The Last Argument of Kings really is a difficult book to review.
On the one hand I want to give it the best review I possibly can because, just as with the previous two novels, Joe Abercrombie has produced a well written tale with brilliant characters and an unforgettable world. Throw on top of that the unbelievable number of twists thrown into this novel and I found myself loving every moment of it. Whilst a lot of those twists you will see coming a mile off, they only serve to mask all the other countless twists that will genuinely take you by surprise.
However, on the other hand this book suffers from a hugely unsatisfying ending. There was about a hundred pages to go when I started to suspect that I wouldn't be happy with how things were going to finish. The story was winding down and there were just so many unresolved story lines that I couldn't imagine them all being summed up. The sad fact is that none of them were, at least not to a finality. I finished this book wondering if this really was the end of a trilogy or if maybe it is just a middle book of a series waiting upon the next.
Continuing his trend of brutal writing that kind of hints that there will not be any happy endings for his characters, we are left feeling that no one has come out the happier for the experiences in this novel, save maybe one whom I won't name right now to saving spoiling the ending for those who haven't read it. There was a time when I would have called this kind of writing brave being as we are in a world where most tales finish with a happy ending. However in recent times there have been a large number of these gritty books that aim for a brutal realism that leaves most stories unhappy and the sad trend in them all is that there are no happy endings for anyone.
Now at times that can work but in this book it really didn't. Joe Abercrombie has done such a masterful job of making me fall in love with his characters, even with all of their deadly flaws, that I want to see at least one or two of them have a happily ever after. I understand that life isn't fair but at the same time it is also varied so the odds that all of the characters in a novel aren't going to get what they want is madly unfulfilling and makes reading the books a chore.
So that is my conundrum and in the end it was probably the first side of the argument that wins out. In spite of the irks and flaws I have with the ending the majority of this book is top notch. It was gripping from beginning to end, the story was well paced and unlike with most books out there it genuinely kept me guessing.
It has been a while since I have read a trilogy of books of this calibre and so I can happily give it a four star review that would have been a five if only there had been just a little more finality to the tale. Still a great book and one that I highly recommend.
on 20 June 2011
Here's a quote that any fantasy author would want in their inside cover, "the best fantasy trilogy since Lord of the Rings." This is exactly what Joe Abercrombie can now put in his `First Law' trilogy; the unfortunate thing will be that the quote is from a random Amazon reviewer i.e. me. Despite my lowly status I am a keen science fiction and fantasy reader so I believe my opinion still counts and that Abercrombie has created the best set of fantasy books for years. As a threesome `The First Law' is an epic saga, but like all stories, they must come to an end. `The Last Argument of Kings' is in many ways a fitting finale as it has more action and battle sequences than the previous books combined, but it also suffers somewhat from the curse of `the end'.
As a set `The First Law' is a new high mark in low fantasy. Abercrombie's fantasy world is gritty and feels real, magic is replaced by dirt and evil. In many ways `Last Argument' reverses this trend as is the most fantastical yet; magic becomes far more prominent towards the end. The battle sections between mages and wizards etc did not sit comfortable with the 1500 pages of the series beforehand. Previously, magic was hinted at, even seen briefly, but it could always be explained as mysticism. By the end magic is very real and these sequences are amongst the most convoluted and confused in the trilogy.
Issues do not end here. Abercrombie revels in his grimy fantasy world, but the book draws some bleak conclusions. The `good' characters were never likely to prevail more than the `bad' characters, but almost everyone takes such a pounding that you can't help feeling a little deflated. Despite the downbeat nature of the book, it does not detract from how awesome Abercrombie's writing is. He continues to juggle several storylines from the PoV of different characters and all are exciting and well written. As a reader you are constantly left on a knife edge as you read a cliff hanger, only to be kept waiting three or four chapters for a conclusion. The likes of Ninefingers and Dogman are still infinitely readable and their journey is well worth reading. Book 3 is a slight dip compared to the ultimate fantasy fiction of Books 1 and 2, but as a whole the series is still awesome.
on 10 June 2009
Having become disillusioned with the fantasy genre over the years I was hoping that this would change my mind as it is lauded as "fantasy for grown-ups". Most of the settings, themes, races and even the characters do not push the boundaries of fantasy and the only thing that I struggled with was the geography (map please), which I eventually feel mostly comfortable with after the third book. This helped me to make the transition very easily and then I could not put the books down.
