The Wheel of Osheim

Title: The Wheel of Osheim

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued.

For Jalan Kendeth, getting out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. The key can open any lock an possession of it may enable Jal to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his debauched life: wine, women and wagering.

But 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.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: From my review of the previous book in this series, The Liar’s Key:

“[I’m] very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.”

Let me tell you… I was not disappointed.

Jalan is just… one of my favourite characters ever, actually. His self-deception is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s convinced himself he’s a coward who’d give up his nearest and dearest to save his own skin, while continuing to never, ever do that, and he’s just so likeable for it. Seeing him really, truly come into his own and show people what he’s capable of (even if he’s not one of those people) was satisfying to see. And Snorri… the big, beautiful, bozo that is Snorri. Continuing to see and believe only the best in Jal, being so righteous and noble and good, and just having the biggest heart and the loudest roar.

The friendship between Jal and Snorri really shines in this book, after seeing them bond over so many adventures in the previous books. And the fact that they’re not together for a portion of the book only made me appreciate their interactions and how they work together all the more. It also was wonderful having some of Snorri’s story when he was alone, and getting to see what Snorri really thinks of Jal and no i did not tear up with happiness about it, shut up.

Unfortunately Kara and Hennan still feeling too much like tacked on extras and plot devices, rather than fully realised characters. Kara still comes across as very suspicious and not wholly likable, which disappointed me. Hennan is too quiet and not utilised in enough (or in any?) ways until he proves useful towards the climax of the book (see: plot device). It was nice getting to appreciate more characters that had been painted as worthless or horrible by Jal, most notably the genuine connection Jal finally recognises and acknowledges with his father and brothers. The Red Queen continues to be a kick arse and formidable woman, along with her twin siblings. I loved Jal letting his mouth run, standing up to her and instead of giving her the key, giving her what for! The sudden respect that earns him from her, and how that leads and affects the rest of the story is brilliant.

Talking of the story… it is non-stop. What Liar’s Key lacked in a plot to keep the book moving, this book improved on tenfold. There is never a dull moment… almost to the point of wanting a dull moment. Almost. It was unnerving at first, Jal reappearing from Hell without Snorri and no explanation. I was worried about Snorri until his magnificent reappearance that literally had me whooping. There was just no let up… Jal’s meeting with Jorg, his rescue of Lisa, how he conclusively dealt with Maeres Allus, how he earned everyone’s respect by being a freaking incredible general (after convincing himself he’d done a half-arsed job of it up until they were attacked)… just. So much. And that’s only in the first half.

There was a lot packed into this book, and even though I knew there would be confrontations for Jal with Edris Dean and his Unborn sister… when they came they surprised me. With so much going on I stopped thinking about what might happen and just needed to keep reading to actually find out. I was a bit ‘meh’ on the ending of Lawrence’s first series The Broken Empire, but this one was brilliant. It was satisfying with enough possibility to keep me guessing. It had relief without compromising on emotion and genuinely high stakes. It was pretty perfect.

Other than the witty, clever, and endlessly quotable writing, the genre of these book is my absolute favourite thing about them. It’s a perfect science fiction and fantasy meld. I love it. Set a thousand years after a nuclear war that happens in our conceivable future, it hints at a history and technology the characters don’t fully understand. I had so much fun trying to figure out what Jal was describing, because they don’t have a clue. A white cube with “ghosts” inside. The builder’s wheel that’s been turning all this time and bringing magic into the world. And my personal favourite… a freaking iron pineapple!! This is such a good, niche genre, and I want 100 more books written in this vein immediately.

I read this book in a week which, along with Prince of Thorns, is the quickest I’ve read any of the books in either series. I could barely stop reading it, and when I did I was only thinking about reading it. It’s incredible how everything ties up with The Broken Empire series and I really want to re-read both series with the insight I now have. Of course, who has time for that when I need to be getting on with the next series?

The Liar’s Key

Title: The Liar’s Key

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The Red Queen has set her players on the board…

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave.

