Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Last Argument of Kings Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Orion
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
Series: First Law Book Three
Pages: 670

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(Spoilers for The Blade Itself and Before They Were Hanged are below).

The Blade Itself introduced readers to a cast of horrible characters that seemed beyond redemption. Before They Are Hanged featured those characters starting to develop redeemable traits, until the end at least.  Finally, The Last Argument of Kings continues where Before They Are Hanged left off … the characters start to resort back to their old ways.

In the final installment of the First Law Trilogy – Joe Abercrombie basically states people aren’t capable of true change, life isn’t fair, and don’t expect anything good from anyone. Thematically this may be the most cynical fantasy series out there.  Last Argument of Kings is bitter, there may be a little sweetness undercoating the ending, but if its truly there then it’s hard to taste.  Nevertheless, if you can handle the cynicism, than you should be pleased with how this series ends.

After losing Dagoska to the Gurkish, and suffering an embarrassing defeat in the North,  the Union is now more vulnerable than ever.  Like the previous two books, characters from the story find themselves embroiled in different parts of the conflict.
  • Jezal dan Luthar returns to Adua to begin his new life with Ardee.  However, he cannot escape his duties to the military and the state.
  • Bayaz begins to further his goals in defending the Union, creating chaos amongst the ruling body of government that is already set in place.
  • Superior Glokta is caught in between the demands of the bank that loaned him the money to defend Dagoska, and the conniving Arch Lector Sult.  Each side threatens each other and Glokta’s life.
  • Logen Ninefingers returns to the North to help West, the Union, and his fellow rebel Northerners defeat Bethod once and for all.

Anti-trope fantasy is the best way to describe the First Law Trilogy.  The nice thing about this is that Abercrombie plays off the expectations of fantasy readers, and does something different nearly every time.  The end result is a story that’s not exactly predictable. The final fates of the characters will have readers guessing until the end, and that’s a rarity in fantasy writing.

The way this is done though is extremely cynical.  A lot of readers like to escape the harsh world we live in order to go to “a better place.”  Rather than provide an escape, Abercrombie acknowledges the harsh realities of our world in his world, in a near exclusive fashion.  People don’t get what they want, and they don’t get what they deserve.  This is a motif that gets tossed around the final book over and over again. If you’re looking for happy endings, look elsewhere.

Abercrombie has a number of surprise reveals in this book, that explain a lot of the characters’ motivations and actions.  These never really come across as shocking, and the “Oh My God” moments just feel kind of meh.  This is probably the biggest flaw in the series for me – there are great characters and themes, but emotionally the book isn’t as powerful as its subject matter.

There isn’t much more I can say about the characters that hasn’t been said … and without divulging in spoilers. A lot of endings for the characters are open ended, and people looking for closure might be disappointed.  I personally liked the endings in The Last Argument of Kings, and keeping things open ended can spark a number of debates about character and world related fates. I expect that many of the endings will be controversial for readers.

Abercrombie’s tale is one that could easily cross over into literature.  The writing and characters are strong enough, and the subject matter examines the darker side of the world we live in.  I will say this is a depressing read.  It’s a series I’m glad that I read, but I could probably never come back to reading it again.  One and done, like watching a movie like The Road or Requiem For A Dream.  These are great movies, but they make you feel like there is no hope left in the world, much like The First Law Trilogy did for me.

Score: 9.6

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