Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Last Argument of Kings

Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie, is the third and final book in The First Law trilogy.  (See my reviews of the first and second books.)  In this last, violent and dark story, we see characters drift apart, reunite, and then drift apart again.  Sometimes physically and sometimes emotionally.  Often both.  The Union is under great threat not only from Bethod in the north but also from the Gurkish in the south, and everyone is converging upon Adua.  We learn a great deal more about several characters in this book- their spotty histories, their many mistakes and their quests for power.  We see them struggle through their actions, face down their loud and clamoring consciences and try to survive to the end of the book.  It is a dark and deeply troubling novel, but one that lays bare all the difficulties and the trappings that come with power.

I am glad I read Joe Abercrombie's trilogy but I admit a sense of relief that I am now done.  It was hard, even as a reader, to be bogged down in so much corruption and two-timing and despair, and I'm glad to have come up now for a much-needed breath of fresh air.  This book is not a happy one.  That's not to say that there aren't happy moments, or funny ones.  But far fewer than in the last two books.  And it ends on such a teetering note- you aren't quite sure what happens next.  I am an optimist and hope for the best, for a happy continuation of the story, but from my knowledge of the books, I fear that Abercrombie would not provide a road to a weary but somewhat happy ending for me.

This book reminded me a bit of the ending to The Lord of the Rings, in that there is a sense of weariness and dejection at the end, of having worked so hard and to have only rubble remaining.  I feel that must be how much of Europe felt after the end of World War I, and I can't imagine the heartache that came with that.  There was so much violence in this book.  So much sadness.  I skimmed many of the battle scenes, as I usually do with epic fantasy.  But those weren't even the most depressing parts.  Instead, the parts that most hurt to read were the small betrayals, the back-stabbings, the complete lack of trust or faith in anyone else.  It was hard to read.

But it was fascinating, too.  The characters are so complex, so absolutely enthralling.  They all have so many motivations, so many goals.  My favorite character, Glokta, compares his life and his loyalties to juggling far too many very sharp knives.  I think that is an apt description for the lives of everyone in this book.  They all have so many shifting priorities, so many different deals to strike, so many allegiances to shift.  To me, the characters make this trilogy stand out among many epic fantasy novels that are written with similar themes and stories.  Each character has so many nuances; each was a delight to get to know.

I appreciated that even though the book ended, the story did not.  It is very clear at the end that while the general arc of the story's plot has been resolved, there is another story bubbling up to be told.  I can imagine how Jezal and Glokta come to terms with each other after the book is done, doing their best in a difficult situation.  I can see Ardee settling into her new life.  But at the same time, I can see Logen Ninefingers and Ferro once again going back into the same cycle they came from... and beginning anew, in the same way.

Last Argument of Kings is a multi-faceted and gritty end to a very impressive epic fantasy trilogy.  I enjoyed it and look forward to reading Abercrombie's newest book, Best Served Cold.  I also hope he returns to The Union, to share with us the way everything fell out after the end of Last Argument of Kings.  However, for now, I am turning to a more gentle book.


  1. Wow sounds heavy indeed, very dark. I wonder if I have read anything like it

  2. This does sound super heavy and dark. Like maybe one of those trilogies for which you should really make a concerted effort to separate all the books.
    I'm feeling convinced, though - like I want to give it a try!

  3. Sounds engaging! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Anonymous3/03/2010

    Having read your reviews I'm eager to re-read the first in the trilogy. The current trend in epic fantasy seems to veer towards darker stories (eg. Erikson and Bakker). But I'm enjoying that.

  5. I am so glad you read this! I very much enjoyed this series of books. Abercrombie is now going to be in my permanent rotation of authors to watch. I believe he is coming out with a new book sometime next year, to be set in the North.

    Darker fantasy is a trend, but that doesn't mean that every author is good at it. Joe Abercrombie is good at it, he has found his niche and I look forward to his coming works.

    Take a break, read some Heyer or Wodehouse, and then go back to Best Served Cold :)

    - Sudha

  6. These are dark times and dark fiction is really coming into its own along with it. I second the advice to seek out a Heyer and relax, and then get back to more of Abercrombie's work later!

  7. Blodeuedd- I think you'd really like this series!

    Brizmus- I read each book separately myself and I think it was good for me. It's a long, hard series to get through, but definitely worthwhile! Let me know if you try it.

    Andrea- Thank you :-)

    cashingbawa- I absolutely agree. I tried Erikson and really liked him, but was also utterly confused by what was going on, so I gave up early. I want to try Bakker, though!

    Sudha- YES, I love the North!! You have to be realistic...
    My break is Pratchett for now- not sure when I'll be willing to pick up the behemoth that is Best Served Cold, but soon, I hope :-)

    bitsy- Yes, fiction does seem to be working with our times, which is fascinating. I definitely think Heyer is in order here :-)

  8. His series of books are usually thought to get along with. But once you miss it. then you miss the real value of reading a worthy book. The book is complex but still its damn brilliant. Expecting more from the author an d from the blogger too.

  9. Looks like the cover pretty much sums up the tone of the book.

    It's really hard for me to tell from reviews whether something is likely to be too dark for me. It sort of depends on the *kind* of of death, despair, and destruction one finds most distressing.

  10. This is an absolutely amazing review. I remember your positing about this author before, and though I rarely read fantasy, I am intrigued.

  11. You have me so torn. Your review was excellent, but I tried to read the first in this series some time ago and ran into the problem that I didn't like any of the characters. I knew I wasn't really supposed to, but when the kindest emotion I felt for any of the viewpoint characters was mild disgust, I knew it was going to be a long ride and I wasn't sure I was up for it. But I do want to read the books, if only because Abercrombie's a good writer and the plot was fascinating.

  12. This sounds like something that'd leave me depressed for a whole week :| Then again, that doesn't usually make me shy away from books :P

  13. I have been so engrossed in your reviews of this book, and have been really wanting to try the first one and see if it's to my liking. It does sound like this is a really heavy and dark series, but since it's been awhile since I have read one of those, the change might be nice. I do like the fact that the character portrayals are so three dimensional and that as a reader, you get to form relationships with all of the cast as you move from book to book. It just sounds like something I could really get invested with, despite it's darkness. I think I am going to go out and get the first book this weekend, your reviews have totally sold me on this series!

  14. I have read the first book of this series, and borrowed the second a couple of times, but I am just not sure if it is for me or not.


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