Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings (US, UK, Canada) is the closing argument of Joe Abercrombie’s answer to epic fantasy. Abercrombie embraces the cliché of fantasy, spins it around, turns it upside down, and covers it stinky, dark, sardonic wit – and then he surprised you. Not everyone believes he succeeds in these goals – often complaining that he still falls into same old traps – but I applaud his effort and the satiric success of it. In the Last Argument of Kings Abercrombie offers up more of the same from the previous two books and then adds some more with an ending that is simply brilliant.

Since Last Argument of Kings is the third book in a trilogy, I’ll be light on the plot summary. The epic quest of Book 2, Before They Are Hanged (US, Uk, Canada), is complete and our adventures have returned. The war in the north continues, yet does come to an end while the central city of Adua becomes embroiled in issues regarding succession of the monarchy and a threat of invasion. Interesting and surprising things await the characters we’ve come to love (or hate) through the series.

The most enjoyable aspect of The First Law trilogy is the way that Abercrombie plays with the tropes of epic fantasy – he fully embraces them while adding a satiric bite and unexpected outcomes. In my review of Before They Are Hanged I mentioned that this had lost the novelty of The Blade Itself – but I must say that Abercrombie rounds things out wonderfully in Last Argument of Kings. As the trilogy ends, the reader is finally let in on a bit of what’s been going on behind the scenes – and the end is decidedly not typical for epic fantasy. For experienced readers of the genre – basically, people who are in on the joke – the end will likely be something of a breath of fresh air. I imagine those that aren’t in on the joke (or don’t find it all that amusing) will simply think it stinks – or at least that it is not particularly satisfying in the way that people generally want things to end. I found it inspired as the mixed emotions rebelled against one another.

Characterization remains a strong point – Inquisitor Glokta may be my favorite character in epic fantasy at the moment. The sardonic wit of his external and internal dialogue is priceless, while I can’t help but like this almost entirely unlikable person. Logen reveals his dark side and the Bloody Nine, Jezal grows as a character as he falls back to his roots, and that bastard Bayaz…. I was also pleased to find out that Abercrombie has indeed been keeping Ardee around for a reason – though her character is a little too witty and unconvincing.

Series come to an end – and I’ve said before how it’s often a bitter-sweet kind of moment. With the Last Argument of Kings, Abercrombie seems to have poured on the bitter – which makes it all the more sweet. Abercrombie hasn’t been writing the standard epic fantasy trilogy – and the proof is in the ending. This series has overwhelmed many and under-whelmed more than few – but it something that fans of epic fantasy simply must read for themselves. 8.5/10


Larry Nolen said...

Hey, I hope you don't mind, but I critiqued a few elements of this review that I wish had been explained more. Liked it more than I disliked it, even if it might not come across that way in the post.

Glad you liked the book more than I did. Perhaps I need to re-read it to see if my opinions of it will have changed.

Neth said...

No worries - I asked for didn't I ;)

I tend to view this as potential to further improve my review writing, so in that respect, I thank you for the input.

Larry Nolen said...

Wonderful, since that's all I really wanted to do was to suggest ways of improving on your style rather than imposing my own stylistic preferences :D


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