For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hel to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Prince of Fools last year, and I was determined to read this series quicker than I managed to read The Broken Empire series. Which is why The Liar’s Key was the first book i picked up this year. Lawrence’s writing is always clever and an effortless mix of humour and heart. This book was no different.

Our main character, Jalan, was just as much a delightful prick as he was in the first book. Self-declared squeamish coward, but with so much self-deceit he almost has no idea who he really is. He continues to do brave and noble things, while convincing himself he’s selfishly just trying to make his own life easier. I kind of adore him. Snorri is… still very much Snorri. Self-assured, headstrong, and… the regular kind of strong. Dragging his friends across Europe on a dangerous quest to open the door to Hel and find his dead family. Tuttugu i didn’t remember clearly from the first book, but i adored in this book. A kind, soft heart following his countryman and friend into dangerous situations because it’s the right thing to do.

We also get a couple of new characters. Kara, a witch who joins their journey and helps them along the way, but who clearly has something to hide. I loved having a main female character join the group, and i loved her immunity to Jal’s “charms” and advances. Her secrets and unclear motivations were intriguing, but also made me wary of her. Hennan, a young boy they pick up almost randomly and pointlessly along the way… for a long time he was a bit part, barely speaking and adding nothing to the plot. But he grew on me by the end.

Now, this book took me the entirety of January to read. That’s not usual. Most other of Lawrence’s books i’ve finished in 2-3 weeks. But this one… this one took a while to really get going for me. The first half… nothing really happens. Nothing of larger consequence, anyway. It’s a meander. A travel blog. They get into some hairy situations, meet a few folk along the way… but there is nothing significant driving the plot. Only Snorri’s desire to use the key to open the door to Hel and find his family… which isn’t shared by our main character… or any other character. This led to there not being much drive for me to pick up the book to keep reading. I still read regularly, but I didn’t read much each time–only one chapter or less.

I really enjoyed Jal’s dream-jaunts into his family’s past. Seeing his grandmother, the Red Queen, as a young girl so ruthless and ready for action. His great aunt and uncle by their sister’s side, the three of them an almost unstoppable force, even at such a young age. Those snippets gave Jal and the reader so much more information about the war being fought, the motivations, and actions, and just how long the game has been in play.

It wasn’t until about halfway through that things really seemed to pick up some. When their journey brought them to Red March, and Jal saw his home town as the end of his travels. Of course, as the reader, it was obviously anything but. But seeing him trying to slip back into his old life, while finding nothing quite the same as it was and not deriving the same pleasures from it… that was brilliant to watch unfold. The story culminates in Florence, and the last 200 pages were where this book really shone for me–I couldn’t read those last 10 chapters quick enough!

As much as a lot of this book seemed too slow and meandering, it ended on such a high, with a great final showdown of wits and smarts and conversation. It has me very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.

Prince of Fools

Title: Prince of Fools

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendreth–womaniser, gambler and all-out cad–is tenth in line to the thrown. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures.

Until, that is, he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axeman, and dragged against his will to the icy north…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: After loving Lawrence’s first series set in The Broken Empire, of course i was going to read the second. I’m just surprised it took me so long.

I just really love this setting. This is a fantasy story, with necromancers, magic, and horse riding… but it’s set in a Europe that’s 1000 years post a nuclear war. There’s a trusty map at the start of the book, but the shapes and names are recognisable and familiar. I get so much more into the world of this book, knowing it’s this world–or at least, what this would could become. It has fantasy themes and tropes, but when they are set in a foundation of speculative science (pseudo as it is), it excites and interests me infinitely more that straight fantasy.

Almost immediately i was reminded just how brilliant Lawrence’s writing is. It reads as if it was effortlessly written (though was no doubt anything but), with quick wit and turns of phrase dropped is so smoothly it might slip past without you noticing. But i loved to notice. At least once in every page or two was a sentence or a paragraph that stood out as just damn good writing. I underlined and posted to tumblr so many quotes. Also had to stop and read several out to my partner, who didn’t really care but indulged me anyway.

