Friday, 4 January 2008
‘Last Argument of Kings’ – Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz Books)
Just over a year ago, people were asking me what I wanted for Christmas and I had no idea what to ask for. I’d heard about this book called ‘The Blade Itself’ (which was getting good reviews here, there and everywhere) and thought I’d ask for that. After all, if it turned out to be rubbish then someone else would have bought it and not me… ;o) Fast forward about eleven months and there I am waiting by the letterbox for my review copy of ‘Last Argument of Kings’ to come through the door. You see, ‘The Blade Itself’ was much more than just a good book and ‘Before They Are Hanged’ was even better. I finished reading ‘Last Argument’ this morning and will quite happily say that the final instalment was the best of the lot… Fans of the series are in for a treat. If you haven’t picked up the books yet then you’re in for a treat as well!
This is a really hard review to write as the book won’t be released until March and I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that the blurb says ‘The end is coming’ and this is definitely true. While there is scope for the tales of minor characters to continue the major players all find a degree of closure. You may not agree with how things end for certain people (you’ll certainly be surprised, I was) but you’ll have to agree that everyone gets what they deserve. For an author who likes to tweak the established archetypes of the genre Abercrombie displays a real streak of morality that I wouldn’t have expected to find in this kind of work. You can’t argue with the results though.
If you’ve read the first two books then you’ll know what to expect from the third in terms of style and content, at least you’ll think you will… Joe delivers his normal dose of intrigue, action and black humour but ramps it all up a gear and smacks you in the gut with some stuff that I guarantee you will not see coming. And then (while you’re gasping for breath) he does it all over again, rendering some of the most powerful battles I’ve seen in fantasy literature almost pointless with the revelations that follow. Let’s go back to those battles; Joe has proved that he can orchestrate the machinations of a small cast of characters, now he proves that he can do it with a cast a thousand times bigger. I love the way he zooms in to small set pieces and then pans out again, it really got me empathising with everyone involved and you get to see how one small action can influence the bigger picture. In terms of warfare in fantasy fiction, I don’t think that Joe is quite up there with Erikson but he’s damn close.
By the time I’d finished I really couldn’t believe that I’d gone on the journey that I had. Final chapters just don’t end in the way this one did but it just felt so right at the same time. It’s not perfect though, one small (but vitally important) scene had me thinking, “what hadn’t they noticed that the last time they went in there?” What followed though was so good that I was prepared to let that one go.
‘Last Argument of Kings’ will be one of the best fantasy books (if not the best) that you read this year. I know it’s only the fourth of January but I’m happy to stand by this ;o)
Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten