“Last Argument of Kings” by Joe Abercrombie

Here I am, just now reviewing this book while I’m nearing the end of the standalone novel that follows it — Best Served Cold.




First Law, book 3




Last Argument of Kings is grimdark fantasy and the last in the First Law trilogy. It picks up after the events in the second book, Before They Are Hanged, but I’ve since forgotten exactly what that means since the books have all melded together in my mind now. One thing that stands out about the starting point in this, though, is that Bayaz and crew (Ferro, Logen, Jezal, Quai, and Longfoot) are just returning to Adua after their journey abroad in search of “The Seed.” (Goodreads)

It was a good read but also not what I expected, as far as endings go. I think if I’d read it when it had just been published, I’d have been a little disappointed. I’m interested in the characters, but I’m not so caught up in the plot that I would have been happy for the ending hinting at more to come. I think I’d have wanted this to be it. I think the reason why is because I’m more interested in certain individual characters rather than the overarching plot, which seems to be how the conflict between Bayaz and his nemesis (whose name I can’t recall) is affecting everybody. I don’t care about that; I just want to know what Logen and Glokta are up to.

Anyway, since the characters are what interest me most, they will be the focus of my review.

Some SPOILERS below.

“Sometimes a difficult journey does not deliver its full benefit until long after one returns. The trials are brief, but the wisdom gained lasts a lifetime!”

“Travel brings wisdom only to the wise. It renders the ignorant more ignorant than ever.”

I was hoping for more character development from Jezal than I got. I really thought his experiences on the journey abroad would change him for the better. In some ways, it did, but not entirely. Jezal isn’t as arrogant as he began the trilogy. Being smashed in the face forced some humility into him and honesty about himself, but not enough. I think the potential is there for growth, but unfortunately it seems that Bayaz’s designs for him will prevent that.

The most surprising thing that happened regarding Jezal is that he was crowned king. It was one of my favorite parts of the book, and I loved that we get to read about it from just about all the main characters’ perspectives. Glokta and Ferro’s impressions were the most entertaining to read, and Jezal’s own impression of the situation was interesting as well. I pitied Jezal every time I read from his POV. It’s obvious that he’d like to prove himself, and I think there’s potential for him to become a good king with some wise guidance. But he’s intended to be a puppet figurehead, so it’s unlikely he’ll be a great leader. Even romance isn’t guaranteed. I felt so sorry for him when his betrothed turned out not as he expected.

“Vengeance is never halfway as simple, or halfway as sweet, as you think it’s going to be.”

(Someone should tell Monza this.)

Ferro was a letdown, unfortunately, and Ardee even more so. I usually don’t like stories or characters that are propelled by vengeance or revenge, but I took a liking to the yellow-eyed Ferro and her ferocity. Part of the reason is that, like me, she’s suspicious and mistrustful of Bayaz. To me, she doesn’t seem to play as great a role in these books (other than to identify and get the Seed) as the guys do, so I wonder if her character will gain greater significance in the upcoming books.

An interesting thing about Ferro in this is that she’s suddenly drawn to the House of the Maker. I thought that was queer since she wasn’t drawn to it when she first appeared in Adua. At least I don’t recall her expressing an interest in it. But in this book, it’s as if she’s magnetically pulled toward the building. It made me wonder if the Seed was transferred to the House of the Maker once Bayaz and crew arrived back in Adua. Did Quai/Tolomei steal it from the end of the world and somehow cloaked it on the journey (so that Ferro wouldn’t sense it) and then transferred it to the House of the Maker once they arrived? That’s my theory so far since it doesn’t make sense to me why Ferro can suddenly sense it there.

As for Ardee, she is the most unfortunate character in this book. Will she play a larger role in the other books and have more agency? In this trilogy, she serves as someone on which her brother can express his anger and someone for Jezal to covet and lust after. To Glokta, I guess she serves as some sort of redemption, since the only reason why he started checking in on her was because of the promise he made to West (if I remember correctly). The story is intent on having Ardee lead a sad, sorry life despite my hopes that her many potentials will be put to good use. My guess is that she will become Glokta’s right hand in the new Inquisition regime.

“What is it about power, that it has to be higher up than everyone else? Can a man not be powerful on the ground floor?”

Glokta. My favorite character in this trilogy. I liked the dude from the first time I met him, wretched as he is and despite him being a torturer who likes his job. But his voice immediately appealed to me. In this book (and the previous two), I enjoyed reading from his POV the most. My favorites of his moments are his reaction to Jezal being crowned king, any conversation he has with Cosca the mercenary, when he learned which of his two cronies betrayed him, and his conversation with Bayaz, especially when he told Bayaz to shut up with all the self-praise (lol!). Glokta was the best part of this series, and I would love a book only from his POV.

“But you can’t truly hate a man without loving him first, and there’s always a trace of that love left over.”

