Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: "The Wheel of Osheim" by Mark Lawrence

And so ends another tale of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire. Much like the conclusion of his first trilogy, “Emperor of Thorns,” “The Wheel of Osheim” ($27, Ace) brings us a wild finale to the Red Queen’s War.

The book opens with our reluctant hero Prince Jalan Kendeth popping out of Hell through a portal into the middle of the desert with what may be one of the most literary monologues I’ve ever read, and it just gets better from there.

After his unwanted adventure, Jalan thinks he’s punched his ticket back to a comfortable palace life, but he returns home to find anything but. His grandmother, the Red Queen, is prepared to march against her long-time enemy, and she unexpectedly leaves Jalan in a position of power just as the Dead King turns his eyes toward Red March.

It doesn’t take Jalan long to realize how much his travels have changed him, and it’s a good thing because he may be the only person who can prevent the end of the world.

At the end of “Prince of Fools,” the opener of this trilogy, I’ll admit that I didn’t really like Jalan. Unlike Mark Lawrence’s anti-hero Jorg, who I almost immediately liked, it was hard to get behind a shameless coward, and I came away thinking his Norse companion Snorri ver Snagason was the true hero of the tale.

A strange thing started to happen, though, in “The Liar’s Key,” and it’s even more pronounced in “The Wheel of Osheim.” Slowly, we begin to realize that Jalan is not really the coward he thinks he is. Though, he’s certainly quick to still label himself as such, his actions say otherwise.

Of course, this newfound bravery doesn’t take away from Jalan’s fantastic and philosophical quotes on cowardice which alone make this trilogy worth reading. While Jorg pondered deep and dark thoughts in the first trilogy, Jalan’s are filled with equal parts of his own brand of wisdom and hilarity. They’re often laugh-out-loud funny, presenting an interesting contrast to the dire situations that he finds himself in. That said, though, they’re much more than comic relief. They are an integral part of the character and the story.

Speaking of Jorg, it’s only fitting that he and Jalan should cross paths again in “The Wheel of Osheim,” and our hero gets a bit of advice from his brooding counterpart, though he’s hard-pressed to remember it. What that is, though, I’ll leave for you to discover. Though their meeting is brief, it’s an important one for Jalan.

Six books in, and Lawrence has yet to disappoint. His work remains smart, pointed, gritty and filled with dark humor. He’s become easily one of my favorite current authors, and one of those go-to guys who I know will deliver. The tale of Jalan over, he’ll now travel outside the world of the Broken Empire for his next trilogy, which will be a bit different in several ways. Though I’ll miss Jalan and Jorg, after two fantastic tales, I’m happy to follow Lawrence wherever that road leads.

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