Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings

AuthorJoe Abercrombie

Pages: 544 pages
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: March 20th, 2008
ISBN-10: 0575077905
ISBN-13: 978-0575077904

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 I’ve come across in a long time. It’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. It’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 Abercrombie’s clever control. The d’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 “good” and “evil.”

And truly it’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 fiction’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 – fun to watch, but ultimately no more than a delicate dance between actors – then Abercrombie’s are the best of the best from the UFC – 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 doesn’t suffer in the same way. In fact, the final volume of the trilogy helped me appreciate Abercrombie’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 Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) instead of a standard trilogy and I couldn’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. It’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 it’s way into further novels set in the universe.

With the delay of Pat Rothfuss’ next novel, The Wise Man’s Fear, and the slightly disappointing sophomore effort from Scott Lynch, Red Seas Under Red Skies, it’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 there’s still no map.

Also on A Dribble of Ink are reviews of The Blade Itself (HERE), Before They Are Hanged (HERE) and two interviews with Joe (HERE and HERE).

  • thrinidir March 14, 2008 at 4:53 am

    Damn You! Damn You ALL who have the privilege of reading The Last Argument of Kings before the other sheep. Great review, that made me gnash at my fingernails at even quicker pace…and I have none to spare, fingernails that is. oh well, the fingers themselves look quite lenghty…i don’t really need them that much, or do i?

    joke aside.great review.keep up.cheers


  • J.G.Thomas March 14, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Good review Aidan! I agree on pretty much every point, especially with the idea that Joe has delivered three consistant novels, unlike Lynch whose second book I was disappointed with and thought fell well below the standard of the first.

    It’s an interesting point you make about the fact that the world is arguably left little better off for the efforts of all the characters. Just like real life I guess!

  • Robert March 14, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Very nice Aidan! I’m only now getting ready to start “Before They Are Hanged” but I already can’t wait to read the finale :)

  • Chris (The Book Swede) March 15, 2008 at 2:29 am

    Nice review! And damn you, also! :)

    Though, I’m in the same position as Robert, so reading book 3,before book 2, probably isn’t a great idea!


  • heather (errantdreams) March 17, 2008 at 7:32 am

    A fantastic and eloquent review that is about to send me off to add yet MORE books to my wishlist (*heavy sigh*). :)

  • Jebus March 17, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    I wants it NOW dag nabbit!

  • aidan March 19, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Just be glad for the fact that you still have another book to look forward to! I’m already having withdrawls knowing that my future holds no more adventures for Logen Ninefingers, Sand dan Glokta, Collem West and the rest of the gang. Hopefully some of them will show up in Best Served Cold!

    It’s hard to discuss the second point without much in the way of spoilers, but I’m glad that Joe tackled the cliche, happy ending and it’ll be interesting to see the reprecussions of The First Law on further novels set in the universe.

    Robert and Chris,
    Get reading! You won’t be disappointed.

    It’s always humbling to find out that my reviews can help turn people onto new authors/books. Can’t wait to see what you think of it!

    If you were a true fan you’d take out a second mortgage and import it from England!

  • Jebus March 19, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    If I was a true fan I wouldn’t have thrown those eggs at Joe’s car… Whoops!

  • Rohan August 5, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Hey Aidan,
    I finished “Before they are hanged” a couple of days ago and I was looking forward to reading the third one.After reading your review, I’m all the more excited! By the way, I am going thru The Kingkiller chronicles:Day One and I must say this. Rothfuss is a wordsmith.I read the “First Law” series before I could read TNotW and boy did I enjoy Joe’s acidic and acerbic series to the extent that I felt Rothfuss might not overshadow the effort.But he did.I have gnawed thru 500 pages already in a matter of days.And Orson Scott Card is right, Rothfuss has traces of Harry Potter in it,although I believe his writing is way ,way better than Rowling.

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