And with the final book in the First Law trilogy (there are follow up books set in the same world but this book completes the original trilogy)...more3 Stars
And with the final book in the First Law trilogy (there are follow up books set in the same world but this book completes the original trilogy), I remain more unconvinced than ever by Joe Abercrombie’s reputation as a master of fantasy. Sure, he subverts the cliche heroic fantasy tropes and stock characters to turn them on their head – but barely anyone writes that sort of heroic fantasy anymore anyway. And he still falls into that worst of fantasy author habits: writing way more than he he needs to, needlessly spinning a simple story into a whole trilogy. None of his books need to be as large as they are. The ending, while I admit it could have been a genuinely great end to standalone or a first novel in a series, feels anticlimactic after three books and roughly 1,700 pages. Especially when so little of relevance really happened in either book one or two. The whole series would have been massively improved by hacking out all the filler, maybe reducing the number of POV characters, and condensing it all into two books instead (one would probably be pushing it).
While Last Argument of Kings is probably the best book in the trilogy – the most action, the most plot, the most character revelations, it’s just a really really unsatisfying conclusion to the series. Now that’s part of the point, I’ll admit. It's a subversion of traditional ‘happily ever after, tied up neatly in a bow, no more problems ever’ fantasy. But for me it wasn’t the satisfying sort of unsatisfying where such an ending is pulled off well - the sort that just seems right and gets you really thinking. It was the ‘huh…I really read three bricks just for this?’. And, to be honest, it didn’t seem all that much of a subversion either, I’d flagged up that a certain character was a bit of a shit back in book one, had it all but confirmed in book two, and once I’d decided that he was clearly a shit of the first order, it was really easy to see where the plot would end up – with him being a shit. I only misjudged a little in how much of a nasty shit he would be.
My main problem with this series though is the length. It’s far far longer than it needs to be and by the end, instead of feeling a deep connection to the characters, I was completely and utterly bored by them. The interest I had in book one had been eroded by overexposure, repetitive phrases and lack of development (Jezal is really the only one who gets any). Glokta, who had been the best part of The Blade Itself had overrated his welcome to become a tiresome narrator repeating the same tired complaints about stairs and constantly ‘tonguing his gums’. And Logen, well I don’t think the reveal that people really hate a man that goes on indiscriminate murder sprees really counts as character development. Like, no shit, of course his own people hate him. They should hate him. By the very end I had stopped caring what happened to any of the characters.
There’s a lot more I could complain about – that Ferro never did anything more than be a walking plot device, that the central ‘breaking the First Law’ plot was way less interesting than any of the subplots, the way the world building was drip-fed in a way that made it hard to care about the big mythology that underpinned the whole story…but I’m just going to leave it at that. And also mention there was plenty I enjoyed too – mainly the parts set in the North.
I think Abercrombie had some great ideas, that the story could have been done really well. But having it drawn it out into such a massive trilogy just didn’t work for me (though I accept it seems to have worked for plenty of others). It was simply way more pages than either the story of the characters warranted.
I’m not actually giving up on Abercrombie yet though, my housemate lent me her copy of one of his standalones at the start of term and, despite my disappointment in the trilogy, I am going to read it. I’m honestly really interested to see if I prefer his stories when he restricts himself to using just one book to tell them. Also from the blurb the main character is female, and considering how one dimensional I found his female characters here when compared to the men, I’m really interested to see how he manages.(less)
Before They are Hanged was, for me, a big improvement on the first book. After the first book ambled along following various characters and pro...more 4 Stars
Before They are Hanged was, for me, a big improvement on the first book. After the first book ambled along following various characters and promising an overarching plot if only they could all just get together in the same room, Before They are Hanged, while still primarily character-driven, has a sense of direction to it, a much stronger narrative, and real stakes to be won or lost. The players are all moving towards something now, and it makes for a much more satisfying read.
True, some of the plot lines seem like shaggy dog stories and most won’t get resolved until book three, but I can see, roughly, where the story is going now, what the main themes and points of it are. It’s no longer just a disparate bunch of people scattered across the world all doing their own thing. Abercrombie is still reluctant to reveal too much of the main plot, but we finally get some more of the mythology of the world, an explanation of who certain characters are and why they are important. I do still feel that more could have been done to make me care about certain things – Khalul is evil because he is and because he broke ‘the second law’, but there’s no sense urgency to defeat him and it’s hard to care about the atrocities we’re informed he’s committing. Overall, though, I felt much more drawn into the world and characters this time around.
Part of that is probably because the action has all but moved away from Adua, the rather generic-european-fantasy city of the first book. Glokta has been ‘promoted’ to head inquisitor of one of the union’s colonial cities in the south – a city of massive inequality and racial tensions, schemers and traitors, about to come under siege from the Gurkish armies, and he’s been tasked with the impossible mission of protecting it. Major West is leading armies in the north against an invasion by King Bethod, having to contend with army incompetence, poor supplies, in-fighting, oh and the enemy forces as well. And most of the other characters are off on a quest through the ‘old empire’, exploring ancient ruins, developing their characters, and learning lots of world building and mythology.
Aaaad it’s probably obvious which plot line I found least interesting. Although I like most of the characters – well, Logen and Ferro – Bayaz’s quest to the edge of the world was the hardest plot line to become emotionally invested in. As I said before, it’s hard to care for the ultimate aim of defeating Khalul with the information we've been given, especially when Bayaz himself is shady as fuck. And the fight scenes here seem a bit artificially thrown in, as if put there purely because trudging through the desert makes for dull reading. I also found Jezal’s sudden change of attitude from the whiny brat he was in the first book a little too sudden and too soon. I am interested, however, in both Logen and Ferro and in what’s going on with apprentice magi, Malacus Quai. Will be interested to see where all those characters end up in book three.
All in all a better book than The Blade Itself. I still don’t feel that Abercrombie is the best fantasy writer ever, but I am looking forward to book three. Though I do wonder, after two books of very slow plot development, how he can pull the conclusion off in just one book without it feeling rushed.(less)