Last Argument of Kings – reread

June 13th, 2012

My readthrough of the First Law comes to a triumphant close, and the trilogy as a whole stands undiminished as a cracking read, a redefinition of fantasy, the culmination of seventy years of development of the form and yada yada yada.  I can remember thinking this was way my best book when it was published.  It was certainly the easiest to write (only took about 14 months, my quickest to write despite being my longest), and probably had the best reviews to that point.  But with distance I’d have to say it’s slightly patchy, slightly uneven.  Some really excellent stuff, but also some slightly lazy, uninspiring stuff suffering from a touch of fatigue, and a few plot threads left undeveloped in the rush to pay off the main threads big, a few characters left neglected in the carnage.  That unevenness is a bit of a drawback, no doubt, and leaves me feeling that Before They are Hanged is the most assured of the trilogy, actually.  Apologies for this long and rambling post, but there’s quite a lot to cover…

Spoilers!  Spoilers!  Massive spoilers!

The writing seemed a little less polished than it had in Before They are Hanged, not always, there were some really tight scenes, but often enough.  A little bit of slightly lazy repetitiveness creeping in, some loose lines here or there that really add nothing.  Bayaz is frosty, then he’s icy a few sentences later.  People nod and frown and use rather bland gestures rather than doing things that feel new and arresting and illustrative of their character.  I actually spotted a couple of real howlers, as well – “he closed his eyes and stared numbly down at the polished tabletop,” was one I particularly enjoyed.  Or rather didn’t.  It’s incredible, you go through this stuff over and over with a fine tooth comb and they still slip through.  Minor though these things are, I think their cumulative effect on the overall sense of immersion and trust, if you like, in the writing, can be quite damaging.  Jezal and Glokta’s chapters in the first part were generally the worst offenders – the more ‘cultured’ voices, if you will, while the stuff in the north generally felt tighter.

Glokta’s thoughts became a little less nimble again, as well.  A little less sharp and to the point.  You can see it just looking at the pages, sometimes.  Rather than a comment here, an aside there, there are big chunks, whole paragraphs of italics.  Perhaps that’s because he has more lifting to do from an expository standpoint – he tends to shoulder the biggest burden in explaining the Union’s politics to the reader – but it could have been more elegant.  There’s also some occasional rather – clumsy isn’t the word – artless, perhaps, summing up of things at key moments in a voice that strays a little close to authorial insertion.  Jezal and Logen reflect to themselves in a very tell not show sort of way.  Tell not show is generally bollocks, of course, there are rubbish ways of showing and brilliant ways of telling, and these are sometimes very pithy and quotable, but, again, perhaps distract from point of view discipline, sometimes labour the point a little.  Overall there’s a slight sense of bloat at times, of slightly smug discursion – not so much at the scene and sequence level, but in the detail, which surprises me as Last Argument of Kings is my longest book, a good deal longer than the other two in the trilogy, and I felt as if I made heroic efforts to bring it in as tight as possible.  I think Before They are Hanged is a good deal tighter.

Obviously what you do get is conclusion, surprises, and big ass action sequences, so I think there are good reasons why people might like this book most of the three.  There are some very good twists and shocks – some you see coming from far off like a chugging freight train, others come from nowhere with suitable punch.  Especially since The Blade Itself can be seen as slightly diffuse and plotless, you can see that the work done there does pay off here, on the whole.  In general I feel the various endings are suitably tough, uncompromising, and genre-subverting, and I very much like the way things carry on beyond the natural endpoint to show the costs, consequences, and outcomes both political and personal.  People have occasionally complained that the book goes on after its natural end but I think those people are a little bit silly, actually, as it’s in this extended end that I think much of the best stuff and the tightest writing is concentrated.  I really like the way that most of the characters in some way come full circle, their last chapters echoing their first.  It’s an ending powerful, spicy, and long, like the finish on a good whisky.  Nice metaphor, I should consider being a writer.  The ending, or perhaps the various endings, are pretty dark, no doubt, and that ain’t going float everyone’s boat but I don’t regret it in the least, I think it’s entirely fitting and sits well on the opposite side of the scales to some of the blandly predictable positive outcomes or bittersweet heroic sacrifices epic fantasy as a whole has spooned up over the years.

