Review: Last Argument of Kings (The First Law Book 3 of 6)

Last Argument of Kings - Joe Abercrombie

This was the third and final book in the First Law trilogy, although there are three more standalone books set in this world. I have a lot of random and somewhat unrelated thoughts swirling around in my head after reading this, so I apologize in advance if this review is disjointed. Most of my review will be behind spoiler tags so I can type freely, but first I have a few generic comments.


There were things I loved about this book, things I didn’t care for, and even things I disliked. There were some great moments that made me laugh, and moments that just seemed so perfect that I had to put the book down and smile into space for a couple minutes. There were some payoffs that I had seen coming, but which were no less enjoyable for being anticipated, and others that caught me completely by surprise. For the most part this was a fast read, but I got bogged down for a little while in the middle when certain aspects of the story started to feel a little repetitive.


The ending was a mixed bag for me. It really didn’t feel like the end-of-series wrap-up I was expecting. We were given answers to most (but not all) of our questions, and the main danger was over for most (but not all) of our characters, and we had a general idea of what was in store for most (but not all) of our characters in the near future. But, aside from finally getting answers to some long-standing questions, the end of this book felt more like the end of another installment in the series rather than the end of the series itself.


I know there are three more standalone books written in this world, but I’ve avoided reading anything about them for fear of spoilers. I don’t know yet if they will pick up on any of the loose ends or if they will go off in a different direction altogether. I don't know if they'll feature the same characters, or if they're even set around the same time frame. They could be prequels or else set in the distant future for all I know. I just hope that, if they do provide answers for some of the loose ends, that they do so in a thorough way and not just as an “oh, by the way, this is what happened 50 years ago” sort of thing. That wouldn’t be very satisfying. I plan to start the first standalone later tonight, so I guess I’ll have a better idea what to expect from the standalones soon.


Ok, the rest of my thoughts will have to go behind spoiler tags. There are some major spoilers here. Please don’t click unless you’ve already read the entire trilogy or unless you don’t care about the spoilers.



Anybody who’s been following my reviews of this series knows that Logen has been my favorite character. Early on in this third book, he is finally reunited with his old crew and I was very happy to see that. However, I found that I didn’t like Logen as much when he was with his own people. Later on in the book, Logen actually echoed my own thoughts when he thought to himself that he liked himself better when he was with his previous traveling companions. They didn’t have any preconceptions based on his past behavior, nor had they learned to fear the Bloody Nine. He also didn’t have a reputation to live up to and he didn’t have to be on the defensive against potential enemies quite so much, so he wasn’t as on edge with them.


This book made it clear that the Bloody Nine’s reputation was well-earned -- he did some pretty horrible things in this book, and we learned that it was Logen’s ambition that was at least partially responsible for driving Bethod to become the person he became. I especially hated the part where the Bloody Nine killed Tul Duru. Early on, I thought Logen showed wisdom when he told Dogman to continue as the leader of the Northmen because he knew his own leadership would cause too much conflict. I thought he should have made a similar decision after he defeated Bethod and was proclaimed king. Things would have turned out better for him, but I guess then he couldn’t have upheld his end of the bargain to help the Union fight the Gurkish.


I had mixed feelings about the way things ended up for Logen. There was some appeal to the way he went full circle – in the first book, he starts off by falling over a cliff into a river. At the end of this book, he ends up jumping out a window into a river. We don’t know if he lives or dies at the end, but I feel pretty confident that he’ll live. I just wanted more from his story. Considering how much of the series was invested in his part of the story, there was an awful lot that went unanswered. Why could he talk to spirits? Why did he go berserk during battles? Was it just a battle rage thing he was born with and, if so, did he inherit it from his father? Was it triggered by some event in one of his early battles? Was it tied somehow to whatever it was that also gave him the ability to talk to spirits? It seemed to only happen during battles when his body had been subjected to extreme trauma and exhaustion. Not only did I want more answers about all this, but I was also rather hoping that learning the cause of it might lead to him learning how to control it. Also, how could it possibly be that the people he’d fought alongside for so long didn’t know better by this point than to approach him during a fight until they were sure he was fully himself again? Tul Duru tried to help him during a battle and paid the price for it, and Dogman almost found himself in the same situation. Overall, I didn’t feel like the level of interest I’d had for this character was sufficiently rewarded.


I was happy to finally find out what had been going on with Malacus Quai. I really, really should have seen that one coming, especially after we learned that there were beings who could change their form, but I never suspected he wasn’t really Quai until the very moment when Bayaz asked him who he was and what he’d done with his apprentice. I was sorry that the funny and likeable character from the first book was dead, but I was also happy that it hadn’t really been Quai who turned out to have evil intentions.  (Sarah, if you see this once you read the book, you totally called it -- bad guy in hiding.  I think I was blinded by how much I'd liked Quai in book 1.)


I loved the moment when Jezal was made king. I had seen that one coming from early on, so it wasn’t a surprise, but I kept laughing at the way it came about and at the different characters’ reactions as they found out about it. I was annoyed to see him backslide into his old, weak-willed, arrogant self though. At the beginning of the book, I started to hate him all over again. However, he did become more likeable again during the crisis and he seemed to have matured a bit more permanently by the end of the book. He’s still a coward, as Bayaz makes quite clear, but he’s also developed compassion and has learned to think more about others instead of focusing entirely on himself. If he weren’t stuck being Bayaz’s puppet, I imagine it might be possible that he could turn into a decent king.


I hated that we ended up with Bayaz still in control of everything. He had manipulated everything from the very beginning and, in the end, we’re pretty much back where we started. It wasn’t just Logen’s story that went full circle. In the beginning, although we didn’t know it at the time, Bayaz was controlling events from afar. In the end, the same is still true but with different pawns. I want to know if Jezal and Glokta will find ways to circumvent Bayaz’s wishes. Really, he just needs somebody to defeat him altogether! I think maybe I had a Gandalf-style expectation for him in the first book. I initially assumed he was a kindly wizard, maybe a bit temperamental but surely tempered by wisdom and good intentions. It wasn’t until near the end of the first book that I started to see him for who he was – a vindictive and self-righteous man with more power than sense. In many ways Bayaz is a lot like Jezal was at the beginning, but with the power to cause far more damage. He's oblivious to and uncaring of the plights of others and he sees everybody else as beneath him, only useful insomuch as they can help him further his goals.


I did really like the way things ended up for Glokta in the series. Of all the main characters, he actually seems to be in the best place. Of course he too is stuck under Bayaz’s thumb, so it isn’t all good, but he’s certainly in a better place than he was at the beginning of the story. He had some great moments in this book. I particularly loved the conversation he had with Ferro about Bayaz, after she got done shoving his head in the bathtub. Very funny. I hated that both of his practicals betrayed him, though. I had guessed that Severard was the source of the leak from the beginning, although I kept hoping I would be wrong through the interminable wait until the part of the book where the culprits were finally revealed. Frost, on the other hand, caught me by surprise – I realized it only moments before Glokta did.

(show spoiler)