Review: The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

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You know you have read a top class book when it’s over and you feel depressed. I have post trilogy depression, amongst the worst kind of book related disorders. One where you have invested so much of your time and soul into a multi character epic that you tend to forget that in the morning you have a job to go to. Yet at the same time I feel like my eyes have been opened to a new world. Grimdark!

Prior to reading Abercrombie’s work I had never experienced such truly gritty and dark fantasy. I now know it is a genre of its own, but to be honest I look at it more as ‘Real Fantasy’. In a similar fashion to the mass market popularity of Game of Thrones, where other fantasy series have failed to grow, the First Law gives us everything we would expect from a well constructed fantasy universe, but also gives us characters that could have come from a history book. They don’t just have faults, they live and breathe by their faults. Reading Joe Abercrombie’s books has shown me how characters can be despicable and make you root for them at the same time.

Logan Ninefingers and Glokta are amongst the most interesting and unforgettable fictional characters I have ever come across. Ferro and Jezal made choices throughout the books that felt so real. Often one expects a book to go a certain direction, or a character to say or do a certain thing, especially in fantasy writing. Not for Abercrombie’s characters. As I turned the pages my inner voice was constantly saying no, no, don’t do that, don’t say that. However, this only kept me wanting more.

The Last Argument of Kings is a fine climax for the trilogy. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I will only say that it was good to see things come together in the final battle. Abercrombie takes us into the head of the many POV characters. Using his amazing blend of vivid description and gritty language, we are taken right into the thick of it. I bled with the characters. Swore alongside them. I cringed and laughed with them. Few books draw you in so deeply. I felt I lived the First Law rather than read it. And that is the biggest compliment I can give Mr Abercrombie.

I feel there is little need for me to do an in depth review of this book. It is extremely well written. All of the characters that you love are back and in fine form. The story develops in an interesting way and does not repeat itself. There is action, emotion, suspense, drama and just about anything else you need in a good book. Just go out and read it.

I don’t often recommend books to my close friends but I will be telling every fantasy fan that I know to pick up these three books and get stuck into them.

Rating 5/5

Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Cover of "The Blade Itself (First Law)"

Cover of The Blade Itself (First Law)

Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he is a master of modern fantasy. I will be honest I have not had the chance to read a great deal of new fantasy. I am still working my way through piles of the classics. But having read ‘The Blade Itself’, I now realise I need to pay more attention to the new wave of fantasy authors.

Abercrombie’s writing is absolutely stand out. It is fluid and gripping, with a terrific use of both modern and old vernacular to truly paint a picture in your mind. Often I took a moment to re-read one of his metaphors or quirky descriptive phrases because they were that good! I found myself thinking, ‘God what a brilliant way to describe that.’, something I don’t do that often when I’m reading. The book is full of curse words you rarely see in fantasy writing and I sincerely believe that if used properly they really add to the story. They provide a gritty realism to the world often missed by traditional fantasy authors. So hat’s off to Joe for changing the way I think about my own writing.

The true strength in ‘The Blade Itself’ is the diversity and sincerity in its characters. Few books have twisted and uncouth characters as the main protagonists. Sure there are some great examples, but this has got to be up there as one of them now. Every POV character is flawed. But not flawed simply to have a flawed character, flawed in a real sense. Each character is utterly believable, which in a fantasy setting is not always possible.

They are selfish, frightened, mean, arrogant, and deplorable at times, loveable at others. From start to finish you are wondering whether you should be cheering for a character or hoping they plunge into an endless chasm. If Tolkien had his Fellowship of the Ring, Abercrombie has his Band of Merry Misfits.

And that is what the book seems to boil down to. I haven’t started the rest of the First Law trilogy, and do not want to give away big spoilers, but this book is a tale of gatherings. Whilst most first books in a trilogy culminate in a disaster or reveal a large looming catastrophe, this one only hints at a larger issue, but really focusses on getting the characters together. I found it unusual to flick over the last page and think to myself, ‘I don’t really know where this is going, and don’t know whose side I should be one.’ But damn, I can’t wait to read more.

There were no particular scenes that jumped out to me. If you ask me what was your favourite bit? I find it hard to pinpoint any particular event. Yet the whole thing kept me turning page after page. And there is no truer sign of a good book. If you like hard edged fantasy, go buy this book!

Rating 4.5/5