In the Last Argument of Kings, the final book in the First Law trilogy, Joe Abercrombie has created a fitting and spectacular end to this gritty and grim, with the occasional touches of humour, fantasy series. And that is no mean feat considering the impossibly high standards that the previous books in the series set. Guys and girls, I think I may have found myself a new author to add to my favourites list!
The story picks up almost immediately where the previous book in the series, Before They Are Hanged, finished. There is a slight jump forward, but nothing major that needs explaining or is important to the overall story. The bloody war in the north between the Union and Bethod, the self-styled King of the North, wears on, costing thousands of lives on both side an wearing Major West’s nerves ever thinner with each day – but the entrance of Logen Ninefingers, or The Bloody Nine as he is better known, provides hope of breaking the stalemate. Meanwhile, back in Adua, Jezal dan Luthar’s new found desire for peace and an easy life with the women he loves is swept away by the politics of court – a world in which Sand dan Glokta is violently, and sometimes humorously, fully submerged.
What this book does best, and in fact is what this whole series does best, is to make you love the characters. Not necessarily in a ‘they’re a great person and I would want to spend time with them’ kind of way, but a ‘I need to find out what happens to them as they are so interesting!’ kind of way. For me, my personal favourite is still Inquisitor Glokta – I absolutely love his chapters and find his internal monologue adds a sharp edge of humour that is just genius for such a, on the surface, dark character. Saying that, I am most impressed with how Abercrombie handled the character arcs of Jezel dan Luthar and Logen Ninefingers. I found both to be slightly bland at the end of the first book, but over the middle book and this one, found myself enjoying them more and more. My one real complaint on a character front is that we don’t get as much closer on Ferro as we do on the others. This may have been on purpose (I can see how you could add a whole bunch of further writings on her adventures!) but I still felt like she was a little hard done by. But, I did always find her POV chapters to be some of the best for similar reasons to the Glokta ones.
The previous book in the series, Before They Are Hanged, really upped the tempo of the story from the first book, The Blade Itself, and that continued in this book with large scale battles and action galore that builds the tension to a suitable gruesome and bloody climax for this book. This gives the ending a bittersweet feeling – with some characters getting happier endings than others – and I am really not sure what else I was expecting from this book. It fits the grim tones and reality of the previous books perfectly in that respect.
If I was to have any criticisms of this book, they would be small. As I said earlier, I would have liked to see more of Ferro at the end; I just think that there is so much potential for further stories with how things ended with her! Aside from that, I was a little disappointed by the jump forward at the beginning. At the end of Before They Are Hanged, we have the Union’s forces besieging Bethod’s Northern forces in a massive fortress. Then, suddenly the siege is over and the Union have won. We are told it how much of a bloody struggle it was and how bad it was for the Union forces, but that they prevailed in the end. I just wanted to read how they did it because in the previous book we see the Northern soldiers giving the Union a right pumping throughout, but we never really see much of the reverse in this book. This is only a small criticism though, as we get plenty of fighting and bloody battles later on, so I completely understand why the author (or his editor’s) took the decision to not include this particular battle.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and it was a great conclusion to a hugely enjoyable series! Obviously, you can’t just jump into this book, it wouldn’t make any sense, so I won’t recommend this book on its own; I will recommend the entire First Law trilogy. It’s a new favourite series of mine, for sure.