Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Last Argument of Kings

by Joe Abercrombie


In epic high fantasy heroes and villains are the norm. They are expected to emerge at some point, usually leading a glorious charge or engaging in a last-ditch effort to save the world. But in Last Argument of Kings nothing is ever the way it seems from a distance, and events rarely turn out as expected.

This is especially true for Superior Glokta, who is busier than ever in the run-up to an election. His boss, the Arch Lector Sult, wants power for himself. He has sent Glokta out to help him rig the votes in any way he can. Glokta's work never gets any less brutal as he comes up with more and more inventive ways to get his own way.

But Glokta is working in the dark, with little knowledge of who his enemies really are, or even whose pay he is in himself.

Meanwhile battles rage in the North, and Logen Ninefingers has some scores to settle. He's not the kind of person who can keep out of trouble wherever he is. His tendency to rush headlong into danger makes his chances of a long life look increasingly slim.

Jezal dan Luthar has returned to Adua, but he's finding that the city and the homecoming he dreamt of when he was away are not all he had hoped for. Disillusionment is a theme of most of the main characters' lives, and Jezal is badly affected by it. He returns from his travels a changed man, or so he thinks. But is he no more than a pawn of craftier and more powerful men?

None of the relationships in Last Argument of Kings are as simple as they first seem. The web of treachery and deceit is dense, the plot so thick you could carve it with a knife. Most enigmatic of all is Bayaz. The ancient Magi looks like a kindly uncle, but his motivations are unclear, his history is clouded, and we're never sure whether or not he's trustworthy.

Violence is a constant in this novel, whether it's the sickening anticipation of battles to come or the gore of ongoing fights. Spilt brains and broken bodies mount up, the horrors of war forming a blood-drenched backdrop to everything else.

This grim atmosphere is intensified by a number of dour characters, who see only the dark side of any given situation. Ferro, Logen, Glokta and Ardee West are life's pessimists, and even the haughty Jezal dan Luthar finds himself eaten up by guilt. Yet their misery is just as blackly funny here as it is in the earlier books. This is a novel without any real heroes or villains, or where those two opposites can occupy the same body. It's about being careful what you wish for, and the way history is always written by the victors, and a lot else besides. Last Argument of Kings is too ingenious a book to be easily and briefly summed up as one thing or another. It's a brilliant adult fantasy with complex plotting and a strikingly cynical attitude to everything. It's the antidote to every gushing, clichéd and ridiculously saccharine epic fantasy you've ever read.

Book Details

Year: 2008

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Joe Abercrombie

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