Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie
To adequately talk about what's wrong with this book, I'm going to have to talk about some spoiler materials and while I'd feel badly about spoiling the end of this book I feel like they're just not worth the effort. The most important part of this is the character Bayaz, the first of the Magi and a powerful wizard. As I mentioned in my review of the last book I got the impression that Bayaz is behind the events that leave no heirs to the throne of the Union and with Jezal dan Luthar in a perfect position to be elected king, however I didn't see quite how it was possible for Bayaz to orchestrate the events because one of the princes dies in an entirely accidental fashion. However, it turns out I was in fact correct about Bayaz orchestrating the situation for Luthar to become king, and Bayaz is the puppet master behind numerous other plans as well.
The big reveal towards the end of the book is that Bayaz has been pulling strings and moving pieces the entire time to counter his enemy Khalul. While Khalul takes the direct approach of religious control over the Gurkish Empire to the south, Bayaz has taken indirect control through the financial and political institutions of the Union. So ultimately the wars of conquest between the Gurkish in the Union have been moves in a proxy war between Bayaz and Khalul.
Now, considering that Khalul has a religion that eats people you'd think that Bayaz would be the good option. Or at least the less bad option. However in Before They are Hanged I started getting this weird impression that Bayaz wasn't telling the whole truth, especially when the superweapon he wanted to use against Khalul had been hidden in a different place. This is the superweapon, by the way, which almost destroyed the entire world with demons the last time it was used and definitely destroyed the capital of an older and even greater empire than the Union. It makes me wonder if maybe Juvens, Bayaz's master, had lied about where he had stored the superweapon because he didn't trust Bayaz.
This distrust of Bayaz continues as he starts making disparaging comments about the common people to Luthar, saying literally that it's not important to actually care about the poor people so much as seem like he cares about the poor people. This and other offhand comments start to build a suspicion that Bayaz really isn't that great of a guy and it ends with the reveal that Bayaz probably was responsible for the death of Juvens, as well as Kanedias, and probably through his lover Tolomei from the House of the Maker as well. Bayaz declares himself beyond the laws of magic, greater than Juvens, and ultimately uncaring about the amount of death and destruction caused by winning this part of his ongoing feud with Khalul.
Personally I feel like this reveal should have come in the second book rather than towards the end of the third book. I say this partly because the second book felt like it meandered and went into plot cul-de-sacs. If we had the reveal of Bayaz's true intentions in the second book, or even in the beginning of the third book, then we could have had the characters reacting to the situation and maybe brought it to a better resolution. Instead we have a war with the Gurkish not quite resolved, Luthar and Glokta are left with questionable control of the Union, and Ferro Maljinn literally just walks out of the story and is never seen again. So many threads were left dangling that I wasn't entirely certain this was the end. Again, it seems there are other books set within the universe, but whether they continue this plotline or not I cannot tell. Personally I would have felt better if the third book was used to tie up the ends a little more neatly rather than leaving things unresolved.
Ultimately, I'm not sure if this series is really worth your time. I will say that some of the characters such as Logen Ninefingers, Luthar, and Glokta can be compelling and they go through varying degrees of character development, although I feel like Logen goes through the least. But with the second book meandering pointlessly and stuff in the third act that I, personally, thought should be in the second act I feel like it's not worth the time and effort.