First Published: 2008
Pages: 670 (Paperback)
Series: The First Law #3
Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him, but it’s 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. It’s past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.
With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no-one is safe, and no-one can be trusted. And his days with a sword are far behind him, it’s a good thing blackmail, threats, and torture never go out of fashion.
Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is far too painful an process and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too–and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.
While the king of the Union lies on his deathbed, the peasants revolt, and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. Yet no-one believes that the shadow of war is about to fall across the heart of the Union. Only the First of the Magi can save the world, but there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, than to break the First Law…
And with the final book in the First Law trilogy (there are follow up standalone books set in the same world but this book completes the original trilogy), I remain more unconvinced than ever by Joe Abercrombie’s reputation as a master of fantasy. Sure, he subverts the cliche heroic fantasy tropes and stock characters to turn them on their head – but barely anyone writes that sort of heroic fantasy anymore anyway. And he still falls into that worst of fantasy author habits: writing way more than he he needs to, spinning a simple story into a whole trilogy. None of his books need to be as large as they are. The ending, while I admit it could have been a genuinely great end to standalone or a first novel in a series, feels anticlimactic after three books and roughly 1,700 pages. Especially when so little of relevance really happened in either book one or two. Really, the whole series would have been massively improved by hacking out all the filler, maybe reducing the number of POV characters, and condensing it all into two books instead (one would probably be pushing it).
While last Argument of Kings is probably the best book in the trilogy – the most action, the most plot, the most character revelations, it’s just a really really unsatisfying conclusion to the series. Now that’s part of the point, I’ll admit. Part of the subversion of traditional ‘happily ever after, tied up neatly in a bow, no more problems ever’ fantasy. But for me it wasn’t the satisfying sort of unsatisfying- the sort that just seems right and gets you really thinking. It was the ‘huh…I really read three bricks just for this?’. And, to be honest, it didn’t seem much of a subversion, I’d flagged up that a certain character was a bit of a shit back in book one, had it all but confirmed in book two, and once I’d decided that he was clearly a shit of the first order, it was really easy to see where the plot would end up – with him being a shit. I only misjudged a little in how much of a nasty shit he would be.
My main problem with this series though is the length. It’s far far longer than it needs to be and by the end, instead of feeling a deep connection to the characters, I was completely and utterly bored by them. The interest I had in book one had been eroded by overexposure, repetitive phrases and lack of development (Jezal is really the only one who gets any). Glokta, who had been the best part of The Blade Itself was simply a tiresome narrator repeating the same tired complaints about stairs and constantly ‘tonguing his gums’. And Logen, well I don’t think the reveal that people really hate a man that goes on indiscriminate murder sprees really counts as character development. Like, no shit, of course his own people hate him. By the very end I had stopped caring what happened to any of the characters.
There’s a lot more I could complain about – Ferro never did anything more than be a walking plot device, the fact that the central ‘breaking the First Law’ plot was way less interesting than any of the subplots, the way the world building was drip-fed in a way that made it hard to care about the big mythology that underpinned the whole story…but I’m just going to leave it at that. And also mention there was plenty I enjoyed too – mainly the parts set in the North.
I think Abercrombie had some great ideas, that the story could have been done really well. But having it drawn it out into such a massive trilogy just didn’t work for me. It was simply way more pages than either the story of the characters warranted.
I’m not actually giving up on Abercrombie yet though, my housemate lent me her copy of one of his standalones at the start of term and, despite my disappointment in the trilogy, I am going to read it. I’m honestly really interested to see if I prefer his stories when he restricts himself to using just one book to tell them. Also from the blurb the main character is female, and considering how one dimensional I found his female characters here when compared to the men, I’m really interested to see how he manages.