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Literature / The Red Queen's War

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"Yes, I should grow up, and yes, I will, but there's time for that tomorrow. Today is for living."

"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's War is a fantasy trilogy by Mark Lawrence, the author of the Broken Empire Trilogy; the plots of both trilogies take place more or less concurrently.

The Red Queen's War consists of

  • Prince of Fools (June 2014)
  • The Liar's Key (June 2015)
  • The Wheel of Osheim (June 2016)

Prince Jalan is tenth in line to the throne, and is content to gamble, womanize, and laze about without ambition or goals. He can also see the Silent Sister, a creepy old woman who serves as the invisible advisor to Jalan's grandmother, the Red Queen herself, although he likes to pretend the Silent Sister isn't there. Jalan likely would have continued to not amount to anything if he hadn't escaped a deadly trap set by the Silent Sister, with the result magically tying him to the Norse warrior Snorri.

Snorri is determined to rescue his wife and son in the north, and mistaking Jalan for an honorable sort, takes him along. Neither of them is happy about being magically bound to the other, and the farther they travel, the more things come to light about an army of the undead, and the state of the world, that Jalan can no longer safely ignore. The trap Jalan escaped has made both of them pieces in a much larger game.


This series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Kara is a Viking woman and a sorceress.
  • After the End: At first the world appears to be a classic medieval fantasy setting, although with fantasy elements thrown in. As the story goes on it becomes apparent that it's set in the far future. Our civilization reached new heights in the past before it destroyed itself, leaving behind a changed world of little technology, powerful magic and remnants of the Builders, such as the Wheel of Osheim which creates magic in the first place.
  • All Myths Are True: To an extent. The Builders created many A.I.s which have since taken on the personalities of figures from humanity's collective memory, such as angels and gods like Loki, and continue to exist in semi-real forms due to the magic that permeates this world.
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  • Anti-Hero: Jalan is a Dirty Coward, but contrary to Jorg he doesn't have enough villainous traits to be a Villain Protagonist. He does become a (little) better person over the course of the story thanks to Character Development.
  • Arch-Enemy: The Lady Blue is the Red Queen's and her siblings' bitter enemy, as she killed their grandfather and tried to kill them when they were teenagers.
  • Arc Welding: This is a storyline which follows up on many of the plotlines introduced in Emperor of Thorns.
  • Artifact of Doom: Loki's Key and the door to the underworld.
    • The Wheel of Osheim itself could be considered this. It's a machine the Builders made to give themselves power (i. e. magic), but they didn't foresee that the Wheel would keep on turning for the next millenium and that each use of its power would speed up its turning until it threatens to tear reality apart.
  • Beneath the Mask: Jalan reveals - at least to the reader - that he is very aware of his shortcomings and that he indulges in self-deceit on a regular basis because it's the only way he knows how to survive.
  • The Berserker: Jalan, despite all of his cowardly qualities. When he has no choice to but to fight for his life, he doesn't remember a thing of what happened, but the surviving Vikings around him outright call him this.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The Dead King wants to escape hell, and overrun the world, while the Lady Blue works with him and his servitors, but has her own agenda centered around becoming a god. And there's Edris Dean who supposedly serves both, but has his own agenda.
  • Born Lucky: Jalan manages to land on his feet far better and more often than he has any right to.
  • Consummate Liar: Virtually everyone believes Jalan's lies, no matter how outrageous because he gives that much sincerity to the role.
  • Contrasting Sequel Main Character: Jalan to Jorg. Technically, Jalan's story happens at the same time as Jorg's, but his books were written after. Both men share a dark and cynical view of the world around them and a sense of humour just as dark and cynical. However, Jorg is The Unfettered and often fights in person, Jalan is a Dirty Coward whose first instinct is to run away from a fight. Jorg acts and plans, while making a point of always being the master of his own destiny (and being rightfully pissed when he learns he was manipulated by a chessmaster all along in his first book). Jalan is basically dragged along by other people during most of his adventures. And while Jalan is less valorous than Jorg, he's a more decent human being (as he's not a murderer and rapist).
