Last Argument of Kings - Joe Abercrombie
Where I Stand:
I love this book, this series. All of it. There are a few things that I don't like and some issues but those are greatly outweighed by all the great things in these books. From the grimy character so realistically and well portrayed, fatally flawed and morally grey to the cyclic cryptic open ending. I was frustrated and not satisfied with the ending, but the ending works and fits the story. I think any other ending would be a sham. The book is has everything great about the first two books and makes it better. Lots of character progression, more things revealed, information gained and even more questions than ever. The current plot of the war on Adua is over but there's not much else completed. All lot is up in the air, literally and figuratively. I definitely recommend this book for fans of fantasy noir. It's not for the squeamish. I think there should be a trigger warning on the whole series. There's only one moment in all of the books, in this book in fact, that make me very unsettled. But I think it's worth it for me. It's a great series. I look forward to reading the next books set in this world.

In Depth:
Oh, where to begin? Let's start at the end, which is conveniently the beginning as well. We all knew it wasn't going to be a happy ending. As you keep reading farther into this 600 some page book, you get the feeling it isn't going to be wrapped up. It's not. It doesn't work that way in the First Law world. It makes sense philosophically and the author practically bashed in our head repeating things to make sure we understood the point and the cleverness of the ending. The first chapter of the first book is titled The End and the last chapter of this book is titled The Beginning for godssake. Yes, history runs in circles, same pattern, same repeats. We get it. The whole second book was basically a foreshadowing of the plot twists since all it did was tell the history of The Old Time. We get it.*

It ended but we have no real conclusion. The battle is over, the war won and the master puppeteer revealed. Hooray. But the ending is as inconclusive as the endings for the first and second book. Leaving us hanging off a cliff like Logan. More answers, even more questions and everything is just as shitty as before, don't try to deny it. The game is still being played on, life revolving in circles around them all and all things die in the cycle. But this story has been all about the characters so it's painful to go through all of this and not have a conclusion to the character's story. So on we move to the next books to find the ending this trilogy denied us.

In my review for the first book, I thought we'd get more personality revealed from Terez of Talins and get to see what it's like to be a woman in the highest rung of society. Well, we certainly see it now. It's not fucking pretty. Sold like cattle and raped by the unwitting king under coercion of death and rape of her lesbian partner. I didn't expect it. I didn't expect it to be so unsettling. I like Glotka before the third book. After threatening Terez of Talins and her partner, Shalere, I don't find that I can like him much anymore. (No, that's not true. It's just cemented that Glotka is indeed a terrible person, who sometimes conveniently does nice stuff for others. No more “Why do I do this? Can I still be a good man? Does saving two lives make up for so many others?”) Maybe what he did just hit too close to home, considering our societies sexist and homophobic treatment of lesbians. The threat of being “raped straight” is all too real in our world still. Considering the first born prince (whatever the fuck his name was) is a known rapist and the argument between the him and Terez of Talins we heard in the first book, it would surprise me if the rapist prince didn't rape her. Is it really a wonder the old queen was so "frosty"? Whatever happened to her anyways? Dropped to the wayside since she's no longer needed, not even given a mention of what happened to her. Considering the world, I'm thinking she's dead or hiding from people trying to kill her.

Indeed, the First Law world has many issues with women, like our own. Which is why all the women have been abused and mistreated, no matter where they are on the societal rung women are minor pawns to be played accordingly. I'm hoping some of the spurred “frosty” women come back to fuck up the men's game board, but hope is useless in the First Law world. I certainly know my place in the First Law world, that doesn't mean I have to like it. (More later on the lacking characterization of women)

I'm all about the characters. They are interesting, and morally grey. There actions and words make sense (with few exceptions like Ardee's violence with Jezel upon Jezel's return). They read true and the author writes just how people think. No conveniently drawn out flash backs here. Nope, you know, see, feel and think what the characters do. It's all character driven and that's a rather interesting conflict between the overarching theme of history repeating with people just being minor cogs turned without an option out. There are no complaints in the character department for me. It's been extremely interesting journey for them.** I absolutely love the fact there is a lot character progression and it all works, it all makes sense. It's not out of left field, convenient for the story progression. It makes the story progress since the story is character driven, it's like all the little piece finally falling into place***.

I just think the author was heavy handed going on how gray the characters**** and morality is in the world, like he did with the theme of history repeating. So through out drudging through the grey swamp with our characters there was the background forge sounds of the author pounding out the world, the hammering it into our skulls with the character's words and sword just how grey and pointless the whole thing is. It made the tone a bit more dreary, with this monotony. It's not like we didn't already know all this, or that we needed to be reminded every chapter of this facts. It felt much like Bayaz lecturing us since all people are children and needed to be taught the same lessons over and over.

I love all the layers and meaning, the overarching theme and philosophy, of this series. I just wish the author didn't assume we were stupid and needed to be endlessly reminded at how clever he was and how it all fits together. But what to do I know? (I have my own issue with repeating things and rambling on...) Maybe for the characters it was necessary and made sense to lament over it all the time.