The tried and tested formula of the three/four main characters' plots' running together and often crossing over it certainly was a page-turner. I found the characters engrossing, darkly amusing (especially the twisted Inquisitor Glokta) and suitably different to make them compelling. The story is a little clichéd and a bit too tidy whilst leaving it open for at least one more book - which is a good thing in my opinion. There was enough variety, humour, twists and originality to make it enthralling, charming and most of all a great fun read.
Highly recommended and I can't wait for more.
For some reason a very large bookstore in London (no names etc) has put this book out a week early according to the publication date, so I've snaffled a copy and read it over the past weekend. Well if you've got this far you will NOT be disappointed. I can't say too much for fear of letting slip too much of the story - sure some of you will guess part of the ending but not all the threads are sewn up (or are they?). Sorry that is really annoying, so suffice to say the characters you have grown to know and love(?) still have thrills aplenty to get through before reaching their various ends...clue there perhaps?
In my book this has been easily the best fantasy read of the past few years and Mr Abercrombie only goes from strength to strength.
If you've read the previous two books you HAVE to read this one. If you are looking for a new and rewarding fantasy series to get stuck into then look no further.
on 6 October 2014
A very good read though I had to push through some bits knowing full well that I wasn't going to get the "good conquers all" satsifaction. This is NOT your typical "Disney ending" fantasy novel. Joe Abercrombie is much closer to the George R R Martin camp with bad things happening to good men and the good guys....not who you think they are.
I take 1 star off because on the infuriatingly loose threads ending of thus "trilogy". There is no closure for some threads. Maybe this is Mr Abercrombie's way of saying "Life sucks, life isn't fair, screw you!" through a novel. You will find that the series does NOT end here and there are more books in the series.
Personally I'm going to take a little break from the series and get some satisfying schadenfreude and comeuppance from somwhere else. Then perhaps I'll come back and be disappointed in humanity in more of his series.
on 15 December 2014
I had been thoroughly enjoying this trilogy up until this book, and even towards the end I tried to remain optimistic that the story was heading somewhere to create an ending befitting of the characters you have become so familiar with. Having read other fantasy books such as the Prince of Thorns trilogy i'd seen a story wrapped up swiftly and with great professionalism, however this time I was massively disappointed.
Not to belittle the effort that has been put into the previous books, but I can't help but feel like Mr Abercrombie became bored with this story or simple lacked the creativity to really end the stories of the characters. It's a shame, I loved reading these books but they just fell short of greatness.
on 12 September 2015
I confess to having had somewhat exaggerated expectations for this book after reading the host of reviews, calling it an amazing piece of fantasy. And I'm sorry, but I cannot agree with that statement. But let me explain.
Whilst the book is a great novel, having a good plot, excellent characters, and being the final act of a trilogy that actually behaves like a trilogy (I.e each book is only partially independent, with the overall plot being told through all three books, rather than three episodes (admittedly, this is more common in fantasy, but I still find it refreshing.) As always, we have the massive dose of Abercrombie cynicism flowing throughout everything, and his action scenes are violent and bloody, and written with energy.
However, we do have a few jarring flaws. The fantasy itself is not particularly good, with the three nations existing within the book being cliched stereotypes- The northerners are the vikings, the gurkish are the turks, and the Union are the 1600s British, with "flatbows", here meaning crossbows, but a real type of longbow in reality instead of guns. World building could be done much better in truth. As the scale of events grows as the book builds towards it's climax, we also find that Abercrombie is not good at writing large scale battles, although these flaws are mostly due to his style of character driven narrative, with characters not being present at such events, so describing them is notably difficult one must admit. We also do have a notable lack of characters on Bethod's and the Gurkish side, which given the moral ambiguity of the trilogy is somewhat surprising, but forgivable. The shanka are a complete letdown also, being this looming, ominous threat from the first two books, and turning into complete auxiliaries to the plot in the third.
