Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: "The Last Argument of Kings" by Joe Abercrombie

I hoped that Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series was building to an incredible ending, and I was not disappointed with “The Last Argument of Kings” ($17, Pyr).

After reading the first installment, “The Blade Itself,” I found myself intrigued, but not really hooked. Things picked up in the second book, “Before They are Hanged,” and I decided to push immediately into the final installment, and I’m pleased that I did.

I find myself struggling to put together a short summary of the story in this book without giving away anything that a reader might not want to know before picking it up. It’s one of those books. Most of the primary characters have come back home, so to speak.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided from his journeys with the magus Bayaz that glory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and has decided to settle down now that he’s back in Adua. Sand dan Glokta is also back in Adua, and doing what he does best – getting confessions by any means necessary – but finds that he’s taken on perhaps one too many masters. Logen Ninefingers has returned to the north to reunite with old friends and enemies and try to take down Bethod, who has set himself up as King in the North. Ferro has lashed herself to Bayaz, who continues to promise her vengeance against the Gurkish.

All have plenty of surprises in store. And that’s about all that I can say without spoilers.

“The Last Argument of Kings” reads less like a stand-alone volume and more like the climax of a bigger novel. The third book of a trilogy should, of course, bring things to a head, but there’s a somewhat different feel to this one. The secrets and surprises come at you from the very beginning, and it really feels as if Abercrombie wrote the entire series as one work and it was split into a trilogy for convenience. That’s also how I’d recommend that you read it, as I think it’s a far more enjoyable piece when read all at once than spread out over time.

All of the threads that Abercrombie has woven in the first two books finally come together into the complete tapestry, and it’s a more intricate one than, perhaps, I had given him credit for prior to reading this book. Though you’d think by book three we’d know the primary characters pretty well, we learn a great deal more about them through the course of “The Last Argument of Kings.” Suffice it to say that many of the characters are not exactly what we might have believed them to be, and though he’s given us hints along the way, Abercrombie has done a fairly remarkable job of misdirection in some cases.

I do have to say that I was a little disappointed with the treatment of Ferro Maljinn in the book. I think she got a bit of short shrift when compared to the likes of Luthar, Glokta and Logen, but I also get the feeling that perhaps her story is not quite over, either. At least, I hope that’s the case because she ends, to me, a much more fascinating character than she began.

Though my initial reaction to “The Blade Itself” was a bit uncertain, after finishing “The Last Argument of Kings,” I can wholeheartedly recommend Abercrombie’s trilogy. The final volume really brings the whole trilogy a new perspective and makes the whole a much stronger piece.

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