Last Argument of Kings

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he can close the show in style!

I was looking forward to this third installment in The First Law trilogy, for the book would answer a lot of questions about the author. Chief among those was whether or not he could bring this tale to a satisfying end. As the last volume of a series, Last Argument of Kings would also permit us to discover what Abercrombie is made of.

One of the most important lessons Joe Abercrombie teaches us with Last Argument of Kings (as well as The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged, of course) is that you can still tell a compelling story by limiting yourself to an honest-to-God trilogy. Though authors such as Robin Hobb and Jaqueline Carey have been doing it for years, the epic fantasy subgenre is filled with multi-volume doorstopper sagas. I'm a huge fan of several of those series, that goes without saying, yet I feel that too many of them drag and are prolonged pointlessly. Abercrombie's detractors will be quick to point out that he relies on a more or less simple and somewhat linear plot, that his storylines are not as convoluted as those of works by Jordan, Martin, or Erikson. Be that as it may, a gifted storyteller can still pack a powerful punch, and what appears to be "simple" plotlines at face value may turn out to echo with a lot more depth than first envisioned.

Forced to work within the confines of a trilogy means that Abercrombie had no choice but to write a tighter story. And although The First Law is nowhere near as complex as The Malazan Book of the Fallen or The Prince of Nothing, the author nevertheless has a startling number of surprises up his sleeve. What I probably enjoy the most about Joe Abercrombie is the way he utilizes a panoply of fantasy tropes to create false expectations in his readers, only to misdirect us using our own assumptions as the story progresses.

The First of the Magi, Logen, Ferro and Jezal are back in Adua. But all is not well in the capital of the Union. As the king lies on his deathbed, the nobles are scrambling and plotting to determine who will wear the crown next. The peasants revolt, and the war in the north is not yet won. As Ninefingers heads back to his homeland to face the King of the North, Glokta is being blackmailed and manipulated, and his life appears to be in danger. Moreover, he discovers that a new threat could destroy the Union during these turbulent times. Bayaz plans to save the world, but in so doing he could end up breaking the First Law. . .

The narrative is written in the same snarky style and tone which made the first two volumes so much fun to read. The pace is good, though the rhythm drags a little in the middle of the novel, only to quicken again soon afterward.

Abercrombie's biggest shortcoming, in my opinion at least, is his minimalist approach to worldbuilding. Indeed, The First Law lacks those "layers" and "textures" which make other fantasy works living and breathing creations.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that characterization remains Abercrombie's bread and butter. As I mentioned, the author has quite a few surprises in store for his readers, so expect more than a few unanticipated twists and turns along the way. Once again, though Glokta remains my favorite character, I felt that the Northmen carries this book. Dogman and his merry crew of misfits play a major role in this final installment. Jezal's storyline, though it ends in unexpected fashion, was too Eddings-like for my taste. However, I really enjoyed how things came full circle for Logen, who is likely the most interesting character of the trilogy. Ferro remains the most mysterious character, and the somewhat "to be continued" end to her plotline hints at a possible sequel in the future.

Last Argument of Kings is an excellent conclusion to what turned out to be a very entertaining series. And by demonstrating that he can close the show with a bang, Joe Abercrombie now holds the pole position as far as "the bright new voices of the fantasy genre" are concerned. Writers such as Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Brian Ruckley and Brandon Sanderson must now prove that they can do likewise.

I'm looking forward to reading many more Joe Abercrombie novels in the future.:-)

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe (still 50% off!)

14 commentaires:

Unknown said...

I really need to add this to my wish list. I have heard so many good things about Joe Abercrombie. Great review!

Casey said...

It's great that you liked it and all...but how about that contest??? whom do I make out checks to for bribes? :P

Patrick said...

Well to me, of course!:p

James said...

Based on your recommendations I'm adding Abercrombie to my wishlist.

Anonymous said...

haha! Well, your rating is certainly an improvement from the last one. :)

Anonymous said...

Only 8/10? That won't go down well. :p

Larry Nolen said...

While I'll end up reading this soon enough this year, Pat, your was so vague. You say all of these things are good, but...there's nary a citation or anything given to support it! Now I'm not asking for detailed "spoilers," but wasn't there a representative passage that you could have cited as evidence of Abercrombie's "snarkiness?" If I hadn't already read the first book, I really wouldn't have read anything here that would have made me even remotely curious, because it sounds like a promo piece expanded slightly. Next time, more detail/evidence, please?

Leslie Fox said...

It's killing me that this series is complete and I still can't find the second book stateside.

Patrick said...

Larry: I've lost count, but I figure that I'm approaching the 150 book reviews plateau on this blog.

There has never been a single citation in any of them. So I'm not about to start citing passages now.:-)

Larry Nolen said...

Well, it's never too late to try, right? :P

Oh, and in regards to this particular book: I should be receiving it any day now, as it was mailed to me almost two weeks ago. But while I'll post reviews of the first two, I cannot post a review of the third, considering its market. More on that once it's published, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi All

Patrick or anybody else, can you please if possible explain what style these Joe Abercrombie books are. I browsed the first few pages(of his first book) at my local book store and the book came across as a humorus type book like Terry Pratchett(I have nothing against Terry Pratchett, but lately I tend to like my book a little more serious.)

Or am I totally of the mark?


Unknown said...

Does anyone know if there have been any differences between Abercrombie's books releases in the UK and the US?


Anonymous said...

There is certainly humour in there, but the books are nothing like Pratchett.

I had seen the first volume ("The Blade Itself") many times in the library, and thought it looked entirely generic. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The series takes standard fantasy tropes, and twists them... but in a good way, not in that obvious 'haha you didn't expect THAT did you' style you sometimes see.

Ultimately they're about people, warts and all. The heroes all come across as genuine, and 'real', notwithstanding the fantasy setting. And frankly, they're not very heroic - you'll like them better for it.

You might gather I'm a fan. I'd been so bored for so long in regards to fantasy, but my interest has been rekindled.


PS Logen Nine Fingers is just a fantastic character. 'Bloody Nine' for the win!

Anonymous said...

For more than 2 years, ever since I have heard about Joe Abercrombie's The blade itself, I have been patiently holding out, waiting for the series to finish before I start reading it.
I have been drooling over every review of his books, fantasizing about the day when I finally got the whole trilogy. That day has arrived. As soon as I finish posting this comment, I am off to bed and reading.
I am a big fan of Steven Erikson, and from what I have read about this series, Joe's characterization is just as good.
Damn, I am drooling again.
Pat, thank you for all the great reviews. I had many a great time reading them.
Bye all :)