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Last Argument Of Kings: The First Law: Book Three Paperback – 12 Mar 2009
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Highly recommended - a funny, finely-wrought, terrifically energetic work of high fantasy. Seek it out (Joe Hill)
Striking, character-driven and cynical noir fantasy.See all Product description
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This is just a wonderful trilogy that provides everything you need for a breathtaking page-turner. Great characters, a world of intrigue, battling nations, supernatural influences, enthralling landscape, entertaining dialogue, humour and the band of warriors including Logan Ninefingers, Ferro and Jezel, led by Bayaz, the First of the Magi. The characters are highly capable in battle but also vulnerable, they make good decisions and bad, and they inflict damage and suffer pain. The writing style is a perfect pace and balance for the adventurous plot and the descriptive content with the characters and landscape.
There are a lot of parallels to Game of Thrones but it does have its own place. I would highly recommend the trilogy and the entertainment through each book is tremendous.
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.
Joe Abercrombie, in keeping with the ethos of these books, uses gritty language and repetition, which can be disconcerting at first, making you wonder if the fellow can really write. As you read more you realise that these are methods he uses to endow the horror and savagery of the books and that he really can write.
If you enjoy books by David Gemmell, Conn Iggulden, George RR Martin, Fritz Leiber or Raymond Feist then you will love this. Little subtlety but a great action tale.
Joe Abercrombie's skill as an author cannot be overstated. The plot moves swiftly, the language is clean, yada yada. He's a great author.
What I enjoyed most about Last Argument of Kings was the characters. Joe Abercrombie writes "grey" characters like no-one else. Is Logen Ninefingers a good man forced into fight after fight, or is he really a homicidal maniac? Is Sand dan Glockta a good man in a bad position, or is he a sociopath?
Just as you think you've got it worked out, Abercrombie has his characters do something that shakes your certainty; this is not fantasy where the characters have the luxury of easy decisions, and they then have to live with the consequences. War is not glorious: it is messy and tragic. Good people die along with the bad. Nobody, as Glockta says, gets what they deserve in life.
Abercrombie also has a master's touch when it comes to poisoning chalices. I don't think anybody ends up with an untainted chalice, although some of the poisons are pretty subtle. The closest, though, is Glockta himself. I was really, really happy about the way that turned out.