Despite this needless repeating, the tone was still light. Just not as light as the previous books in the trilogy, when there was hope for better before reality crashed in and the characters realized they had to keep spinning their wheels in mud. The character's wit, conversation, how they described things, the juxtapositions, the gallows humor all helped to make the First Law world not only livable, but often funny and enjoyable. The author also helped keep it light with his obvious poking fun of typical fantasy trilogies and tropes.

I think this brings us to why people are all hyped up about Joe Abercombie. Hailing him as a groundbreaking new author and shattering the molds of fantasy trilogies. While I don't disagree with these sentiments, I don't agree with the magnitude it has grown into. I don't find the author shattering, I feel like it's more reshaping the mold to fit his style. There's plenty of similarities and
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheFirstLaw tropes in here. It's just that this is a different genre of fantasy than a lot of people are used to apparently. I guess I'm more familiar with fantasy noir . I really hate calling it “low fantasy”, it makes me think of low brow. There's plenty here to enjoy and think about it. It's not just bloody gory glorified fighting. If you want fantasy noir, this is a great series in this genre for a lot of reasons. I'm just not going to hype it up based simply on the fact it's fantasy noir. It is what it is, it's not a genre for everyone. This isn't a book for everyone but I think most people who enjoy fantasy noir will enjoy this series and author.

As much as it differs from traditional fantasy, they share plenty of things. After all, it's still fantasy. I also like how with all the poking fun of traditional fantasy trilogies and tropes, the author is poking fun at himself and his own books. (This is another thing that I think helps keep the tone of the books light.) It's rather funny, the feel of the books to me is, “Let's show this story is not the same old same old (where there really are plenty of similarities) in a world of people struggling in the cycle of history, the same old same old.”It's like when Logen said to Bayaz,(pg. 575)”Except you wrought a touch less slaughter, and ruined a smaller part of a smaller city, in a smaller, meaner time. Otherwise what's the difference between you and him?” Indeed it's a matter of degrees and where you stand. This book is fantasy, fantasy noir. If you enjoy this book, especially if it's your first time into this sub-genre it very well maybe groundbreaking.

Now, to people saying,"But he's totally different! He doesn't follow the same old pattern!" Yet the author's pattern is easy enough to follow: choose the inverse of typical fantasy. Happy ending with everything resolved =Play it in a loop and leave the characters hanging. Helpful powerful mage to save the day = Master puppeteer with failing magic all out for his own arrogance, making several decisions like the Evil Mage he's fighting. Evil Mage = not all that evil, backed into a corner and is most likely telling the truth about Bayaz killing his master and we know Bayaz lied about throwing the Makers daughter to her suppose to be death. Which just goes to show, it really all depends on where you stand.








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*Very first chapter titled the ending, the very last chapter titled the end, having the same scenario and lines repeating. Logan and Bayaz conversation when Logan refused Bayaz's help ruling the North. Tolomei and the Tower of the Maker, the fates of Ferro and Yawei, the fate of the Union repeating. Everything repeated. Some choice quotes to show just how numerous and over done the harping on this was:
Glotka (pg 600) "History moves in circles, so they say. How things have changed. And yet, how they have stayed the same."

Bayaz (pg. 583)"The war will continue. On different battlefields, with different soldiers. But this will be the last battle fought with the weapons of the past. The magic leaks form the world. The lessons of the Old Time fade into the darkness of history. A new age dawns."

Glotka (pg. 441) "Round and round in circles we go, clutching at successes that we never grasp, endlessly tripping over the same old failures. Truly, life is misery we endure between disappointments.
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** Characters! My thoughts.
Bayaz: I actively hate him. Can't stand him. I'm curious how it's going to go down and resolve itself. All I know now is it would be better if Bayaz and the other magi would make the world a better place by dying. Bayaz is a known murder, liar and it's clear his crimes are far too long to list.

West was mostly white. The only really bad thing he did (that we know of) was hitting his sister Ardee and running away from his abusive father leaving Ardee behind. I don't consider him killing the rapist prince to help save Cathril bad. He was an asshole rapist, I don't care about his bloodlines. It's not like they were going to send the rapist to prison because he was a prince (did they punish rapists? Or just if they rape someone important? Or someone's slave so they would punish for property infringement?) I don't think lying is necessarily bad, like West's lies to both generals to make them get along. That was the best solution, it worked and no harm was done. Then he has a horrible death due to the sickness Bayaz brought down upon them, fighting to save the city. As the Northern Men say, the mud is the richer, and we are the poorer.

Glotka is vastly morally black, with a few good moments between the framing, lying, torture and murder. Yet has a background, which makes him a bit sympathetic at first. He is after all, the product of what was done to him (aren't we all?), played by his masters who careless about people, just playing the game. He's witty, and some of the best dialog comes from him. He's interesting and intriguing. As we learned to disdain those in control who don't care about people and command ruthless things, Glotka moves all the more closer. He's now the second in command for the master puppeteer and how unsettling that is for us, considering how the author primed us up to hate the masters.

