There were times during the course of the trilogy when I really found myself wondering where THE RED QUEEN’S WAR was going. There were certainly elements that I was sure would get resolution — the ongoing specter of magical doom and the titular monarch’s conflict with the Lady Blue being prominent amongst them — but I admit that I wondered whether the plot would coalesce around these elements or whether it would simply dangle from them. I’m happy to say that my fears were totally unwarranted. The Wheel of Osheim (2016) is not only the best book in the trilogy, it’s probably my favorite Mark Lawrence novel to date. It’s clever, funny, expertly crafted, and even exceeds its predecessors to demonstrate an elegant plot as well.
That plot begins as the cowardly but increasingly likeable Prince Jalan Kendeth falls from the sky pursued by a succubus. Readers will remember that The Liar’s Key ended with Jal and Snorri passing through the magical door into hell, and so we’re left with obvious questions from the get-go. How did Jal escape? Where is Snorri? And, of course, what happened to them in hell? Lawrence reveals the answers to these questions in a series of flashbacks even as Jal works his way back toward the Red March and his long-gestating transformation from cowardly lickspittle to (reluctant, but still more or less genuine) hero.
The Wheel of Osheim has a lot going on, and nearly all of it is satisfactory. After keeping his foot just a little bit on the brake pedal in terms of Jal’s character development in book two, Lawrence opens the floodgates this time around with an incredibly cathartic series of proofs that our favorite redundant princeling really has changed, at least to some extent. Each dangling plot thread is tied up, and none of them in a particularly contrived or perfunctory way. Indeed, Lawrence — always the master of combining the comic and the thrilling — produces a number of extremely memorable scenes, one excellent moment after another, with some adept connective tissue between.
Supporting characters from the previous books return to great effect, and as The Wheel of Osheim progresses, so too does the importance of the plot elements it ties up. The action-packed finale is everything a fan of this series could want, being by turns hilarious, thrilling, and genuinely poignant. Jalan Kendeth began as a largely unlikable figure, and by some alchemy has ended the series as a fitfully lovable one, even as Lawrence never changes the core nature of the character or transforms him into a paragon.
The book does have some minor faults, of course. As with the previous two novels, Lawrence seems to expect that his readers have already read his earlier BROKEN EMPIRE material, and sometimes lingers a shade too long on intertextual fan service (though I imagine it will largely be an issue only for readers who, like myself, have not completed that series). Also, there’s a large battle sequence midway through the book that starts out well but ends up getting a bit overlong and rambling, one of the only places where the otherwise solid pacing falters.
Overall, though, The Wheel of Osheim is a triumphant conclusion to THE RED QUEEN’S WAR, at once the culmination of all that has come before and an excellent action story. By the final chapters, I was sorry to say goodbye to Jalan Kendeth and all his absurd escapades and self-inflicted travails. I’d heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes the work of Mr. Lawrence, or indeed to anyone who enjoys a quick-witted, rollicking fantasy adventure.