Whilst it's not the best piece of epic fantasy ever written, and in truth one must question whether it is truly "epic" in the traditional sense, it is still an great conclusion to a great trilogy. He manages to stay familiar within the fantasy mould, but injects his healthy dose of cyncism and his own spin on the established tropes also. It's no surprise, knowing this that his best character is a crippled and sadistic war veteran who finds a living as a professional interrogator and torturer, invested with enough self hatred and doubt to make us love him. I love the fact that This character (Glotka) in particular falls heavily away from the usual fantasy hero tropes, being physically incapable and with his achievements based upon manipulation and coercion rather than physical prowess, although admittedly this does seem to flow throughout the work. Jezal is rather unpleasant, but comes of age magnificently, west is a great beleaguered leader, and logan, the one character who is close to the traditional mould, is actually very easy to dislike by the end for his actions. Bayaz is also a great spin on the "Gandalf" character.
To wrap things up, it's a solid conclusion to a solid trilogy, and whilst it's not reinventing the wheel (of time. Fantasy in joke), it is looking at the established tropes in a new and interesting way, and whilst still trapped by them, it's fresh look at them is almost as refreshing and entreating as the trilogy itself. So, whilst he's not Steven Erikson, he's still a good author, and I look forwards to reading the three standalone books set in this world.
on 27 August 2013
I really like Joe Abercrombie. His greatest strength is his characters, which are complex, flawed, brilliantly realised and thoroughly compelling. I love the quirky bits of characterisation that bring them to life on the page, and the voices of the characters come across extremely clearly such that you quickly tune into whoever's point of view you are in. You really feel that you connect with the characters, however repelling some of their qualities are, and the dialogue is both credible and captivating with its banter, bickering and bitchiness (at times).
Allied to this is Joe's deliciously intense writing style, which uses dark humour to subtly exaggerate and in so doing conveys wonderfully intense images, sounds and smells. He weaves the story together more than adequately too, with inventive twists just when they are needed. With this trilogy Joe has brought something fresh and distinctive to a genre that all too often feels stale and hackneyed.
That said, I feel that Joe has slightly missed the target with this, the finale of The First Law. In his bid to break the mould of fantasy characters and avoid cliqued endings he has erred too far to the opposite extreme. He seems to adopt a rule that the more unlikeable the character is the more positive the outcome is, not just with one or two storylines but across the whole gamut. That ultimately feels contrived and unsatisfying. Furthermore one character that the reader might reasonably have assumed to be broadly one of the `good guys' (albeit with the Abercrombie shades of grey) turns out to be frighteningly arrogant and controlling, and surprisingly powerful too in a way that doesn't ring true with his portrayal over the previous 90% of the trilogy.
Joe gets the pacing a bit wrong too. For me the most exciting part of the book comes around the middle, when decisive battles are fought and interesting tests of character are faced. After that it gallops off to an increasingly immense climax that for all its scale doesn't quite get hold of you or hit the spot. And as I say, once you realise that Joe is going to attribute reward where it's least deserved across the whole piece, the feeling you're left with is one of deflation and mild disappointment.
For all those flaws though it's a thoroughly enjoyable read. I would also highly recommend his follow on novel The Heroes The Heroes (First Law World 2), a stand alone story describing a battle from all sides of the conflict, where the quality of Joe's complex and ambiguous characters really shines bright. But that is for another review...
on 19 July 2012
Wow! With an exception to book 2, not since I read George Martin's Song of Ice and Fire have I thoroughly enjoyed a fantasy series like this one. Abercrombie's characters are extremely well developed and consistent. As you progress through the series, so do the characters. Each book reveals a different aspect of their personalities, and these are indeed affected by different factors that happen on their life journeys. Events are exciting and believable. Machinations are intriguing. Battles and fights are bloody and fast paced.
