Last Argument of Kings
Author – Joe Abercrombie
Pages: 544 pages
Release Date: March 20th, 2008
Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he knows how close a trilogy with panache. The final novel in The First Law trilogy, Last Argument of Kings is without a doubt the strongest novel in the cycle and, indeed, one of the strongest finishes to a trilogy Iâ€™ve come across in a long time. Itâ€™s refreshing to find an author who can not only finish a story in three books (a rarity in the fantasy genre these days, it seems) but to also do so in a satisfying manner.
Last Argument of Kings aims at bringing everything full circle and succeeds wildly. Abercrombie has often stated that The First Law is his riff on all the typical fantasy tropes, twisting them in an ever so subtle satire and this final novel is no exception. Itâ€™s clear, once you turn the final page, that Abercrombie had the story firmly under his thumb through the entire trilogy. Small twists, hinted at in the very first pages of The Blade Itself, come full circle and are sure to leave readers shaking their heads in amazement at Abercrombieâ€™s clever control. The dâ€™enouement (which is anything but calm and comforting) holds as many twists, knives-in-the-back and balls-to-the-wall fights as the rest of the story and, as true intentions are revealed, Abercrombie forces the reader to truly question the concepts of â€œgoodâ€ and â€œevil.â€
And truly itâ€™s the characters that rule this novel. The Northmen are the stars of the first half of the novel. Abercrombie manages to take folk who, when handled many other authors, would appear as nothing more than simple minded, violent brutes, and manages to make the reader care about them deeply. The Dogman, Black Dow, Logen Ninefingers and the rest of their crew are not good people – they’ve killed more men than can be counted – and yet the reader will shed tears as they do, will feel each blow to the gut, and will laugh a black laugh at their humour. The First Law do not have “good guys” and “bad guys”, instead it has people; plain and true people, as flawed and real as you or I.
The second half of the novel, which is essentially nothing more (or less) than one epic brushstroke of brutal warfare, belongs to the heroes (and antiheroes) of the Union. Sand dan Glokta, a favourite of mine through the first two novels, steals the show and further cements his place as one of fictionâ€™s most interesting and intriguing characters. Jezal dan Luthar, such an unlikable bastard in the first two novels, goes through some momentous character shifts and actually comes out the other end as a likeable character with more depth than Abercrombie let on at the start.
If R.A. Salvatore’s fight scenes are a beautifully choreographed fight scene from a Hollywood martial arts flick â€“ fun to watch, but ultimately no more than a delicate dance between actors â€“ then Abercrombie’s are the best of the best from the UFC â€“ raw, visceral and real; sure to leave you stiff and sore when you wake the next morning, each blow absorbed as surely by the reader as the contestants in the bout. One fight in particular, near the middle of the novel, kept me up well past my bedtime and surely ranks near the top of the best single combat scenes I’ve experienced in all my years reading Fantasy.
I was critical of the first two novels, The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged, and their lethargic pacing but am happy to report that Last Argument of Kings doesnâ€™t suffer in the same way. In fact, the final volume of the trilogy helped me appreciate Abercrombieâ€™s delicate plotting throughout the earlier volumes. Abercrombie often says that The First Law should be viewed as one novel in three volumes (similar to Tolkienâ€™s The Lord of the Rings) instead of a standard trilogy and I couldnâ€™t agree more. The First Law will have its greatest impact when read in one continuous fell swoop.
The First Law ends much as it begins: raw, gritty and full of humanity. Itâ€™s hard to tell whether the characters, and the world they live in, is truly any better off for their efforts; in fact, one might wonder if they aren’t just all a little worse for wear. Running against the grain (as he so often does) Abercrombie eschews the happy, perfect ending, instead offering a fittingly ragged resolution sure to eke itâ€™s way into further novels set in the universe.
With the delay of Pat Rothfussâ€™ next novel, The Wise Manâ€™s Fear, and the slightly disappointing sophomore effort from Scott Lynch, Red Seas Under Red Skies, itâ€™s safe to say that Joe Abercrombie has cemented himself at the top of the heap as one of the most consistent, fresh and exciting new voices in fantasy. With Last Argument of Kings Abercrombie has addressed the few criticisms I had of the first two novels (slow pacing being the biggest killer) and he’s set the bar high for his next novel, Best Served Cold, though surely he’s well prepared for the challenge.
Early on in the life of A Dribble of Ink I decided I wouldn’t attach numerical values to my reviews, but if I were to thrust such an arbitrary label upon Last Argument of Kings, it would probably look much like a 9.9/10. If only to spite Joe and his quest for the perfect grade…
Oh yeah, and thereâ€™s still no map.