Jezel: Whoa, character progression. It's nice to see the changes come through in him and stick so far. I was worried with him becoming king he'd be terribly corrupted. He still has his problems, don't get me wrong, he's far from perfect. But he cares about people besides himself now, including the little poor people. I think he is going to try and be sneaky with making things better for his subjects behind Bayaz's back. It's nice to see. Sure, he has his hand's tied behind his back and can't do shit, but I think it would be better to stay alive than to rebel against Bayaz currently. That would mean unrest and problems for the subject and if he's alive there's a chance down the line to do something. Being a coward isn't always a bad thing. I don't like how it's some moral failing in this world.

Logan: Poor Logan.I wonder what actually happens when the Bloody Nine comes out of him. I don't think it's just a simple blood craze, he actually changes as a person and doesn't remember what happens. I really like Logan. I don't blame him for what the Bloody Nine does, they really are two different people in the same body. I understand why people are mad at him and hate him. I still feel bad for Logan. He is a good person, he just has flaws and an unfortunate side effect.

Ferro: Oh, what are you now devil woman? Character progression is slower with Ferro but that's to be expected. The hyper vigilant can't just let go over night. It's a life time thing. I'm really hoping Ferro kills Bayaz. I feel bad for Tomolei and I like this story arch. Find Ferro so interesting and like her., wish there was most time spent with her.

Ardee : Well, she's sure come a long way. I think a lot of the problem with Ardee is, the author assume her drunken abusive father was enough background to understand her. It's not. There's several things that don't quite add up and Ardee is one of the few places the author failed in the character department. I hope this is fixed in later books. I wonder how it's going to turn out with Glotka raising Jezel's son. Tension galore I'm sure. Will Glotka actually be a good father? Will the queen find out and hate Ardee and Jezel? Will other people step in the way? Will Jezel every know or care?

I think Ardee, Ferro and Terez of Talins have the same issue. The background of abuse isn't enough. Ferro has more known background than the others so the issue is less prominent. Ardee and Terez though are severely lacking. If you think about it, it's the same with most other women characters. I didn't have an issue in the first or second books, since I thought we'd get more from the third book to understand.Rather disappointing since the author is so great with men.
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*** I love little details. It was interesting to see all the tidbits of advice that Dogman was repeating and got from Logan (like about fear, being realistic) was then attributed to Threetrees after Threetrees died and Logan came back to them alive.
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****Yes, everything and everything is grey, and people never change. People are shit and nothing ever gets better. There are no other colors but grey and shit. Countless times it's been said, people don't get what they deserve and the guilty aren't punished, god hasn't shown mercy or fairness. Terrible people survive and thrive, only occasional being good. Generally good people are beaten into silence and submission. Logan is a good guy but goes crazy and kill his friend and a child. Almost kills another man later. No one is good. It's shown through the character and on top of that it's repeatedly stated as fact. There is an entire short chapter devoted to this, Good Men, Evil Men (pg. 584-586). That chapter described the day several times as grey. Logan talking about taking up swords with the Unions help to be King of the North like Bethod. Dogman says "Piss on you, who made you the judge!"; "There was no one here but him anyhow. Him and the dead. But maybe that's what happens once the fighting stops, to a man who knows nothing but fighting. He fights himself." and
"Wondered if if he'd know a good man from an evil, anymore. He wondered what the difference was."
Literally begins with the same lines and ends with the same lines. Dogman thinking how things used to be better when they've been saying how it didn't matter since the past wasn't any better to them.
It was straight out mentioned several times,
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Sidenotes
With regards to the theme and the layers to the trilogy, I think it's funny. The main theme of this has been history runs in circles and character determinism, what does this mean for the author's next books in the First Law world? Does it all continue has it has been, then what keeps us reading when it's all determined anyways? How does the author keep us engaged in the deary muck of grey known at the First Law world, where everyone and everything sucks, and we can't get no satisfaction? I've read the blurb for the next book, Best Served Cold and am wondering if the world will stay determinist and where religion fits in. There's been mention of religion in Talins, will the world topple into fatalism or are gods just as impotent as Adua finds them?
I'm guessing the best part of the next books will have to be the characters and the way the author plays around with tropes. If he keeps doing that well (and the fight scenes of course) I think I'm going to enjoy reading his next books. No matter how frustrating it gets. It's fantasy, but not the typical escapist “I'm a magical being and there are dragons”, it's a realistic fantasy where you can relate and lament fighting against yourself and your masters. Love and hate each part of a character. It's the the escapist dream of “Well, at least someone has it worse that me...” to feel not so alone in the struggle of dreary every day life. The North gives the dream of being your own man, fighting for yourself, carving out your own life and all that manly man stuff. Adua gives the dream of being born into wealth and high into society. We see the pitfalls and issues with each dream in the series. This series is ever willing to crush your dreams and escapism into realism.
Since the North and Adua are so contrasted against each other, like following men proven vs. bloodlines and keeping your place, I wish they went more into what it's like to be a woman in the North. There seems to be only Northern men left. Where are the women? Do they get no consideration in the dog eat dog reality of the North? Logan and Dogman have reminisce on the past women and their regrets of losing them to the war, but can we get a strong Northern woman to slay some shit up?
I have a feeling the North and Adua are going to become more opposites, with every northern man having a say given their refusal for kings and their bloody past. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.