There’s perhaps a little too much action, though.  A slight feeling that, having turned it to ten in Before They are Hanged I needed to turn it to eleven twelve times in this book.  That exploding, splinter-flying, gut churning stuff is kind of my trademark and a lot of it works well, but I think there’s a combined slight fatigue in the writing – oh my god, how am I going to make this fifteenth scene of mayhem distinct – and just a cumulative loss of impact with some of the big, extended scenes.  The siege in the mountains comes in three big ass chunks, the final battle in Adua is massive and, I dunno, I can remember feeling slightly out of ideas at times when writing it and I think as a reader the eyes occasionally glaze over a little.  Like chilli sauce, it’s the sort of thing that’s perhaps better used sparingly.  It’s actually some of the smaller, more distinct action scenes which work better.  Logen’s duel with the Feared while the Dogman creeps into Carleon, the battle inside the House of the Maker, both the appearances of the Bloody-Nine.  Some of my best, so far as that goes, though I can’t help thinking they’d work even better if the overall pacing and tightness was quite as assured as it was in the previous book.  It’s actually the personal things that I think deliver most – the conversation between Logen and Bethod which puts the past, and therefore the reader’s whole understanding of Logen, in an entirely different light works very nicely.  Likewise Jezal’s fumbling progress to a better man, the slow revelation of Bayaz’ true character, the relationship between Glokta and Ardee, his development into the ruthless Arch Lector.

Plotting-wise, I think some things slide into place with the smoothness of a well-oiled machine while others … don’t do much at all.  There isn’t the same smooth interaction between the different plot threads in generating overall tension as there was in Before They are Hanged.  Things are more fragmented.  I think in classic fantasy author style I had a slight eyes bigger than belly syndrome, introducing more plot threads, characters and background than I ended up having quite the space and time to fully pay off.  I was absolutely determined to keep this to three books, and I’m very glad that I followed through on that, but I think the result is that some stuff was slightly wasted in the scramble to deliver.  So Jezal’s plot as the inversion of the boy with the special destiny, guided to a prophesied kingship by a mysterious mentor – score.  Logen’s as an inversion of the righteous man of violence – double score.  Glokta’s plotline breaks up, though, his involvement becomes more than a little bitty.  Some nice stuff in there, and his cheating in the vote for the new king in the first half of the book is all well and good, but in the second he’s investigating this and that, questioning spies, caught between Sult and Marovia and Valint and Balk at various tasks then seeking out treachery in his own ranks.  It’s not that it doesn’t make sense but it lacks central thrust, you might say.  It lacks focus.  Then there’s Ferro, who definitely gets the shortest authorial thrift.  There are some really nice scenes from her point of view, actually, I like the way she reads, but she just doesn’t have much to do until right at the end.  She’s not in the book that much and doesn’t get all that much of a payoff.  In general I think I’d initially conceived of the demon-related stuff: Tolomei, her backstory with Bayaz, Sult’s schemes at the University and Ferro’s involvement in them, as being more integral and developed.  I’d devoted a fair amount of time in the previous books to Quai’s replacement, Tolomei’s night-time appearances to Logen and Glokta, and so on, the groundwork was laid, but in the end didn’t do a lot with them.  The resolution of Sult’s scheme is quite perfunctory, almost played for bathos, and I could certainly have done a great deal more with that.

