Mark 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.