Last Argument of Kings
by Joe Abercrombie
544 pp. Gollancz. £12.99
Reviewed by Paul Stotts
Joe Abercrombie‘s writing improved drastically between his debut novel, “The Blade Itself”, a hard-boiled, profane, dark fantasy-noir, and his follow-up novel, “Before They Are Hanged”. Now arrives the final volume in the First Law trilogy, “Last Argument of Kings”, and the question naturally arises, does Abercrombie again improve his writing chops between the two volumes or has he regressed artistically? The answer is emphatic as “Last Argument of Kings” is the best fantasy novel released so far in 2008.
The First Law trilogy is a bloody, excessively violent, gritty action-packed adventure, filled with unsavory and disgusting characters doing repulsive things. Considering that two of the main characters are a government-employed torturer who gleefully celebrates his grim work and a mentally unstable and bloodthirsty barbarian who brings death and destruction to friend and foe alike, you know you encountered something far from the rosy side of epic fantasy. “Last Argument of Kings” ratchets the hard-edged brutality up even more, making it the most grim and violent of the trilogy. But it also makes the novel the most emotionally satisfying as my investment in the characters has been raised much higher.
Bayaz, Jezal, Logen and Ferro have returned empty-handed from their quest to find the mysterious artifact, the “Seed”, an object of vast destructive power. The
So when the King suddenly dies and leaves no living heirs, chaos ensues as a successor is sought out by the nobles. When a surprise candidate ascends to the throne, he discovers he must immediately figure out how to fight a battle against the Northerners and the Gurkish simultaneously.
Abercrombie brings the trilogy to a rousing and very satisfying conclusion, peppering the novel with incredible battles, grim humor, and many unforeseen twists. In the previous novels, Abercrombie’s strength has been in his ability to create amazing characterizations like the absolutely unforgettable Inquisitor Glokta and Logen Ninefingers. In “Last Argument of Kings”, his deft plotting attains a similar sublimeness. Additionally, the characters become even more nuanced and complex, fighting hard against the reader’s expectations of them. It is as though a new light has been shined upon them, making for stunning transformations.
“Last Argument of Kings” is one of the best fantasy series endings ever, and makes the First Law trilogy must reading for all fantasy aficionados. Joe Abercrombie has proven himself to be one of the best young talents today.
Final Grade: 94 out of 100