Women continue to be a problem.  Not enough, not interesting enough, occasionally very cliche.  Some further thoughts on this in the comments to the post on Before They are Hanged, which I think continue to apply here.  I actually think Ardee and Ferro are both good characters, and would work fine among a more diverse and vivid selection of women, but Ferro as the only female PoV is not very well served in this book, not present enough and, having shown some movement towards depth in the previous book reverts to being more one-noted again.  Vitari, again, much less present here.  Tolomei, very underdeveloped.  Eider, brief and rather fruitless appearance.  Terez and Shalere – ultra one-dimensional icy bitchy beautiful caricatures and also, looked at in hindsight, conforming to nasty lesbians put in their places stereotypes that I can hardly believe I didn’t notice at the time.  Overall there’s just a manly man’s world of men feel to the whole thing, and I think more than ever in this book.  A lack of incidental female presence.  Just a few questions that occur:  Are there no women apart from Caurib in the entire north?  Why are the female eaters all sultry and sexy?  Are women not involved in the peasant’s revolt?  Even assuming a chauvinist society, are there no powerful wives behind the incompetent noblemen of the Union?  No influential daughters?  No calculating mothers?  No virtuous paragons of womanliness to be held up to the people?  Why are characters always thinking about what their father said but rarely their mother?  Could the queen not have been a significant presence?  More women among the magi?  Why do so many of the female characters work largely through seduction?  Why do so many have some kind of sexual exploitation as a big motivating factor in their past?  Why is there virtually no interaction between women?  I think there are some reasonable answers to some of these questions, but overall it’s not a particularly gratifying picture.  Stuff to be aware of in future…

Thoughts on the series as a whole then – my feeling is the second book is the best, the smoothest, the tightest and most accomplished in terms of the pacing and writing, perhaps the best balance between craft and freshness, if you will.  You can tell The Blade Itself is a first book – there’s a roughness in the detail (although also a corresponding exuberance) and a slightly meandering sense to the plotting of someone finding their way from a planning standpoint.  Last Argument of Kings shows some faint signs of fatigue at times and although I think it largely works as a bold ending to the series not everything is developed as much or resolved as tightly as I’d ideally have liked.  But then the first book is always going to deliver the excitement of something new, and the last the satisfaction of shocks and resolutions that the second can’t, so I can well understand why people might prefer either of those to Before They are Hanged.  An entirely unscientific assessment of reader scores seems to broadly support the hypothesis that Before They are Hanged is the best liked of the three: On goodreads TBI averages 4.06/5, BTaH 4.21, and LAoK 4.20.  On Librarything they’re 4.13, 4.2, and 4.23.  Amazon UK averages 4.2, 4.5, and 4.4.  Amazon US is slightly harsher with 4.1, 4.4, and 3.9.  Though there’s perhaps an indication that LAoK is dragged down by a few very negative scores from people who hated the ending, and, you know, they’re dead to me.  DEAD.

Still, overall, I was very pleased with the reread of the series.  Proud of the achievement, if you must know, in fact I can hardly believe it was me that wrote all those pages, all those paragraphs, all those words, many of them in the dead of night, without a contract, purely for my own amusement.  Some of them even quite nicely turned, if you’ll pardon me for saying so.  Blade Itself was less sloppy than I’d expected (which is nice, since I guess many readers will always start with that one), Last Argument perhaps a little more.  But for this (admittedly somewhat sympathetic) critic I think it very much delivers what it set out to – a tough, gritty, visceral take on epic fantasy with some vivid characters, some memorable moments, some strong dialogue, and an uncompromising set of resolutions that provide some interesting twists on the staples of the genre.  If you agree with me, I suggest you buy a new set of the books to celebrate.  If you disagree, I suggest you buy every copy of the books you can find and ceremonially burn them.  That‘ll show me.

Posted in reading by Joe Abercrombie on June 13th, 2012.

53 comments so far

  • Rick H says:

    Say one thing for Logan Ninefingers, say he’s a c**t. You have to be realistic about these things.

  • Andrew says:

    A great critique of the series here. Your honesty about the flaws you see in your own writing is good to see. After the Terez discussion on the internet late last year, this is a good follow-up that touches on a lot of salient points.

    I’d love to see your own take on Best Served Cold’s strengths and weaknesses, too (and those of The Heroes).

  • Emcee Jay says:

    Awesome read. Overall though, I’ve noticed that you’ve been particularly hard on Glokta during your review of the series. I know he’s a relatively new addition to the series compared to other principal characters, so I was wondering, are you disappointed in how he turned out? Do you hate him? You can be honest with me.

    Glokta is my favorite character in all of your novels by the way.

  • Idlewilder says:


    This has actually been a fascinating series of (partially) critical reviews of your own work. Brilliant. I’m a bit surprised in some of the disappointments you’ve expressed with Glokta; as, along with Cosca and Shivers he is my favourite. Steven Pacey’s performance of Glokta in your audiobooks is outstanding. (actually of everyone, but his Glokta voice is amazing)

    Do you plan on doing something similar for Best Served Cold? I actually think that is the best book of the series – the plot is just rapid.

