Last Argument of Kings

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Truly, life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

– Joe Abercrombie, Last Argument of Kings

I heartily enjoyed these books for setting many fantasy conventions on their heads, for introducing realistic characters who defy expectation without seeming to go against their natures. I love that my favorite character is a torturer and that I am still fascinated and intrigued by who I am sure is the villain.

I don’t believe this trilogy reads well if one jumps into the middle or the end. Each book is nicely encapsulated, but the whole story must be read to be appreciated. For that reason, I find it difficult to say much about the final volume without spoiling some of the surprises in the first two books.

I will say the pace of this third book does annoy me somewhat. It is split into two parts roughly down the middle; I slogged through the first 300 pages, replete with battles and death and strategies. I’m a fantasy fan who doesn’t care much for action, I prefer the magic and intrigue of it all. There is no lack of intrigue, however; our dear torturer friend has gotten himself into a bit of trouble concerning divided loyalties and blackmail.

The book more than makes up for Part I with Part II, which I tore through despite already having read it once before and having discovered the major revelations at the end. I love the ending for not being the joyous peal of “And then the world was saved and the kingdom rejoiced”. War leaves terror and ruins in its wake, and it’s fitting that the ending reflect that. The end of a war does not solve all of a kingdom’s problems either.

For me to say too much more would spoil more than is appropriate. I love the characters, from self-centered Jezal who has found himself way in over his head, to Ferro and her single-minded pursuit of vengeance. Sand dan Glokta is far and away my favorite character; a shattered ruin of a man, hobbling through each day one at a time through constant pain, ever asking why he does what he does. I suspect he only makes it through his days through heavy use of his dry sense of self-deprecating humor.

The First Law

I’m currently rereading the third book of The First Law trilogy, a series recommended to me by a friend, a series that I quickly fell in love with. The world is realistic and gritty, rife with violence and danger; the characters are interesting, engaging, and defy archetypal expectations; and, most importantly for me, magic makes sense and has dire consequences if misused or used too freely.

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The author, Joe Abercrombie, has decided not to provide us with a map of his world, which suits me fine. Most of what I read these days is on my Kobo, which doesn’t display maps very well; I didn’t know the true shape of George R. R. Martin’s world of Ice and Fire until I bought the poster set of maps last year. Maps are lovely, but they can be distracting while reading. I have a tendency to flip to the front flap to see exactly where people are talking about.

Because of the lack of a map, we are forced to imagine the Circle of the World and its various regions. Luckily, three of these regions can be accurately named the North, the South and the West. The books visit all three of these and presents conflicts between certain regions and the central (I believe) kingdom of the Union, a kingdom filled with self-serving and/or empty-headed gentry struggling to seize power in the midst of the king’s declining health.

I greatly enjoy the writing, there is a lot of humor (especially dark humor) in it. I find myself highlighting certain passages to share them with my husband while we’re in the métro. My favorite characters are the soldier turned torturer after an extended imprisonment in the South rendered him unfit to do much else, and the highly manipulative and secretive Magus, pulling the strings with unknown intentions.

The trilogy contains a few revelations near the end that make the books more interesting to reread, though I would give them another go if only for the world and the characters and the writing. To any fan of fantasy who enjoys stories that do not take themselves too seriously (though the tone is quite serious indeed through a lot of the tale), I highly recommend The First Law trilogy: The Blade ItselfBefore They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings.

Incidentally, I found a new way to read on the train, making excellent use of my winter coat and my Kobo’s protective case:

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