullivan wrote three more prequels about them. However, now Sullivan is beginning a new series that is mostly independent of its predecessors, and I was eager to see what he could do with a new slate. Thanks to Netgalley I was able to get my hands on the new book, Age of Myth, early in exchange for the following unbiased review.

Age of Myth is the first of a five part series about the initial interactions between elves, dwarves, and humans. The story follows the POVs of several characters, but primarily focuses on a few humans dealing with the fallout of violating a treaty with the elves by entering their land. The elves are a superior race with god like skills and abilities and the humans find themselves scrambling to preserve their entire existence after offending their betters. If this plot sounds familiar, it is because you’ve read it roughly a million times before. However, as I said before about The Riyria Revelations, Sullivan sets the bar high for neo-classical fantasy, and Age of Myth is no exception. As with his previous novels, the power of the story is less from its setting and more from its cast of loveable characters. I will not spoil them for you here, but the main group of protagonists consists of about six characters from different walks of life that have a synergy to them that makes them a joy to read. The characters are just plain fun, while also being deep enough to keep you wanting more. There was not a single character in the story, from side character to antagonist, that I genuinely didn’t just enjoy reading about. The dialogue is laugh out loud funny and everyone feels like people you know in your life.

A particular thing I want to give Sullivan credit for is that in Age of Myth, it feels like he has learned from past mistakes and weaknesses in the Riyria series. The book as a whole simply feels more polished. The pacing is more even than his earlier novels and the world and cultures are more fleshed out. Sullivan managed to make his world more appealing in this new entry, while still keeping the characters as captivating as in his other work. There is something clean about the book that really spoke to me. While there are no outlandish reveals, there are some nice twists and turns and the narrative is expertly woven so that the book flows from one scene to the next while keeping you excited and invested. The trials that the protagonists face seem small compared to lots of other fantasy novels, but this makes the story feel more human and relatable more than anything else. Hell, one of the antagonists is a bear and it was terrifying. Age of Myth somehow manages to feel fantastical and down to Earth at the same time, which is nothing short of magical.

My complaints about Age of Myth are just a few bits of nitpicking. One small issue I had with the book is that I wish the perspectives felt slightly more even. There were a few POVs I wish I got to hear from more, but at the same time I get the sense that Sullivan intentionally kept us out of a few characters’ heads to keep things from us, so I suspect this complaint will be remedied in future books. My other problem with the story is that sometimes the pacing actually felt a little too fast. I tore through the book, and when I found myself at the end I wished I had gotten a little more page time with various characters at certain scenes.

However, my complaints are extremely minor and at the end of the novel I found dread sinking in when I realized how long I will have to wait for book two, Age of Swords. With Age of Myth, I feel like I got to see an improved and more mature Sullivan who has only gotten better with each writing experience he tucked under his belt. Not only is Age of Myth his best book yet, I get the sense that this is only the beginning of a series I am going to enjoy a lot. The Quill to Live enthusiastically recommends Age of Myth, and I suspect it will likely be on this year’s top 10 list.

Rating: 9.0/10

The Summer Dragon – Stunning And Shallow

00-01-cover_medTodd Lockwood is an incredibly talented artist, known both for his fantasy book covers and art in other areas such as Magic The Gathering. After decades of drawing covers for other fantasy books, he has tried his hand at writing his own; The Summer Dragon. The Summer Dragon is one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. Not only is its cover stunning, but the book is filled with a variety of illustrations, also done by Lockwood, depicting various pivotal scenes. With such a lovely exterior, the real question is how does the interior of the book hold up by comparison? Before I answer that, let me talk about the premise.

The Summer Dragon follows the story of Maia, a young dragon breeder who raises dragons to fuel the war engine of an empire. However, the war is not going well. The enemy nation has started to create nightmarish horrors that are dominating battle fields, and the demand for dragons to fight these new demons is skyrocketing. This is difficult news for Maia as she was hoping to recieve a young dragon of her own to raise. However, a short ways into the book Maia sees the Summer Dragon, a “high” dragon of religious significance who symbolizes change, and her life begins to rapidly do just that. I was hooked by the premise of The Summer Dragon. I love dragons, and a book about raising them only made me more excited. However, despite its great premise and gorgeous illustrations, The Summer Dragon had continuous problems that resulted in me ending fairly unfulfilled with it as a book.

To begin with, the characters are one-dimensional. Maia is defined by her want and need to have a dragon to raise, and not much else. She seems like she is desperate for you to like her, which had the opposite effect on me. Maia has the standard cliche pity-party backstory for many characters across genres: she did something dumb, her mother insulted her, and then subsequently died. If this seems like a callous description of the events it is because Maia brings this up about every five pages and is so unconvincing in her self-hate that it made me audibly groan. On a related note, I never really felt fully invested in Maia’s story, which only made it harder to immerse myself in her character. A large portion of the conflict in the book stems from Maia’s inability to just wait a year to get a dragon. While Lockwood puts some effort into creating reasons why she needs one immediately, I never really bought into it and this results in Maia seeming more like a spoiled child than someone fighting for her life.

