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 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 to return to the three w’s that have been the core of his idle and debauched life: 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. Jalan and Snorri face many dangers, from the corpse hordes of the Dead King to the many mirrors of the Lady Blue, but in the end, fast or slow, the Wheel of Osheim always pulls you back. In the end it’s win or die.
Spoilers for Prince of Fools and The Liar’s Key and The Broken Empire Trilogy
Mark Lawrence is a writer from whom I expect much. He’s got a lot of things going for him, and all of them are present in this book. And yet, it fell short of the bar set by The Liar’s Key for me, not to mention the original Broken Empire trilogy.
To start off with, the cliffhanger ending of The Liar’s Key is resolved in a very anticlimactic way – literally the first scene is Jalan escaping hell. I didn’t mind it that much honestly, because Jalan’s return is pretty spectacular and well done.
The actual events of Jal and Snorri’s stay in hell are recounted in little flashbacks here and there, and that was the part I did mind. Mark Lawrence loves to do this thing where he’ll have some past narrative woven in with the plot, and that’s starting to feel old when the same device is used in the sixth book in a row. Plus the hell journey was not really interesting, seeing as we already knew its outcome.
Still, the first half was quite entertaining. Jalan (or rather Mark) has a way with words, a style of talking, that makes you enjoy every single twist and turn of his journey. I still feel Jorg was a more compelling protagonist, but Jalan is still a great character, and he’s become really fleshed out over the trilogy.
All this adventuring and running from undead horrors is all well and good, but the trouble starts when we get to the actual plot of the book, the Wheel of Osheim. For starters, we already know from reading the first trilogy that the world will not end up destroyed. So Jalan’s success in his quest is guaranteed from the start. Plus I began to hate how anytime it’s mentioned, we have to go through an explanation of how it’s slowly ending the world and must be stopped. So basically I had minimal interest in the actual plot of the book. Though the very final couple of pages did have some great stuff.
I still enjoyed the book, because the writing and Jalan’s narration is still amazeballs, but it suffered from being a parallel story to The Broken Empire trilogy, and not its own thing.
tl’dr: Great writing, worldbuilding, characters, but a meh plot. It was like eating cold, undercooked fries with the most amazing ketchup. No matter how good the ketchup, it can’t quite make up for the fries.
PS: I have to add that I listened to the audiobook by Tim Gerard Reynolds, and the man is amazing. His Jalan voice is totally spot on. Do consider giving it a shot.