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Do you have something Edris Dean wants to know? Heaven help you if you fall into his hands because he knows how to hurt people.
  • Creepy Good: Possibly the Silent Sister, for a given variation of 'good.'
  • Curse: Snorri and Jalan are linked together by one of these.
  • Dark Action Girl: The Lady Blue can get her hands dirty, though she's much older than normal for this trope.
  • Dirty Coward: Jalan, although his attempts at fleeing a dangerous situation often get mistaken for acts of heroism. (i. e.: Attempting to run away from an undead abomination gets interpreted as him fetching a sword that was knocked out of a friend's hand, and the only weapon currently available. He just picked up the sword on the way.)
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Brother Emmer is actually a woman named Emma and forces herself on Jalan. This is treated as hilarious by Snorri and the others in the tavern it happens.
  • Eldritch Location: The Wheel of Osheim, the titular place in the third book, is this to Jalan and friends. It's really a piece of Lost Technology left behind by the Builder scientists that's responsible for magic existing in this world. Over the last millenium, the wheel has been turning faster and faster and is now threatening to tear the entire world apart - and it's poor Jalan's mission to avert this fate.
  • Entitled Bastard: Jalan notes that this behavior is expected of nobility. It's how he convinces the guards to admit him into the castle of a neighboring king despite his outfit being sub-par.
  • Evil Counterpart: It is heavily implied that Jalan is the human counterpart of Loki, and/or has been influenced by Loki for a long time for the god's own ends. He is Born Lucky, a Cowardly Lion, a Consummate Liar, and has trickster qualities. As such, The Liar's Key may refer to Jalan as well as Loki himself.
  • Famed in Story: Snorri's a Viking, so he comes from a culture that puts a lot of value on remembering and reciting stories. Snorri's also aware of how this can be manipulated as well. He reveals - and hides - important information about himself in this fashion. Jalan admits that Snorri's a fantastic story teller.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Jalan, Snorri and friends go through so much Jalan is even able to overcome his natural cowardice for their sake.
  • Godhood Seeker: The Lady Blue plans to speed the end of the world to gain godlike power and reshape it as ultimate god of the new world. Edris Dean plans to hijack the plot. She also tries to convince Jalan to join in her plan, assuming someone like him would like to become godlike too. She is wrong.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The Red Queen, for a given variation of 'good.' Her goal is to protect her people and prevent The End of the World as We Know It. But she's ready to do everything to ensure that, including attacking a country while ravaging its countryside (causing a lot of deaths) or shooting her own sister to spare her the tortures her enemies were going to subject her to after they captured her.
  • Groin Attack: Katherine delivers one of them to Prince Jalan when he mistakes a message from her as a romantic invitation.
  • Handsome Lech: As a good-looking prince, Jalan has no small amount of luck with women. This includes commoners, noblewomen, and everything in-between.
  • Holy Hand Grenade: More literally than most.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. All of Snorri's children are dead, although he spends some time being in denial about it. The death of the unborn is required to make an Elite Zombie.
  • Iron Lady: The Red Queen, the merciless queen of Red March.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Yeah, the Lady Blue is trying to wipe out Jalan's homeland, become a God, remake the world ... but Edris Dean murdered his mother, unborn sister, nearly killed him, tortured and killed his friend and has enslaved his dead sister's soul as an undead abomination. Even after the Lady Blue is dealt with, Jalan and Edris are ready to throw down thanks to Jalan's burning hatred for the man.
  • Lady of War: The Red Queen was one in her youth, as she personally led her army in battle. That's how she got her nickname. After a slaughter of enemy soldiers, her armor was covered with so much blood that it became red.
  • MacGuffin: Loki's Key It opens any lock, and we mean any.
  • Meaningful Name: Snorri is doubtlessly named for Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prosaic Edda, who wrote down versions of the Norse myths such as those concerning Loki.
