Disclaimer: possible spoilers for the previous books in the series – I’ll try to keep them to a minimum!
Title: The Wheel of Osheim
Series: The Red Queen’s War #3
Author: Mark Lawrence
Snorri is finally getting closer to finding his family again, but Jalan is not with him.
Somehow, prince Jalan has already escaped hell and is bent on going back home and forgetting all about Red Queens, Blue Ladies, Dead Kings and the like. He only wants his life of pleasure and idleness back. But more responsibilities await him when he’s finally home, and despite his cowardice, Jalan is forced to man up and prove that he is a Prince of Red March after all.
A closer look
This was a satisfying conclusion to Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War series.
Before we delve into the story, a second warning: as much as I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, I would not be able to talk about this book at all without referencing things that happened in the previous two volumes. So if you don’t want to know absolutely anything about those, I’d recommend reading them and then coming back here. As for this book in particular, as usual I’ll do my best to stay away from spoilers.
Now let’s get back to the review.
After the cliffhanger the second book ended on, I could not wait to find out what was going to happen to Jalan and Snorri. Imagine my surprise when the book opened and Jalan was spat out of hell, alone, and we didn’t have any explanation! But of course Mark Lawrence had everything planned for us. Just as with the other two books in the series, the story is split into two timelines: one is the present, starting with Jalan coming back from hell; the other one is the recent past, that’s to say, everything that happened since the end of the second book up until the beginning of this one.
I understand the choice: as much as I love Jalan, I really wanted to know about hell, so the thought that the author might give me some snippets here and there was added motivation to fly through the story.
This is not to say that I didn’t care about what Jalan was doing: I really loved his character, especially in this last novel, and being in his head again was as always a fun experience. You won’t find a prince with an internal monologue as ironic as that of Jalan Kendeth, even in the worst situations. Even though once again we find ourselves on the road as Jalan goes home, he goes through a few interesting adventures and encounters and the journey is not overlong. One encounter in particular, with a drunk prince in a smoky tavern, will give Jalan the insight to solve one of his lifelong problems once and for all, and I honestly loved it – both the encounter, and even more the resolution.
Once again, Snorri is absent for most of the novel. But this time, instead of reappearing over halfway through the novel, we meet him every time Jalan thinks back to his experience in hell, so we end up not missing him nearly as much as we did during the second novel. I also really liked the way he came back into the present timeline, and not a moment too soon.
Hell is an interesting place; to use Snorri’s explanation, it’s a place shaped by the beliefs of the people in it, so for him it holds all the myths and legends of Norse religion, while for Jalan it has more Christian aspects. I think the idea could have been explored and developed more, to be honest. I won’t go into much detail because I think everyone who has read the end of The Liar’s Key is dying to know, and it’s a much better experience to find out by oneself.
Aside from the past timeline and Jalan’s journey to Vermilion, most of the book focuses on a single event: the attack of the Dead King on the capital do the Red March. Jalan, in the new role of marshal, is tasked with the defence of the city, and it’s absolutely amazing. One would think that spending so much time on a single battle would be boring: nothing could be farther from the truth. Jalan’s personal growth from the previous two books is palpable in this portion of the story. The way he oversees the defence, he throws himself in the action, and in general the way he consciously puts his cowardice aside is brilliant and absolutely deserved. Even the way his relationship with his brothers is strengthened by the assault is proof of just how much he has changed from the whiny prince he was in the first novel.
The stakes of the battle are super-high, so much so that the climax of the book pales by comparison.
This does not mean that the ending of the book isn’t satisfying by any means: even though it’s another journey (yes, you read that right), even though both Hennan and Kara have little to no weight on the resolution, even though the shadows of Jalan’s old personality come back in full force, it still hold tension and I feel there wouldn’t have been any other way of ending the story in a satisfactory way.
While the second novel in the series suffered a bit from second book syndrome, this one was a big improvement on that, the best one of the series in my opinion. And I just found out that there’s a novella that’s only included in the Grim Oak Press omnibus limited edition, which is – needless to say – way to expensive for me to get at this moment. So I’m praying that it’ll be available, maybe in ebook form, some time in the future.
Until then, this will have to be enough.