Review – Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

“…her bare, pale arse was slicking up at him.”

I’ve taken issue with the execution of The First Law trilogy since book one. Its anti-heroes are never more than on the cusp of becoming multifaceted. The history of the world is often alluded to, but even when characters are at their most expository they can list no more than five things that have happened in the last thousand years. The narrative viewpoints are dull, repetitive, and jump schizophrenically between characters in the same location. The series has continually left me with the impression of a first draft in search of a stopping point, an empty fantasy world seeking shortcuts to feel visceral and contemporary.

Last Argument of Kings did nothing to dissuade me from that opinion. It ends where a more interesting story would have begun. In the wake of a nuclear explosion, the preternatural bad-ass leaves town with demons in her head. The conflicted barbarian berserker is thrown to his death by the few remaining friends he hasn’t killed. The omniscient wizard responsible for putting all the characters right where he wanted them wanders off because he’s done performing deus ex machina for now. Meanwhile, the peoples’ choice for the throne is an impostor to royalty, the head of the Inquisition is married to a woman pregnant with the king’s bastard, and a radioactive wasting disease is spreading through the capital city.

Now that’s a starting point for a modern take on the genre. With all the Whedonesque characters written out, normal people, with their less operatic jealousies and faults, would have to deal with the business of running a fantasy kingdom.

Which is not to say that I’m in a rush to pick up the next two books set in the same universe. The promise that things might get more interesting got me this far. Now all I have is the surety of more descriptions like the one quoted above.

“Ick,” I yawped.

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