Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings - Joe Abercrombie

The Basics

In the final installment of The First Law Trilogy, the war is on. The Gurkish are coming, and the North still hasn’t settled its fight with King Bethod. But whether the Union is ready or not, things are coming to a head.

My Thoughts

That was as much as I dare share. They aren’t spoilers that will totally ruin you, but there are plenty that would. There are a thousand and one things I can’t say about this book for that reason, but I will try to say as much as possible without wrecking the experience for readers who aren’t there yet.

This book is where the wars that have been building are seen in full effect. There is a lot of battle to be found here. Abercrombie is very good at writing action, but if you get fatigued by reading lots of fights, get ready to be exhausted. That was maybe one of the elements of this book that was harder to push through. These wars reach a truly epic scale here, but that means battles take over the storytelling entirely for large chunks of the book. I appreciated his “war is hell” message, truly. But he hammered it home to the point that it effected my ability to enjoy the very act of reading it. I never like sighing at a book and saying, “I get it”, but I did reach that point. Every author has a topic they are passionate about, and war being a terrible thing is clearly that for Abercrombie, but he was very self-indulgent here about dropping that anvil.

Don’t mistake that statement above for hate, because it isn’t. This is what these books had been building toward: a monstrously huge ending, and he gives us that. It deserves to be filmed on as large a scale as he clearly intends the action to be viewed, so it wasn’t all bad. Just a few inches too far, enough that less would’ve been more.

And then we come to what was his endgame besides the intensity and horribleness of war. Different readers may take it better or worse than others, but the bottom line is Abercrombie is a very cynical guy. He doesn’t believe the glass is half full or half empty. He believes it’s a glass of urine. So if you expected any of the character development from the previous books to amount to good things, he will soundly crush that hope. There’s a resounding message here about how people don’t change for the better. And I’ve been struggling since I finished the book to decide how that makes me feel.

I think it’s an interesting approach. I think it’s brave, considering it’s the much harder way to write characters because it’s not entirely satisfying. I’m fascinated by this message, and I do enjoy seeing it in fiction, though I’ve never seen fantasy quite this dark before. In that way, he managed to be more hopeless and depressing than George R.R. Martin, and that is a feat. He’s set the bar for how far a writer is willing to go.

On the other hand, it left me feeling tired and disappointed upon finishing the series. So that after feeling he was so readable, after being unable to put this series down for even a second, I haven’t returned to his work. I intend to, but I’m trying to shake the feeling of having been burned. Knowing now how he approaches the idea of characters, that his anti-heroes shouldn’t be expected to turn into full-fledged heroes, I feel more prepared. I wish he’d given more hints in the first two books instead of giving shades of hope that were crushed in the third installment.

Yet with all that this was an amazing ride. Well-written. Shocking. Action-packed. I highly recommend it for readers who like dark fantasy. Pitch black, can’t-see-my-hand-in-front-of-my-face fantasy. To clarify.

Final Rating