  • Morality Pet: Garyus brings out the best of his great-nephew Jalan and his sisters, the Red Queen and the Silent Sister.
  • Never Mess with Granny: When your granny is the 'Red Queen' and a famed warrior who can kick ass even in her old age? Yeah, best not to trifle with her.
  • Nominal Hero: Jalan again, due to the magic that tethers him to Snorri, and people mistaking his attempts at running away as heroism. He does become a little more heroic over the course of the story though.
  • Odd Couple: Jalan - a cowardly and carefree prince - and Snorri - a vengeful warrior poet and Viking. Quite a few characters remark on it.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jalan's is fairly understated and drawn out, as he gains a better understanding of just how bad the situation is throughout the Prince of Fools, save when violence has broken out in his presence. Jalan and the reader share a large one at the end of the first novel. Snorri may use the key that can open any lock to open the door to death to find his wife and children.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: You know that something is wrong when Jalan advocates for killing Edris Dean instead of fleeing. But he has a good reason. Edris Dean killed his mother.
  • Resigned to the Call: Most heroes would probably jump if asked to travel to the most notorious evil place known to man, climb in and confront whatever monsters may lie in wait, all in order to save the world. Jalan isn't a hero, thank you very much.
  • Rich Idiot With No Day Job: What Jalan is and aspires to forever be. He finally succeeds in The Wheel of Osheim by becoming a Cardinal.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Jalan, it turns out.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Snorri's quest to save his family is pointless. Edris Dean has long since murdered them and damned his unborn child to hell to become one of the Unborn. All Snorri can do is Mercy Kill him.
  • Smug Snake: Jalan is a rare (anti)heroic example as he's always of the mind things will go his way and his POV is near-constant privileged snobbery.
  • The Starscream: Edris Dean ostensibly serves the Lady Blue, but he's far more interested in usurping her by the end to seize godhood for his own purposes.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Jalan becomes a Cardinal with no real responsibilities and Lisa as his mistress. Snorri returns to the North, at peace with his family's death. Kara saves the world from destruction and gains new supernatural insights.
  • The Undead: The main antagonist is the Dead King, who's working on an undead army. Two kinds of undead appear in the books as well.
    • There are incidents wherein our heroes kill some people who were trying to kill them, only for the corpses to get back up and try to finish the job. These variety are simply referred to as undead and don't seem to be intelligent.
    • Elite Zombie, called 'Unborn' are made when an infant dies in the womb, and can combine with the flesh of other nearby corpses to create incredibly powerful undead. Two massive, and monstrous versions are encountered, with Jalan possibly running into a smaller, but much more human shaped variety early in the book. One of the monstrous ones was made from Snorri's unborn son. Their abilities seem to vary more widely than the garden variety undead.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Jalan goes from a cringing, cowardly wreck to a Cowardly Lion capable of being a bonafide badass in some circumstances by the end.
  • Unluckily Lucky: Jalan's bad luck is simply astounding. And the only thing more astounding is his ability to land back on his feet in spite of this, thanks generally to a sudden stroke of good luck.
  • Warrior Poet: Snorri. At one point he starts reciting poetry from a different culture while separating people from their limbs, and he's much more knowledgeable about cultures other than his own than Jalan.
  • Warrior Prince: Jalan has an undeserved reputation as this in his home country. That he has The Berserker tendencies when he has to stand and fight may see him living up to this more fully in the future.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Edris Dean would hurt unborn children to send their souls to hell and become super powerful undead monsters called the Unborn.
  • You Killed My Mother: Edris Dean killed Jalan's mother. Jalan hates him so much because of it that he's able to overcome his natural cowardice to try to kill him in retributionn.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: This is what happens when you get nearer to the Wheel of Osheim - your fears start manifesting in reality.


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