Logen is my second favorite character in this trilogy. I only have two. He’s another that I took an immediate liking to, and the complexity of his friendships due to his Bloody Nine persona makes me like him even more — and pity him, because he seems to really want a simpler life that the Bloody Nine makes difficult to attain. It’s easy to like Logen, until the Bloody Nine appears and murders that feeling.

Logen is another POV I enjoyed reading from. My favorites of his parts are when he reunites with his friends; when he meets the seemingly mad Crummock-i-Phail (who believes the Logen Ninefingers is too loved by the moon); the conversation, or rather, confrontation, he has with Bethod about who motivated/inspired whom to more violence (and Logen learned that Bayaz is the master pulling all the strings); and when Logen fought the Feared, which is one of the most intense scenes in the book and such a good fight. Oh man! I was worried.

I completed the book feeling bad for Logen, not because of what happens at the end between him and Black Dow, leaving his fate undetermined since Logen never finished his thought before he smacked into the river, but because Dogman’s perception of him had changed. Of all his friends, it seems that Dogman was the most loyal toward him. Dogman was the one who continued to believe in, or at least think positively of, Logen no matter what. But by the end of this book, it’s said that Dogman was no longer happy at the sight of Logen. That’s sad. It’s as if Logen lost his one, true friend.

The good thing though — Logen’s perception of Bayaz has changed.

“Power makes all things right. That is my first law, and my last. That is the only law that I acknowledge.”

Bayaz. I knew this asshole was an evil motherfucker. I knew it!!! I don’t trust him!! Never have. From the moment he popped up I was like, nope! He ain’t right! He too fishy! Mi nuh trust ‘im! Nope!

And if I’m wrong, it will take a lot to convince me that I am because the dude is coming off as the Satan in this world’s mythology. He’s the angel who coveted power and betrayed his master to attain. I think in the midst of his paroxysms of self-praise during his conversation with Glokta he admitted to “throwing down” Juvens, or whatever it was the other magic users accused him of but he continued to deny. He’s also the banker, Valint & Balk, and so he is the one pulling all the strings and making all the plans and manipulating EVERYBODY. He cares for nothing and no one, except power, and believes himself above puny humans and more powerful than his masters/the gods. And I. Don’t. Trust. Him.

I think Bayaz will turn out to be the really evil one, although this world seems filled of morally grey people than solely good or bad ones. I just think Bayaz will be the one that EVERYONE will need to defeat or depose or render impotent in some way. I think I only have one favorite part of this book regarding Bayaz and that’s his conversation with Glokta, when he confirmed my theory that he’s not to be trusted. Apart from confirming my beliefs, I really don’t care about Bayaz or his conflicts. We don’t get much about his plans and intentions until this book, so I think that’s why I don’t care.

Tidbits about other characters who stood out to me:
  • West — Loved his reaction to being promoted to Lord Marshall and loved how he manipulates the generals Poulder and Kroy into doing what he wants. Did Pike end up turning on him? I can’t remember. But if he didn’t, that’s what I think will happen. I don’t trust Pike.
  • Quai — I knew something was off about that kid. He was acting weird for the whole journey abroad. It’s unfortunate, though, because I liked his bonding moments with Logen in the first book.
  • Yoru Sulfur — Such an odd name. I was so surprised to learn he’s an Eater. But that was back in the good days, when I thought my mistrust of Bayaz may be wrong and he’s actually a nice, gentle lamb. Nope! The dude is an evil, power-hungry hypocrite who employs Eaters, just like the dude he’s fighting against (whose name I still can’t remember).
  • Crummock-i-Phail — Another character I really like. If he had a greater part, he probably would have become my third favorite character. Favorite part: When he confronts Logen about what the Bloody Nine did to his kid. Crummock’s upbeat attitude and tendency to seemingly forget who his kids are made me think he’d missed that incident.
  • Brother Longfoot, the Navigator — Aww, man! I’m so sorry he was tortured. He didn’t deserve that. I liked him too.

Overall: ★★★☆☆ ½

It was a good read and a satisfying end to the trilogy, although not what I expected.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I recommend it, if you want to try a character-focused grimdark series where no one (except maybe Bayaz) gets a good end.

Quotes from the book

“Banks… They are made of air. They spin money out of guesses, and lies, and promises. Secrets are their currency, even more than gold.”

“Everything beautiful has a dark side, and some of us must dwell there, so that others can laugh in the light.”

“Pride comes first. Then pain. Humility follows hard upon it. Obedience lies just beyond.”

“Friends are people one pretends to like in order to make life bearable.”

9 thoughts on ““Last Argument of Kings” by Joe Abercrombie

  1. I’ve yet to try anything by Abercrombie, though I’ve collected several ebooks based on how popular he seems to be. Not sure I want any grimdark right now, but one of these days. 🙂


  2. What you’re saying really mirrors how I felt, except to add that I felt like the series really wanted to kick against the tropes of epic fantasy but in doing so mostly just inverted them which feels a bit… meh.

    Also some day I’ll reread this series just from Glokta’s pov


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