4 out of 5 stars for The Wheel of Osheim. A review with mild spoilers.
So here we have the conclusion of Mark Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War trilogy, the second trilogy set in The Broken Empire, and what a triumph it is!
For me the star of the show is the setting, the world itself; one of my favourite things about these books being that they defy genre. They are generally categorised as Fantasy or pigeonholed as Grimdark ~ a label some readers embrace whilst others remain wary of ~ but really this is Science Fiction, or Science Fantasy, at least (Perhaps I should mention that there’s also a hearty dollop of zombie apocalypse thrown in the mix for good measure…).
Of course, labels shouldn’t really matter other than to indicate to a potential reader the ballpark of content. In the case of The Broken Empire novels it’s a pretty roomy ballpark. If it weren’t for the fact that they are best-sellers, I might lament the labelling as doing a disservice to the story… but still: if you are on the fence and have been put off by the Grimdark label, I would implore you to give these books a go. Sure, there are elements of the story that are certainly “grim” and “dark” (more so in the first book Prince of Thorns than any of the others, so stick with it), but that’s not particularly unusual in fiction… perhaps even less so in non-fiction! I would argue that the overall tone of the story is not at all all doom and gloom. In fact, quite the opposite. I would describe the overall tone more as “desperate optimism in the face of great adversity”. Even young Jorg, the narrator of the first trilogy, though a man forged by darkness and trauma, struggles to reconcile the darkness inside him, remaining philosophical even when succumbing to the path that he must follow.
The Wheel of Osheim is certainly a satisfying conclusion to this duo of trilogies, even though we realise as we turn the last few pages that the overall story isn’t quite done yet. Whether or not the “true” ending (not that there really ever is such a thing) is to remain ambiguous or not remains to be seen, but I do know that next from Lawrence we are getting a new story set in a new world, so we may not find out for some time yet. Still, The Wheel of Osheim has enough action, drama and intrigue to sate the most voracious appetite. Events that have been building/unravelling since the very beginning come to a head in a spectacular fashion – a particular high note is an action-packed city siege – and now I am done, I want to go back to the beginning and examine closer how events from the first trilogy parallel/overlap those in the second trilogy, and what it all might mean if we do eventually get a final book (or trilogy?) to end the tale of The Broken Empire.
Lawrence’s prose is lush, engaging, and concise throughout, and although I sometimes found the first-person perspective limiting – because of my own desire to flit around and see the world and unfolding events from different perspectives – I greatly admire the literary achievement in telling the story this way. Bravo!