Last Argument Of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

The Blurb On The Back:

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him, but it’s going to be a big one.  Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him.  His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy.  It’s past time for the Bloody Nine to come home.

With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war.  A secret struggle in which no-one is safe, and no-one can be trusted.  And as his days with a sword are far behind him, it’s a good thing blackmail, threats and torture never go out of fashion.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is far too painful a process, and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves.  But love can be painful too – and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.

While the King of the Union lies on his deathbed, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown.  Yet no-one believes that the shadow of war is about to fall across the very heart of the Union.  Only the First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, but there are risks.  There is no risk more terrible, after all, than the breaking of the First Law …  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s several weeks after BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED.  Bayaz, Logen, Jezal, Quai, Ferro, and Longfoot have returned to Agriont, their mission to find the Seed an abject failure.  Bayaz has other irons in the fire that he wants to concentrate on and he wants Ferro to stay with him for purposes unknown. Jezal has decided that adventure and glory is not for him and plans to marry Ardee and settle down while Logen figures that with his romance with Ferro dead In the water, he should get back to the North where he has a grudge to settle with Bethod.

While Logen’s been away, Dogman has taken charge of the Named Men and joined up with Major West of the Union army and Crummock-i-Phail (the mad king of the hill men) in a desperate plot to lure Bethod and his men into a last stand.  Meanwhile Glokta is under orders to twist arms and blackmail the nobility in preparation for the inevitable election for a new king that Arch Lector Sult is desperate to win, but the more Glokta delves into politics, the more he’s sure that there are forces working behind the scenes – forces that will do anything to keep him from prying into their affairs …

The conclusion to Joe Abercrombie’s epic fantasy FIRST LAW TRILOGY brings together the various plot strands in a way that’s mostly satisfying while leaving open a possible return for some of the characters and neatly subverting the mainstays of fantasy fiction but there are pacing issues towards the end, the siege of Agriont reminded me too much Glokta’s defence of Dagoska in the preceding book and the female characters were disappointing.

There was a lot that I enjoyed about the book – especially the way Abercrombie subverts traditional elements of fantasy with the development of Bayaz’s character, which I found absolutely fascinating and although I disliked the sudden introduction of his apprentice Yoru Sulfur (and especially his obvious link to a peasant’s uprising, which for me was a plot development too far) I enjoyed the way Bayaz unifies many of the plot strands.

I also enjoyed the Logen storyline, which again subverts many of the traditional “barbarian” tropes and the way he’s forced to confront who he is and what he’s done was quite subtly handled and manages to be both sad and horrifying (especially a scene where he goes berserker with unintended consequences that he can’t even admit to himself).  Glokta’s storyline is similarly great – I enjoyed his investigations and his compromises and the fact that he’s given the last word in the book (in an ending that goes full circle back to the first book) was really neatly done.

However there’s a lot packed into this book, some of which (notably the Seed storyline) made me wonder what the point of the quest was in BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED – and some of the plotlines (including the peasant’s revolt) would to my mind have been better served by being introduced in the earlier book, while the Agriont siege reminded me too much of Glokta’s experience in BEFORE THEY WERE HANGED.  The effect of having so much going on meant that the pace slips a little towards the end and becomes uneven.

I was also disappointed with the treatment of Ferro and Ardee, neither of whom get a huge amount to do (which has been the case throughout the trilogy) and who end up almost two-dimensional and with endings that didn’t really satisfy me.

Notwithstanding these criticisms though, I can see why this trilogy is so highly regarded and how it helped to took its place in the grim dark oeuvre and there’s a lot here to enjoy and I will definitely check out Abercrombie’s other work.

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