Friday, April 4, 2008

Joe Abercrombie - Last Argument of Kings (BlindMan's Book Review)

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---Both princes are dead. Countryside is in flames. Adua in an uproar. The king is on his deathbed and a new king needs to be elected. The high and mighty are trying to muster as many votes as they can using any means necessary. And Superior Glokta is one of those recruiting.

---The expedition is back. Seed or no Seed, Jezal is just as happy to be closer to the woman he was dreaming about on the voyage to the end of the world. Confusing as he finds his reputation of a fop changing into a hero overnight Adree's hands keep him occupied enough not to care. In those confusing instances when it happens in front of his very eyes the possible worries are quickly explained away by his wise mentor, the First Disciple Bayaz.

---Ninefingers is home as well, in cold and bloody Northland where war still rages. Back home and back to his old ways. His surviving companions now lead by Dogman are fighting on the side of the Union, gathering the warriors that dislike the new kingdom Bethod wrought. But it's impossible to say who the carls hate more – the self-proclaimed king, or the almost mythic Bloody-Nine returned. Bethold is fighting on his home ground. He dug in his army in strong defensive positions, and only putting all the eggs in one basket might bring him out to attack. It's also quite possible, that this bold plan will turn into desperate last stand...
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Sorry folks, but I can't write this one without at least some small hints at how the things will turn out, so if you haven't read the book yet, you should consider stopping right here.
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*possible spoilers ahead*
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Joe Abercrombie's third book of The First Law trilogy bears the title: Last Argument of Kings. It's a quaint enough quote from the French cannons of old, but truth be told - it could just as well be entitled Life isn't fair. The sentence itself occurs often enough and I can find no better way to describe the overall ambiance of the book. The characters we had thought developing, growing and transmuting in previous books now show their true, flawed self - a bloodthirsty psychopath, spineless romantic, terrified cynic, vengeful sociopath, coldblooded puppeteer… Abercrombie has also decided to forgo the concepts of (just) reward and redemption that are so often found in fantasy literature and rather insists that the only thing that really counts is might and, perhaps, payment for services rendered.
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Revolutionary as this idea might sound, Abercrombie's delivery is not on the level with his previous standards. Throughout the book I could not shake the feeling of a rushed and unpolished job. Characterization that made sure that the characters would grow on us is either gone or shallow. Behavior changes almost in an instant, as if the reader has (in previous two books) read nothing but self-delusions and lies, and when the push came to shove those just disappeared into thin air. But even then the sudden changes would demand more of an explanation or description, not just a simple flip of the switch that Abercrombie seems to employ.
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Book rushes toward the end, trying to describe all that happens and in consequence oversimplifies the human factor. In my opinion, Abercrombie would be better off changing his plans and deciding to write a quadrilogy. The tales could be told entwined around two great events - one in the Northland and another in the city of Adua. That would give him enough room to explore in detail the growth of characters, their 'relapses' or even possible outside (i.e. magical) intervention that may have been the reason behind them.
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What bothered me even more is that while the tale ends, the book brings no true closure. I've tried to make a short inventory of my expectations when it comes to fantasy while writing this review, trying to decide if I've come to expect 'happily ever after' to find such a feeling. As self-serving as it might sound I've came to the conclusion that that's not really the case (yet). I don't know if Abercrombie plans to write more books set in this universe, or even with the same characters (even after writing all this, I still hope that Ninefingers can hold his breath for a REALLY long time), but that is the only explanation I can think of for such an emotionally unresolved ending.
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Last Argument of Kings is an average conclusion after two promising books. It's still an afternoon well spent, but it will probably take away any intention you had of rereading the trilogy after a year or two.
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The number of Fruitcakes I deem this book worthy of is:
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~ BlindMan ~

4 Comments:

dr. who said...

I've read a few reviews of Last Argument of Kings and every one praised this book more than the last; you showed some guts to trash it so. I'm now reading first book though.

BlindMan said...

Awww man...
I'm not trashing anything. Saying that something is "only" a decent read is far from saying that it's . . . David Bilsboroughs The Wanderer's Tale for instance, which was so boring I haven't even managed to read through (yet... I suppose), or Russell Kirkpatricks Across the Face of the World which was so formulistic that it made my jaws ache. I'm just saying that the book could be written better and trying to point out some aspects I consider flawed. What really surprised me though was the fact that other reviews praise exactly those aspects. Go figure.
But even if I'm to concede the lack of closure as the writers coup-de-etat in genre I must nonetheless stand behind the 'rushed and unpolished' and 'gone or shallow characterisation' parts.

argon said...

I'd love to say: great review too, BUT I haven't read it! :-P
I mean, I can't. I don't want to spoil my reading. So I closed my eyes and saved it for later, haha. :-P

Yes, I'm a bit nuts, like nutscake, same league with fruitcake, haha :-P

BTW: just 3 FruitCakes! WOW! Now, you can prepare yourself to get some spicy comments on Abercrombie blog, haha.

hmmm, sounds I'm getting crazy, I repeat myself all the time, but that what you get (WYSIWYG) when you post 3 reviews on on author at the same time. :-PPP

Mick.e.y said...

the review was a bit brash towards the book but I like your honesty - enjoyed your review blindman. keep up the good work.

 

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