So okay, the characters. There are two main characters: Jalan and Snorri. I adored them both. Snorri the affable and imposing Norseman, making friends just as easily as he breaks bones. He’s both the more serious and the more light-hearted of the two. And Jal, our anti-hero of sorts. I found him fascinating. A self-proclaimed coward and damn proud of it. He gets himself into the stickiest of situations but always finds a way to slip himself right out of them. He constantly tells himself he needs to find a way to get out of the mission he finds himself on, to get home to his creature comforts, but never seems to try very hard at all. He’s an excellent liar, and the most successful of his lies is convincing himself he’s a coward.

“I’m a good liar. A great one. And to be a great liar you have to live your lies, to believe them, to the point that when you tell them to yourself enough times even what’s right before your eyes will bend itself to the falsehood.”

The plot itself is simple enough. A journey across land and across sea, with a few highs, lows, and adventures along the way. The more important journeys are the personal ones, the ones that see the characters develop and bond and bloom. Considering the scope of this world and aspects of the plot, this is very much a character-driven story. And i’m totally on board with that.

There is are a couple of chapters that have a direct overlap with The Broken Empire series. These books are set at the same time, and here we meet Jorg and his brothers returning home to Ancrath. As much as i loved seeing these characters again–and from a completely new point of view–it seemed to drag a little. Jal and Snorri’s stop over in Ancrath felt a little too contrived, just so the crossover could happen. In the end it added little to either timeline, and i’d’ve much preferred a fleeting and memorable encounter with the Brothers on the road.

But yes, love. I loved it. I want to start the second book in the series immediately, but i’m going to hold off for a few books. Long enough to build some excitement and suspense, but not so long that i’ve forgotten all the details. I would really love more people to read these books, but i fear not enough people enjoy fantasy, or would enjoy this fantasy for the same reasons i do. Alas, i will love them all to myself.

Emperor of Thorns

eotTitle: Emperor of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The path to the thrown is broken – only the broken can walk it.

The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end of days. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead.

This is where the wise turn away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. Don’t look to me to save you, Turn if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The third and final book in the Broken Empire series. I’m sad to let Jorg go, but am pleased there are more books by Lawrence set in this fascinating post-apocalyptic universe. I already have the next one on my wishlist.

Emperor holds all the smooth, witty writing of the previous books. So much so I took to this books with a pen like no other yet, stopping every few pages to underline a line or a mark a passage. I cannot express enough how much a love the writing style. It’s subtle, and if you’re not paying attention you might slip past its humour and its poignancy (sometimes in the same line). Above the dystopian post-apocalyptic setting, beyond the characters, it is the writing itself that kept me reading.

Talking of characters though, okay, I have things to say. There was no one i hated, which, when almost all the characters are some shade of evil, might be a strange thing to say, but it’s no surprise, either. Excepting Jorg (the book is told in first person from his point of view, you’ve got to like him), my favourite character was Miana. However. I don’t think enough was made of her. She was introduced in the previous book and though her appearance was brief, she made one hell of an impact (quite literally). I finished King entirely enamoured with her, hoping she would be in Emperor. And, while she retained her strength of character she was very much “Jorg’s wife” and never really came into her own.

What other female characters were there to admire? Katherine? She’s nice enough, but a little too good for my tastes; she verges on dull. I don’t understand Jorg’s obsession with her, nor the point Jorg’s obsession plays in the story–it adds nothing but a poor attempt at a non-conventional love plot. And Chella, who is somewhat interesting, particularly as some of the chapters in this book are from her point of view. Seeing more of her back story and motivation was key in actually developing her character. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her, at the very end there, after… Shh, spoilers.

And Jorg’s brothers, well. Nothing much changes there. Makin remains my favourite, painted that perfect shade of grey. Rike comes full circle, and to end on absent-minded plundering and a last minute turn around in character was a pretty perfect conclusion for him. Gorgoth was, for all he is a troll, the most human of them all. There isn’t a single of his road brothers that i don’t love the relationship Jorg has with them.

