by Joe Abercrombie
“Everything beautiful has a dark side, and some of us must dwell there, so that others can laugh in the light.”
Tying together the threads of the adventures of all characters, good and bad (but mostly bad), The Last Argument of Kings is a bold masterpiece.
The Bloody-Nine comes into his own as the most dangerous fighter known, the wizard Bayaz’s plans are revealed and the First and Second laws are broken as demons are called and human flesh is consumed to garner greater power. The Seed is finally found and put to use to end the war. Logan in particular bears special note here as his character is fully developed and shaded deeply–we want him to be our hero. Is he? There is a fight between Logan Nine-Fingers and Fenris the Feared that puts Abercrombie’s battle-chops on display in full glory.
The book can be called bold because the author uses mainly negative elements known throughout the history of man weaved together to form the tapestry, and that’s generally not done–not even in horror. Counter balances are generally used to alleviated the stress of negativity. Violence, distrust, death, grime, magic, demons, demigods, and even radiation poisoning dominates the story, in the fantasy genre normally populated with hard won companionship. There is little camaraderie here, and while the theme surfaces occasionally it’s just another illusion.
It’s a masterpiece in no small part because it is just illusion much of the time, though you must read through to discover how, especially concerning the characters’ relationships. In this final book Abercrombie takes the time, in Tolkien fashion, to further the story and show the remnants of the battles and the way forward for our characters long after the main conclusion to the trilogy is revealed. It is this furthering of the story, a kind of extended epilogue, that sheds light on many of the illusions in the trilogy.
As mentioned in comments on his previous books, the vast majority of Abercrombie’s world is spent in the dirt staring at the ugly reflection of humanity in a puddle of muddy water, with occasional gasps of clean air spread through to make the darkness bearable. It’s a masterpiece because it is these occasional gasps of clean air that are, in the end, the illusions.
It’s possible to be struck numb by the weight of the trilogy.
“You have to be realistic about these things.”