Last Argument of Kings (Joe Abercrombie 2008)

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At last it is time to review Last Argument of Kings, the final book The First Law trilogy. While the series has gone on to spawn sequels featuring their own standalone stories, this book marks the end of the original trilogy and of the story contained within. Like before Last Argument of Kings follows the six main characters that we have followed throughout the series. The story revolves around Bayaz’s return to the Union capital, where he begins preparing Jezal dan Luthar for some unexplained master stroke which ultimately places the unlucky fop on top of a throne that he never really wanted. Meanwhile Glokta is left scrambling on behalf of his superior, Arch Lector Sult, who is desperately trying to figure out Bayaz’s true game plan but always seems to be a step or two behind. However when forces from the past come back to haunt him, Glokta is forced to reassess his loyalties. Meanwhile the Union faces twin threats from the Bethod, King of the Northmen and the barbaric Gurkish who each seek to invade the Union for their own ends.

The plot of the series starts to crank up in this instalment, especially when compared to the relatively uneventful previous novel. Plot threads from the previous novels start to pay off by the dozen, including Bayaz’s past, the Gurkish and Bayaz’s search for the mysterious item known as the seed. Some paid off better than others. Bayaz’s past and the trouble that comes with it is one of the best played plot threads, especially when it is the true extent of Bayaz’s manipulations is shown. The varying ways in which the various plot threads tie back to Bayaz, his manipulations and/or his past is simply astounding. Nearly every major plot thread can be traced back to either Bayaz’s manipulations or the actions of his enemies trying to stop him. The extent to which everything linked together left me breathless.

With regard to individual characters’ plotlines Logen Ninefingers’ and Ferro’s plotlines seem to drop a bit. My first gripe with this is that they were separated in the first place when they made for such a great couple but I already knew it wasn’t going to be a happy ending kind of story so I didn’t take too much issue to them not interacting. However I did take issue with how boring their plotlines became. Ferro seemed to exist soley in this novel so that somebody can witness Bayaz’s actions and get a more deeper insight into Bayaz’s motives through the story. She kills a few Gurkish here and there but doesn’t really do much. In fact the only time she starts to do something promising is after her transformation in the epilogue.

Logen meanwhile had a fairly solid action based plotline for a large portion of the novel but the climax to his personal arc with Bethod seemed to come far too early into the story. When he finally defeats Bethod it isn’t until halfway through the novel then gets crowned King of the Northmen. Then he spends half the novel not really doing much until the novel’s climax, where he joins in the final battle. I couldn’t help but feel that the climax to his personal arc with Bethod could have happened sooner and could have streamlined his story arc as King of the Northmen so there wasn’t such a lull between the fight against Bethod and the novel’s final battle. I was a fan of the ending scene for his story though, but I shall not reveal for spoiler reasons. At first it felt abrupt but I realised how it connected to the story and is went on to show that being the good guy doesn’t give you immunity from suffering a horrible fate.

The character who I felt most sorry for is Jezal, who spends most the novel as Bayaz’s play thing and by end of the novel he still is. His life has essentially been ruined by Bayaz’s machinations and is forced to watch as the only person he ever loved marries Glokta, a man who is least deserving of his happy ending but seems to get one anyway. As one of the few characters who has anything resembling a heroic streak, I felt sorry for Jezal as he is essentially lied to and manipulated and by the end he is manipulated by a number of characters to ensure he stays in line. Although I never liked him too much it was saddening to see him suffer through circumstances so far out of his control.

Overall the novel seemed to have an open ending with a lot of plot threads left hanging. This is an intentional attempt at playing with the idea that not everything has to wrap up neatly. In fact a lot of plot threads are left intentionally open such as Bayaz’s conflict with Khalul, which he and Khalul will likely continue to fight through proxies long after the main characters are dead. It leaves the reader that the world will keep on turning even after they stop reading and that they just caught a glimpse of a large story as opposed to reading a full saga where everything is wrapped up in an orderly fashion. This is what gives the novel its charm in my opinion and I consider this to be a strong fantasy series as a result. It is not my all time favourite but is certainly one of the stronger trilogies I’ve read in a long while and it is highly likely that I will go on to read the standalone novels at some point in the future.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: CLEVER

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