The third and final installment of the First Law trilogy, and it goes out with a bang. We’re treated to watching Abercrombie’s overarching vision start to take shape, and can see his writing improve even more. The characters still drive the story – Ninefingers still struggles against his more wrathful, Bloody side.Jezal dan Luther gets everything he ever wanted, and completely hates it. Sand dan Glokta is still delightfully twisted, and somehow is the most relatable character in the whole series. Ferro Maljinn realizes her dark destiny. and Bayaz gets seriously scary. Seriously.
That’s all I’ll get into for plot. In terms of the writing Joe gets a bit more refined, but in areas it felt a little rushed. In Before They Are Hanged the pace was even, and it felt like he kept control over the prose the entire time. While Last Argument is longer, there’s a lot more squeezed into it, and suffers from some of the shortcomings shared by many other multi-volume finales. Whether its movies or books, way too many times the final installment needs to tie a few too many threads into neat little bows, and the pacing and plot suffer. Last Argument is no exception, but its still a thrill to read. At this point, I’m so damn invested in the characters I can’t put it down.
This volume gets into a larger-scale battle in a more direct way than the other two. The siege of Dagoska was very intense, but was sublimely told through Glokta’s eyes from the parapets, more of an observer than front-line fighter. Abercrombie is very good at individual fight scenes, and smartly breaks bigger fights into smaller, easily-consumable pieces. He then allows the story to be told in the paces between the actual confrontations. The effect is intriguing storytelling that keeps the reader turning the pages to see what happens. He has a talent for finding balance between omission and inclusion of detail that doesn’t bog down the prose but keeps the reader in tune and interested.
In the third and final First Law book, we also get more overt magic (in the form of a gigantic nuclear cyclone in the middle of a city) introduced into the storyline. Before the effects of High Art were always tangible, but a bit more subtle in the preceding volumes. And it always came at a price. I always find “magic” to be an easy fix in Fantasy stories if not properly controlled and bound by rules. Its the sign of a strong author that they can create a fantastic world without sorcery and wizardry to rely on. Abercrombie is very good at incorporating just the right amount of mysticism, and it felt like the final act was a appropriate pay-off for the build-up from the previous two volumes.
Its just as gritty and raw as the preceding two books, and Joe again proves dragging high fantasy through the mud and mire is captivating.The whole trilogy opens a world he’s reached back into as well (The Heroes, Best Served Cold, and Red Country as well as some short stories all take place in the same setting) and features a lot of the same characters. Which for a nerd like me is like mana from heaven.
Needless to say, I highly recommend Last Argument of Kings, the rest of the First Law trilogy, and anything Joe Abercrombie writes.
This particular book gets 4-out-of-5 Back-Stabbing Betrayals…because in this book there’s way more than four.