One thing I initially liked, but changed my mind on over the course of the book, was the religion in the story. At the beginning of the book the dragon based religion seemed refreshing and interesting. However, as the story progressed you begin to learn that there are two religions; a thinly veiled dragon Christianity that is evil, and a sort of dragon spiritualism based on the circle of life that is good. I am atheist and have no dog in this fight, but even to me it was a bit heavy handed. In addition, the pacing was almost glacial. Despite being a fairly large book, not a lot happens in its 500-ish pages. A good amount of time and space is devoted to describing events and tasks that seem unimportant, and some of the scenes go on for entirely too long. One of the action scenes slowly moved from exciting to boring for me simply because it was too long and drawn out.

I think the real problem I had with The Summer Dragon, is that it is a young adult book targeted at young woman and I had no idea. The marketing on the book did not make that apparent, and I went into it judging it as a classical epic fantasy. I feel as though young female readers could really enjoy this book and it could definitely be a huge hit with that demographic. However, it did not stand up to its expectations and I was sad to find out that such a stunningly beautiful book could also be so shallow. The Quill to Live does not recommend The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood.

Rating: 3.5/10

“Collaborative Creative Fiction” – Why You Should Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The [REDACTED]

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It’s starting to warm up here in Chicagoland. The birds are chirping, the grass is growing, the sun is occasionally showing its face, and the scent of thawing dog shit is filling the air. You can understand why this is my absolute favorite time of the year. Now that we have that out of the way, as we start to make our way into the golden days of summer, I find myself longing for the shorter, darker days of autumn and the spooky stories that brings.

I have been a huge fan of horror writing for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark being read around campfires, and less fond memories of the hours I spent later those nights staring out my window in expectation of some supernatural horror coming for my soul. Perhaps these experiences scarred me somehow, instilling a kind of Stockholm syndrome in me. “No, I love being scared….totally.”

I also have a fondness for novel window dressings. I love distinct storytelling formats and the unique constraints that authors writing within them have to deal with. It should be no surprise then, to those that are aware of it, that I am an avid reader of the SCP Foundation wiki. For anyone reading this that have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the Wikipedia definition: The SCP Foundation is a collaborative creative fiction writing website that describes the exploits of the SCP Foundation, a fictional organization responsible for containing entities, locations and objects that violate natural law. It is essentially one part creepypasta, one part science fiction, one part lab report.

The website is essentially a large group roleplaying exercise, wherein the authors take on the roles of researchers and agents working for “The Foundation”, a worldwide, multi-planetary, trans-dimensional organization with the objective of Securing, Containing, and Protecting entities, objects, and places that don’t behave in the way they should. These range from vending machines that can dispense anything to some of the most horrific entities you can imagine. While the concept of a secret non-governmental organization operating behind the scenes to keep us safe from various boogins isn’t exactly one of a kind, the vehicle through which these stories are told is. Each individual SCP file, or skip, is given a numerical label and filed in the website in the form of a lab or field report. Within this report, they are given a classification that describes the level of difficulty in containment, what measures must be taken to maintain containment, and what anomalous behavior is manifested by each skip.

The dedication to the website’s conceit is such that each file has a variable amount of it redacted or blacked out, maintaining the illusion that the reader is a member of the foundation with limited access to certain files. By using this technique, the authors are able to “hide the shark”. Any avid fan of horror knows that the terror in your mind is always more intense than the terror you can see, and authors on the site use this with a great deal of efficacy. By covering up the details of various anomalous effects on victims, or various procedures, the author is able to let the reader decide just how sympathetic they want the Foundation to be.

All is not peaches and cream in the various Foundation facilities though, as in order to understand how anomalous objects and beings function and interact with their environment, tests must be undertaken. These tests are, frequently, horrific and gruesome. The reader is quickly shown that the Foundation, while acting for the greater good, is almost an example of pure philosophical utilitarianism. Due to the danger presented by the majority of the skips they encounter, the Foundation employs a variety of criminals that are given the designation of “D-Class”. These D-class are used as a sort of cannon fodder. They are used to guard dangerous skips, they are experimented on, and they are frequently killed in a huge variety of absolutely awful ways. It is in the interactions with D-Class that we see something of the true heart of the Foundation. The researchers directing these convicts are often shown to be cold and heartless scientific monsters, for example, forcing them to walk into an endless maze that they know there is no escape from, just to see what’s inside.

It is only in the asides, the journal entries and personal notes often included as “Addendum” near the bottom of each individual SCP report, that we see the conflict going on inside these characters. The conflict is visible in the suicide note of a researcher who has sent someone to their death, or the request for a transfer to a less dangerous skip due to an inability to deal with the consequences of one’s research. We are supposed to see that the researchers are humans, humans who believe that what they are doing is truly for the greater good.

The reports are entertaining to the extreme, and incredibly creative. I think, however, that in reading these reports, of which there are thousands, we as readers are asked the question: how far is too far? There are several places on the site that do not deal with skips, and instead deal with the organization itself. There is a piece explaining what the Ethics Committee actually does, and it is especially hard hitting for me. When the author is relating exactly how difficult their job is, the job of determining what the “line” is that the Foundation cannot cross, the reader is also asked what they think is “too far” when the stakes being played for are the continuity of reality and all life on earth. When the stakes are this high, can there be a “too far”?