The plot… it meandered a bit. Stories with a lot of travelling do tend to have that issue. It started strong, with action and intrigue. And some of the flashback narratives kept things interesting. But after a certain point, things petered out and i was left waiting for things to pick up again. Which they didn’t until the climax. And in comparison to the previous book, which was non-stop action–an entire battle told over the course of the book– this book doesn’t hold up, unfortunately.

It didn’t have to keep up the action, though. I did thoroughly enjoy this book, and all of miscreant Jorg’s adventures in death, revenge and power. I’m really looking forward to getting hold of Prince of Fools, finding out even more about this world, these places and meeting new characters–of which there had better be more, and more awesome, females. The glimpse we had of the Red Queen was enough to get me interested…

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TTT: If You Like Horror

TTTThis week has been the first topic in a good long while that has actually appealed to me. However, that didn’t make it easy. In fact, this was pretty difficult. I don’t think I read enough “super popular books” to have a base to recommend from. Nor do read enough in any genre to really have enough books to recommend. Well, with the exception of maybe one…

Lo, I present to you my top ten books to read if you like “super popular author” Stephen King, or the horror genre in general. There is a range of horror represented here, but all kinds of horror Stephen King has dabbled in (because really, what type of horror hasn’t he dabbled in?)

The Haunting of Hill House – A classic haunted house horror story with a psychological twist. This is possibly my very favourite horror novel, ever.

Haunted – Erring on the graphic line of the horror genre, but being no less creepy for it.

I Am Legend – Science fiction meets creature feature. The true horror in this book is its tense psychological terror.

Apartment 16 – Very reminiscent of Stephen King, generally. Demons and ghosts and creepy happening in this flat.

Prince of Thorns – A true horror in that this book deals with violent murder, rape and war in a post-apocalyptic Middle Age-like setting.

Pandaemonium – More of a horror comedy, i’m sure Christopher Brookmyre doesn’t know how to make his readers not laugh, even in the midst of, well, pandemonium.

The Midwich Cuckoos – Everyone in a small town falls asleep, during which time all the women become pregnant. Creepy horror at its very best.

Tiny Deaths – This as a book of short stories, all written around the theme of death. Some are more horrifying than others, but what’s more horrifying than facing your own mortality?

Party Monster – Is outrageous horror a thing? This book makes it a thing. Sex, drugs, murder and dismemberment with the Club Kids!

Florence and Giles – Starting off as a quiet and unassuming creepy house horror, this book evolves into something supernatural before dealing an altogether different twist.

King of Thorns

kotTitle: King of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: To reach greatness you must step on bodies. I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

A six nation army marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a shining hero determined to unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength, Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read the first book in the Broken Empire series, Prince of Thorns, a year an a half ago. And i felt that long stretch of time while reading this sequel, because there were so many details i couldn’t remember. Thankfully, as the increased rating will attest, this did not hamper my enjoyment of the book.

I think i enjoyed this book more than the first, but it bothers me that, because i don’t remember the first well enough, i can’t say for certain why. Ultimately, i finished this book with a strong desire to re-read the first! If i had to guess why i liked this book more without the re-read, i would say it was possibly the fact that i already knew the characters. As well as that, we get to know these characters in a little more depth in this book. And really, because the book is told in first person from Jorg’s point of view again, we’re essentially seeing Jorg get to know these characters–and that includes himself.

Makin is still my favourite, i think. He is that perfect balance between a likeable character–a “good” man–and having an edge about him, being loyal to the ruthless, amoral Jorg. Makin is like the angel on one of Jorg’s shoulders, but he is a realist; he doesn’t try to stop Jorg or make him a better person, only watch his back, make Jorg sure of himself and his plans.

Of the other brothers, none stand out–they all add their own flavour to Jorg’s band of characters and i enjoy them all. I do love the banter and hate-hate but smidgen of almost-respect and mutual benefit relationship between Jorg and Rike, though. For such horrible characters, i do find myself far too fond of them all.

