Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date:
2008
Publisher:
Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group
Length:
536 pages
Paperback:
£12.99

Publisher’s Synopsis

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but its 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. Its past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

https://firstlaw.fandom.com/wiki/Last_Argument_of_Kings

Back in January 2017, I wrote a review of The Blade Itself. I ‘won’ it in a book swap. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year journey for me into the world of Logan Ninefingers and his motley band of Northmen.

What to say about a trilogy that got mixed reviews and a massive following that led to a well visited wiki Fandom, that I was, on and off, submerged into for three years?

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie – he writes amazing characters.

Logan Ninefingers is Still alive. Continues fighting, and is drawn into, not only personal conflict in the North, but the greatest battle in the Union. Last Argument of Kings finds him questioning himself more and more – is he a good man, or an evil man? Is he fit to lead his band, or best serving as a follower? Should he allow his barbarian, mindless, other self; The Bloody Nine, to take control in battle, or give up and welcome death?

Ninefingers has been our prime MC throughout the trilogy; as it is him who begins the first book and ends the third, and as he matures, so his view on his own lifestyle is called into question – can a man so steeped in blood and violence opt for a peaceful life – does he even deserve it?

Abercrombie has given us a (anti)hero who could easily have been a pedestrian D&D style character, but despite what some critics say, I do believe he develops. He may not stop fighting, but he lets us know, via internal dialogue, that he wishes the whole bloody affair over and done with. His is a cerebral development; strangely, given that he’s a mercenary, a killer – a murderer. I say it’s cerebral because Ninefingers thinks about what he has done and how he came to be where he is. He thinks about how it might be if he changed, and realises that because he has so much history of violence and a reputation for it, then the chances are pretty slim. This is a melancholic chapter in his, and the reader’s, journey.

Related image
Logan Ninefingers.
Image from
comicvine.gamespot.com

Jezel Dan Luther returns to Adua, his home city. Physically scarred from his journey to the West (Book II: Before They Are Hanged). He is still a young man with dreams to match, yet changed by his experiences. He is a little less brash, a lot less selfish – and in for a terrible time. He thinks to marry the woman he loves; Ardee West. He thinks to settle down into some well-paid post of Captain. Jezel, unlike Ninefingers, gets little chance to think, he must do as he is told; because of the position he finds himself thrust into. His choices become shockingly limited; despite his new-found role, and he can only react to situations. Jezel does his damnedest to be a decent man and feels thwarted at every turn. In the first book, I reacted to Jezel as, I’m sure Abercrombie meant me to, with contempt. He was a superficial, selfish little shit. In this final book, I desperately wanted it all to work out for him.

Image result for jezal dan luther
Jezel Dan Luther.
Image from GeeklyInc

Superior of the Inquisition, Sand Dan Glokta, is still in the secrets trade. We still get that oppositional internal dialogue when he speaks with others; A shame to leave such lovely company…but when duty calls. He thinks after a short interview with Arch Lector Sult. Glokta probably changes least of all. This could be attributed to the fact that a man so crippled and steeped in politics and up to his elbows in others blood and bile hardly has much choice. He cannot run; literally, he would not be able to hide for sure, and he knows that at any point his bloated corpse might end up floating down the river. But Glokta still held my interest, why? Simply because he sticks to what he knows best, which is staying alive. There are, however, two very touching scenes. One involves his old fencing friend from his youth, Collem West, the other involves West’s sister, Ardee. It is interesting to watch Glokta in the face of helplessness, he always expects the worst outcome – but for two instances, he hopes, not for himself, but for Collem and Ardee.

I have to admit to having a lump in my throat when Glokta encounters his old friend who has been struck down with a hideous disease.

Of course there are many, many other characters who deserve mention – The Last of the Magi; Bayez, The Dogman, Black Dow, Ferro Maljinn, Severard, but I couldn’t do them all justice in a simple blog post.

There are few men with more blood on their hands than me.

Logan Ninefingers knows all about fighting and death, and there is a tonne of it in this book. The battles are hideously well written. The fight on Crummock i’Phail’s hill fort is astonishingly violent and immersive. It was like being behind the wobbly wooden barricade with them, as they waited in the dawn mist watching Bethod’s army waiting to move. Fingers, limbs, heads, every possible body part is pierced and sliced and skewed and bludgeoned. How on earth Abercrombie found so many words and phrases to describe death in battle is beyond me. It isn’t a huge cinematic blockbuster of a war, it’s one of those horrible localised battles; sure there’s hundreds of men involved, but we are exposed to the horror of hand-to-hand fighting, the smells and the grunting, the feel of steel sliding on bone. We see our ‘hero’, Logan Ninefingers do a truly horrible thing. In previous books we have seen skirmishes and battles, we have seen blood and guts, but this battle is truly mayhem. How can the reader possibly relate to the character after committing such an atrocious act? But here’s the thing, I did!

The final battle in Adua is equally violent, with a dash of Bayez’ magic thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, battles in films and books can be so expansive, so huge that we cannot really get a feel for what is going on. Abercrombie gives us snapshots of the city through the eyes of each character as he, or she, struggles to survive. This way we see what it is like to be a refugee from one’s own home, the starving peasant, the soldier who actually is scared, ruination where once stood beauty.

It’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s depressing. And so it should be. War is no fun for anyone; even those who signed up for it in the first place – because it is fucking dangerous, and we can feel this in the people fleeing, in Jezel’s desperation to lend a hand, in Ninefingers mad rush into a row of pikemen, in West’s hasty assault with his cavalry and infantrymen. And I was totally engaged.

I have read reviews that said the writing is ‘clunky’. I have read that people found it boring, or everyone dies (everyone doesn’t die by the way). I thought the writing was succinct, none of that Tolkeinesque, flowery stuff, just your good, solid writing that I feel fits the style of narrative. I still like that Abercrombie kept the chapters as seen from different points of view, and the internal dialogue is wonderful. It isn’t fantastic writing – but then again, I’m not sure what that means – a thoroughly academic command of the written word AND the ability to create an amazing story AND engaging characters AND…whatever else?

But it’s a fantastic tale well told.

Boring? Boring?! I can’t imagine what they were reading. This is not a boring book. It keeps the pace of the previous two, action, violence and intrigue, interspersed with quieter moments to alter the pace. Abercrombie manages to avoid clichés very well, the whole thing could easily have tipped into another fighting fantasy book with swords and sorcery and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t. I’ve picked up loads of books in the fantasy genre and then tossed them aside after a couple of chapters (and that was being generous in some instances).

Not to spoil it, but everyone doesn’t die. Some do – I’m not saying who – some survive in the same way they always have; by their wits or by violence, and some survive because they bend with the times.

We don’t always get what we want – could be the moral of the story (if there has to be one). Or, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

You see, like real life, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Is there a ‘happy ending’? I’m not sure, but I was not expecting that.

I always have a little sad moment when I complete a book, and this was no exception. I’m going to miss drinking wine with Ardee, struggling down dank staircases with Glokta, and wrestling with my conscience with Logan Ninefingers. I’m not sure I can leave it all behind, I might have to go after other titles by Joe Abercrombie – and that for me is what makes a good, if not great, storyteller.

FIRSTLAW_BLADEITSELF_VOL1_COVER_jpeg_rev3
Cover of first volume of The First Law comic book covering The Blade Itself.
Image from GeeklyInc

I’m giving Last Argument of Kings (and The First Law trilogy)

5 stars

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Published by

Alexandra

Writer of fiction, sci-fi, horror and more. Painter of magic realism. Grower of cabbages and currants.

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