With the advent of Amazon Kindle, and the ease of self-publishing, it has never been easier to get independent writing to the public. The SCP Wiki, and sites like it, are another option for aspiring writers to flex their creative muscles. With an active community commenting and voting on submissions, a healthy and robust set of rules for aspiring contributors, and a very distinct style that will force a content creator to use every tool at their disposal to create something fresh and exciting, the SCP Wiki is a must read for any fan of horror and a must-visit for any aspiring independent writer. If your time is limited, look at the top posts of all time. There is something for everyone here, and I cannot recommend falling into this alternate reality highly enough.

Rating [REDACTED]/10

-Will

The Wheel of Osheim – A Different Kind Of Hero

27154427Mark Lawrence and I have an interesting relationship. As I talked about in my review of Prince of Fools, when I finished his first trilogy, The Broken Empire, I was immensely disappointed with how he chose to close out the story. The final book, Emperor of Thorns, put him on my blacklist and it was only when I decided to check out Prince of Fools on a whim that my opinion of him went through another shift. With my faith in him renewed, and my memories of Emperor lurking in my thoughts, I was extremely nervous to start The Wheel of Osheim. The final installment of The Red Queen’s War trilogy, I was concerned that I might have another unpleasant ending or that the finale might not live up to the quality of writing Lawrence demonstrated in Prince of Fools, and The Liar’s Key. However, Lawrence proved my fears to be unfounded. While I think The Wheel of Osheim is the weakest book in the trilogy, it is still one of the best books I have read this year.

For once I am going to start with my problems with the book, of which I had three. The following has spoilers for The Liar’s Key, you have been warned. When we left Jalan and Snorri at the end of book two, they had both entered into the door to death and their fates were unknown. The Wheel of Osheim picks up a short time later as Jalan is vomited out of a portal in the sky into the Sahara desert and begins to make his way home to The Red March. Jalan and Snorri’s time inside the realm of death is not immediately explained, but instead told in snippets throughout the entirety of the book. While this did make the book more suspenseful, it can also make The Wheel of Osheim’s pacing and narration a bit jarring at times and I would have preferred to just experience the events as they happened. The second problem I had with the narration is that I feel as Lawrence did not do enough back end work to establish some of Jalan’s skills on occasion. We are told he has received extensive training in a variety of pursuits throughout the book giving him some skill, but we only find out what that training was when the skill in question is used. This can occasionally lead to a deus ex machina where Jalan seemingly has the exact skill he needs to survive at pivotal moments. Finally, my last problem is that I feel the book needed a longer epilogue, or simply another chapter or two so that I could see the effects character’s action had on the world at the end of the book. The book felt like it ended too soon and I was left wanting more.

However, I say the best criticism a book can get is that I wish there was more of it. Despite the small problems I listed above, The Wheel of Osheim has a lot going for it. Most central to my praise is the growth and development of the protagonist Jalan. When I was introduced to the selfish, cowardly, and reprehensible Jalan in Prince of Fools I was really curious to see where Lawrence would go with him. Jalan was unlikable, but he was not so unlikable that I had trouble immersing myself in his character and relating to him. On top of this, he was consistently funny which made it fun to be along for the ride. I expected Lawrence to take Jalan on a path of improvement as the books went on, but what Lawrence achieved was actually much more impressive. Lots of authors like to have protagonists who are filled with self loathing, but often just feel like they are fishing for compliments as they lament how awful they are while saving a burning orphanage from mecha-Hitler. Jalan instead almost feels brutally honest with himself all the time, and it makes him much more likable, relatable, and made me more forgiving of his flaws. On top of this, Lawrence manages to have Jalan grow and become a better person while also not changing his core identity, which I found thrilling to read. Jalan continues to see himself as this awful person and doesn’t realize when he is slowly edging into benevolent or selfless acts, and it has this profound effect of making me love him all the harder.

While I had some small problems with the order events were told in, the pacing of the book felt extremely fast and exhilarating. Lawrence continues to impress as he sculpts new and creative nightmares for his protagonists to encounter, and I really feel like he was getting the most out of his setting in this trilogy compared to The Broken Empire. The action takes a large step up in the third installment, and Lawrence has shown some noticeable improvement in how he writes his action scenes. The ending was also quite enjoyable, and I left the series wanting more of Jalan and excited to see what the future entails for him and Jorg.

With some minor hiccups, The Wheel of Osheim provided a great end to a great trilogy. Jalan is one of the most memorable and enjoyable protagonists I have read in a while, and I want to see more of him. As I was once a Mark Lawrence detractor, you can trust me when I say that this is a book series worth picking up and will have you laughing, crying, and on the edge of your seat from start to finish. The Quill to Live recommends both The Wheel of Osheim, and The Red Queen’s War as a whole.

Rating: The Wheel of Osheim – 8.5/10
The Red Queen’s War – 9.0/10

This book was provided as an advanced copy for an honest review from Netgalley.