  • Adam says:

    Gotta agree on the female character issues. I remember thinking the exact same thing when I first read LAoK, with regard to “putting those lesbains in their place.” But because they were never really anything more than bit players, it wasn’t a thought I entertained long.

    Ferro, however, definitely needed more storytime. I was certain after finshing the series that you’d left something out because her story was in the works for a future release, but when BSC came out, I kinda forgot until I reread the series and was left wanting more Ferro.

    With regard to Glokta, hmmm… I appreciated spending more time in his head. In fact, the great thing about Glokta is that he pushes the invisble narrator aside and tells his own story, in a sense. Sure you could describe the workings of Union politics without him, but then you’re just relating facts, whereas Sand is most certainly relating the truth, if you can understand the distinction.

    I think the problem with LoAK is that you were determined to label the thing a trilogy from the onset and while you deftly managed to not paint yourself into a corner, you did have to sacrifice a few things for the sake of pinning down those most important loose ends. Also, I don’t think anyone who read the trilogy thought you were done telling the story, so I was never really left feeling empty or that the book was in anyway incomplete or worse, anticlimactic.

    It was a good way to end it. As trilogies go, one of the best I’ve ever read and if you ever feel so inclined to hammer out another one in the future, I’m sure you’ll have applied what you’ve learned from writing this one into something pretty damn good too.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Rick H,
    Edited a little for delicate sensibilities…

    Andrew, Idlewilder
    I’ll be doing Best Served Cold, not The Heroes this time around. Read it pretty recently, and the notional point of all this was to familiarise myself with the characters and events, make sure I hadn’t missed anything obvious in Red Country.

    Emcee Jay,
    Not disappointed, no, I mean all of this is my observation on what I think with time worked better, what worse. I think Glokta works very well at times, and he’s probably the most original and striking character out of the group, in a way. But certain aspects of the way he was written could have been better. The internal voice is quite a powerful tool, but also one to use with care, and I could have been more sparing and more focused with it.

  • JamesM says:

    I like Before they were Hanged better as well. It was just much tighter and consistent overall I think. Last Argument of Kings dragged at points. I still love it though; when Bayaz says “The First Law? Rules are for children. This is war, and in war the only crime is to lose” in my head I was like “YEEEEEEEEES!!!! EPIC!!!”. So awesome. The siege and duel in the north was fantastic as well, but I actually felt that how amazing it was actually worked against the book, making the ending battle feel a wee-bit anticlimactic.

  • Grace says:

    (This is a little unrelated.) To be honest I’ve always really enjoyed your female characters, Ferro is hilarious. I think the fantasy world is full of cliche’s, particularly when it comes to female characters and it’s actually kind of nice to read a female character who isn’t a complete Sue in that she’s either ‘using her feminine wiles to outwit dumb horny mens’ or that she’s some perfect innocent angel that’s written in for the damaged protagonist purey as a romantic interest and a ‘fixer’. It’s actually so refreshing to have a female character who is a bit of a c**t for once. I suppose the only thing I could have asked for was seeing a little bit more of them.

    I always enjoy reading your criticisms – it’s interesting to see your POV on your work.

  • Aiden Wolf says:

    I tend to look at the series as a whole and judge it from that stand point. I would agree that there is a lot of fluff fantasy out there and it is refreshing to see a writer that breaks away from the traditional role of not offending readers with garbage niceties, painfully tight-assed lead characters and a plethora of whitewashed secondaries. As I re-emerged into fantasy recently, I did so on your trilogy and that of a few other contemporary writers and I must say you were the favourite of the mix. Outstanding work and I look forward to your upcoming work.

    P.s. I know there are a lot of people out there that focus on Logan as the best character in this series, but I will have to throw my hat in for Glokta…I love to think where your mind was when you developed this person….Love it

  • JamesM says:

    I agree with Grace. Ardee, Vitari and Monza are actually some of my favourite characters of yours. And while it would be nice to have some more female perspectives, they’re not essential, and I wouldn’t want them to be there purely for the sake of being there. Better to do what you did with the First Law trilogy.