The best new character, hands down, was Miana. At 12 she is immediately an intellectual and determined match for Jorg, instantly earning enough of Jorg’s respect to make her worth something to him. And then later, well, she’s more than a match for Jorg in my opinion and i hope like hell she’s in the third book.

The plot, well, in essence the plot is a simple one: war. Jorg defending his hard-won land. But it’s the twists and turns of how he does it, and the flashback journey he took four years earlier that started it all off, that make the narrative more interesting. And there are plenty of twists and turns. The whole book is a trickle of plot points, small reveals and interest-peaking information. It’s in the last third of the book that the bigger revelations, dramatic action and (hopefully!) set up for the next book happen.

What i loved most about this book, though, was the writing. It is witty and subtle and clever and so, so quotable. The books deals with the heavy topics of murder, rape, war, genocide and more… but manages to keep the tone light, while not making light of the subjects. It’s, well, pretty damn perfect, actually. I think i overlooked that in my reading of the first book, or it slipped by me when i wasn’t looking. But Mark Lawrence can really bloody write.

And still, the most intriguing and interesting thing for me is the post-apocalyptic setting. There are many more glimpses and hints and experiences of it in this book, and seeing them from the point of view of people a thousand years later is fascinating, and something i have never seen before. This mix of 21st century, Middle Ages and fantasy (fantasy with a realistic, science fiction edge, which i love so hard) is something i feel i could nerd about for a long, long time. I will save it, though.

I will certainly not be leaving it a year and a half until reading the third and final book in the series. There are just so many things i enjoy smushed together into these books, and what Mark Lawrence has done with them is damn good.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Second book in a series.

Prince of Thorns

PoTTitle: Prince of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that putsa chill in him. Returning to his father’s castle, Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I decided i wanted to read this book over a year ago, but when i picked it up to start reading it last week, i couldn’t remember why. I thought (and now know) it was because of the post-apocalyptic setting, however one or two goodreads reviews left me extremely nervous about starting to read it.

I have now learnt my lesson about how much faith to place in random goodreads reviews; they were highly over dramatic and unfair, and in one case, the reviewer hadn’t even read more than the first few pages.

Yes, there are some nasty things in this book. Yes, the main character, Jorg, is not a pleasant person. No, they are not reasons to dismiss this book or (necessarily) not enjoy it.

There is plenty of action and plot, mostly consisting of fighting, murder, death and destruction with a bit of family drama and testing of friendships. But what this book mostly seems to be is a character study of Jorg, and i’m okay with that.

The blurb describes Jorg and immoral, but I can’t decide if he’s immoral or amoral. In truth i think he is a little of both. He recognises that others may call him evil and think what he does immoral, but he himself has no problem with it–he has no morals. Except that, in some cases, he does. Jorg considers doing and does do things he, personally, does not find appealing, because he believes they should be done. He hurts people he cares about and does not enjoy it.

Prince of Thorns is told in first person, and that’s perfect for getting inside Jorg’s head. Except is everything he thinks his own thoughts? Even he isn’t sure. Which just makes him an even more fascinating character, as far as i’m concerned.

Jorg was not my favourite character, though, not by far. The Nuban and Makin share the top spot. They had more depth (and more mystery, since we don’t actually find out that much about them), while still have enough of the ambiguous morality for me to appreciate them. Also loyalty. They didn’t always agree with Jorg, but they respected him and, equally, he always respected them–it was them it pained him to hurt.

The post-apocalyptic setting was too subtle for me. It was excellent, and realistic, really, i am just fascinated by the idea and crave more information. Over a thousand years after a nuclear war and the surviving humans (and mutants) have worked their way up to something resembling the middle ages. There are only hints at what happened and what’s left behind. Their ‘castles’ are the foundations of long-destroyed skyscrapers, Jorg quotes Nietzsche and the swearing is crude and straightforward. Of course the best bit was when they… with the… but i won’t spoil it.

There are two more book in this series, and i think i will, at some point, give the second one a go. If for nothing else than to glimpse more of this intriguing post-apocalyptic setting and follow Jorg in his unhurried but determined ambitions and craving for revenge.

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