Hear ye! Hear ye! Second in the most Festivus of Book Pimping is Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy. It was The Wheel of Osheim, the last in the trifecta, I read this year. This book also has the honour of being the first story I read on my kindle (I have the paperback also, because having only two books of a trilogy sitting in my bookcase makes me twitch – it ain’t pretty).
The Red Queen’s War trilogy is the second in Lawrence’s grimdark series – the first being The Broken Empire trilogy, but there’s no need to read that first as while there is a most excellent crossover in the second series, each trilogy stands alone.
Right then, trilogy equals three books: Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and rounding it out is The Wheel of Osheim ‒ a hell of a tome. Like, doorstop size. Makes sense, there’s a lot to tie up in the final book of a trilogy.
So, what’s this about? I mentioned grimdark earlier, and while there’s always some debate as to what that is, I think the most simple explanation is a story that doesn’t pull punches when it comes the darkest depths of human behaviour. Unapologetic characters who do what they must to survive, to thrive, and let the consequences fall where they may. Redemption? Pfft, spit that from thy mouth!
Don’t ever go into Lawrence’s books looking for a rainbows and unicorns and elves and shit – fantasy this may be, but these worlds are filled with darkness and the dead. It’s really kinda cool. The Red Queen’s War trilogy borrows heavily from the Norse mythos, especially with one of the two main characters: viking Snorri ver Snagason – warrior bard. Snorri holds his own (and then some) with Prince Jalan Kendeth – craven tart. They make quite the pairing. It’s magic that tethers the two together, and ultimately what may tear them, and the world, apart.
I could go on, but here are the back-cover blurbs for each, which are far more succinct than my ramblings above.
Prince of Fools
The Red Queen is old, but the kinds of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson, Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince names Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the while seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.
The Liar’s Key
The eyes of the mighty are on the North. Loki’s key has been found and lies in the hands of a feckless prince and broken warrior. Winter has locked Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxury of his southern palace. The North may be home to the viking, but he is just as eager to leave. However, even men who hold a key that can open any door must wait for the thaw.
As the ice unlocks its jaws, the Dead King moves to claim what was so nearly his. But there are other players in this game, other hands reaching for Loki’s key. Jalan wants only to return to the wine and women of the south, but Snorri aims to find he very door into death and throw it wide. The warrior will challenge all of Hell, if that’s what it takes to bring his wife and children back to the living world. He has found the key – now all he needs is to find the door.
The Wheel of Osheim
All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.
Jalan plans t return to his debauched life of wine, women and wagering. Fate, however, has other plans. Larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. In the end, it’s win or die.
Look, I can’t recommend these books enough. I once described Mark Lawrence thusly: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Once you start with the man’s books, you’re so immersed in the story that your idea of half an hour reading before hitting the sack turns into hours that no amount of coffee can fix the next morning (adulting be hard).
If that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.
Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, grimdark, stabby-stabby, and dead things – there’s a whole lot of dead things.