I stumbled across this series through using the kindle. I was sceptical about the hype of the book. However, the first book, The Blade Itself, was an excellent read and I was swept along, thoroughly engrossed by the characters and multiple diverging plots. Unfortunately, I found the second book, Best Served Cold, had a much slower pace. The ending was a disappointment and it had a meandering plot that seemed unfocused and almost unplanned. Although it was not painful to read, it did not capture my imagination or draw me back to its pages like the first did. The only good story line followed Glotka in Dagoska. I nearly didn't continue with the series after that book. I am REALLY glad that I did. The third book is a masterpiece. Each chapter carries the plot forward at an irresistible pace. I found this time I was reading whenever I could.
If you've persevered with the second book, I HIGHLY recommend that you carry on with the series. It is a truly special read.
on 22 January 2011
3.5 out of 5 stars...
It's the final part in a trilogy, so it should not be too surprising that a lot of references in it would be lost on people who have not read the first two instalments. Having read the second book a while back, and the first one even longer ago, my memory (especially for characters and names) was not perhaps all it should have been.
The First Law trilogy has been marketed as dark, gory, grown up fantasy from the start. I could have sworn I saw it compared to George R R Martin when I read the first book - and I don't quite think those are valid comparisons. Yes, these books are set in a medieval-type world. Yes, there is some fantasy in it, but it is understated and we don't get monsters or dragons. (Incidentally, the fantasy in this book is leaning heavily on realities in our world - a lot of magic is reminiscent of nuclear materials and weapons, for example, and you won't find many fantasy novels that appear to feature radiation sickness and contamination). But where Martin's novels are all about intrigue and a sense of grandiose epic Borgia style plotting, Abercrombie is really more of a down-to-earth gore and grit merchant. There has always been darkness in his novels - but it is the darkness of a Frank Miller or Alan Moore comic book, rather than the precious, elegant sinisterity of Martin's work.
We still follow a barbarian, a vain young noble soldier, a revenge-driven semi-feral woman, a torturer and a high ranking soldier from common background. There is still a tendency for refrains (though less repetitively so than in the last book). Sand dan Glokta is still the most enjoyable character to be around. Jezal is less annoying than he once was, and even Ferro is less of a pain to read about. Meanwhile, Logen has lost a lot of his appeal, as has Bayaz.
Where the first book got everyone in the same place to get some of them ready for a journey, and the second book got everyone travelling around the world (in vain, in a prominent case), this book is all about climactic battles. It's the sort of book where hardly a page goes by without a limb flying away, a head being split open, a jaw being torn from a face. As final acts in a trilogy go, I have rarely read one that waded knee-deep in blood with quite the vigorous lust for violence that this book has.
There are other themes - for some incomprehensible reason, my book arrived on my Kindle with several passages "highlighted" - presumably someone else used a Kindle highlight tool and Amazon mistakenly synced my copy with that of a stranger, but it feels very odd to be reading an e-book with someone else's highlighter in it. As a result, the fingerprints of the banking crisis and global recession are hard to miss, with every little snide remark about banks and capitalism and neoliberalism being cheerfully highlighted by my Kindle. But on the whole, it is a novel about battles, and wars, and violence.
As such, it should not be surprising that it is not a happy novel. There is tension in it (it felt close to finishing all the way through), but there is also an awful lot of tedious battle description. Some character developments surprised me. Others felt like afterthoughts, or forced. Quai, for example, and some of the Practicals, have sub plots I found unlikely. Some characters did not grow at all, which is fair enough. The conclusions are not exactly happy Disney-suitable outcomes, but neither is everyone getting into boats to float away to the other side. Some characters get better than they deserve, some fare worse. It's a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, but, having read the three books now, I am not sure I will be feeling any urgent keen-ness to pick up more novels by Joe Abercrombie. Competent work, but not outstanding, not excitingly original.