Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The First Law (Book #3 of 3), First Law World (Book, #3 of 10)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Grimdark fantasy
Published: 20th March 2008 by Gollancz (UK) & 8th September 2015 by Orbit (US)
I’ve been meaning to read The First Law trilogy for years, after hearing loads of accolades from far and wide across the fantasy bibliosphere. Now that I’ve done so, I could safely say that Abercrombie deserved all those praises, and I’ll contribute by heaping on more of the same.
The First Law was grimdark at its most brilliant, with Last Argument of Kings delivering a superb finale. There’s no denying that this is a dark and bleak tale, but there was enough humour to temper all that gritty darkness to make it a wholly enjoyable read. The balance of these contrasting attributes was truly sublime. And all these are achieved through some of the best characterisations that I’ve ever read.
By now, I’m sure almost every fantasy reader has heard of the name Glokta, and it’s for a very good reason. He was Abercrombie’s most remarkable creation and also one of my favourite fantasy characters by now. Glokta is an phenomenally complex and fascinating character. His chapters make up some of my favourites as they contain both the most brilliant humour and most compelling introspection. The most astounding character growth and development, however, belonged to Jezal dan Luthar. I almost couldn’t reconcile the person he was from the first book and the one he became in this finale. But Abercrombie made it work so well, because he’s simply that good.
One thing that I’ve yet to mention is about the action writing. The action scenes in The First Law were incredible. From large scale battles to close combat scenes, the raw visceral violence of war could be felt right to the bone. Coming into this final book, I was already expecting the occurrence of a duel which would be exceptionally brutal. I was not wrong, but even then I was still stunned from the ferocity and impact of that scene.
Another thing which came out a fair bit in some reviews was the absence of concrete plot for a large part of the trilogy. That was a fairly valid assessment, but it did not in any way impede my reading enjoyment at all. Plot or no plot, the stories of all these memorable characters are connected and flowed seamlessly from one book to the next, and they were the reason why I wanted to keep reading. All that said, Last Argument of Kings did manage to bring together all the various storylines together into a cohesive climax. It was a fitting ending at this point, but it was by no means a conclusion.
There are so many memorable lines that stuck with me since I started on this journey through The First Law. What made this grimdark is not nihilism, but the realistic fact that life is never easy and that life is not fair. There were little moments of triumphs in each character’s story which were made even more gratifying because they’re so rare and hard to come by. It reminded me of a quote from two of the characters all the way back in the first book, The Blade Itself, that sums it up.
You have to learn to love the small things in life, like a hot bath (or dry boots). You’ve to learn to love the small things, when you’ve nothing else.
Safe to say that this trilogy is highly recommended for all fans of fantasy who enjoy character-driven stories. and a must-read in the grimdark subgenre.