  • Aaron Tomey says:

    Although this has nothing to do with Last Argument of Kings, I have a question. I’ve read that the Bloody Nine was basically the first character in the series. Are the any unpublished stories focusing on him? Anything that builds upon what we’ve heard of his past?

  • Count Spatula says:

    I can agree with you in regards to the female characters in the Trilogy, but I think it’s more than made up for by Best Served Cold and The Heroes. Finree and Monza are excellent. They’re just as cold, calculating and cruel as the men, which is extremely refreshing, but at the same time they’re still very much women, which is a difficult balance to pull off.

    I CANNOT WAIT for your BSC review – my favourite book of yours, and the first one I read. The blurb alone screams “read me!”.

  • americangirl says:

    I was really looking forward to this! I think you have a great grasp on your strengths as a writer. The Tolomei storyline felt very unresolved to me as well and I remember wondering why you introduced her “ghost ” at all. You may see some issues with Ardee but I think shes amazing and her compassion for Glokta in the end is one of my favorote moments. As a smart-mouth girl I guess I just relate to her 🙂

  • Count Spatula says:

    Oh and I forgot to mention how much I loved the little twist involving Severard and Frost. I guessed Severard, but not Frost as well, and actually my sister thought it was Frost… I’m not sure how she came to that conclusion, though :S

    Also, Glokta and Ardee make the perfect couple, imo. Both cynical, self-deprecating, sarcastic and totally insane. I feel very, very sorry for the poor child who has to grow up with parents like that, but I can’t wait to meet him/her (please, Joe, please!)

  • Red Ben says:

    Hi Joe,
    Great blog, Love the first law trilogy and BSC and am currently two thirds through the Heroes. Am compelled to experience the many characters who are as unpredictable and humanly funny as real people. Their actions just as likely to be decided by mood and chance than any design of a greater narrative or some some profound destiny. Glokta and Ninefingers obviously are particular favourites but am constantly surprised by your ability to introduce new characters that make me feel like a guilty cheat. Shivers is my new favourite tragic psychopath (when he pops up in the heroes i always feel a little bit sad). Can’t wait for Red Country (you’re not seriously considering ‘The’ surely?) and the prospect of another trilogy occasionally makes me rub my hands together with glee. Not sure if you do requests on here but i’m quite eager to read your verdict on Dragons Dogma, just throwing it out there.

  • Jordan says:

    It’s been a lot of fun following your review of the trilogy. I have to agree that Before They are Hanged is the best–as I said after your first post, because it’s the one where the characters are being the least shitty to one another. Overall, I thought it a marvelous story. The traditionalist in me wishes there had been a few more happy endings–not all life is dreary–but I think you set yourself apart from the genre in a way that surprised readers, and has obviously proven to be popular. Can’t wait for Red Country!

  • AntMac says:

    I am forcibly reminded of the scene in the Tom Hanks movie , “Big”, where he reports to the first day of his job.

    I imagine all the other writers, reading this column and saying

    “Pssst. Pssst!. Hey, pssst, Abercrombie, what are you doing?”

    “Umm. Writing?”

    “Are you trying to make us all look bad?. What, we are all going to have to subject our drafts to this level of thought, just so you don’t make us look half asleep?”.

    It actually is sort of scary, the work you put in. Enormous fun reading it and gaining a small understanding of what, before, I thought of as easy work, but, mindboggling attention to things . . . wow.

    Second the Glokta/Ardee love. No one has a perfect life in the storyworld, so probably theirs is something like in story perfect marriage?.

  • Super B says:

    Just finished my reread of the trilogy as well. All I have to say is bring on Red Country! I’ve loved everything thus far and enjoy them more and more each time I reread! Interesting to read your thoughts on your own work. Thanks for the gift of your talents, my life is better off for it. I’ll preorder everything you put out and wouldn’t mind spending more on limited Ed…

  • Madman42 says:

    I loved Last Argument. The Circle is one of my favorite chapters in the entire series (following behind ‘Sex and Death’ from BSC), both descriptive masterpieces. I loved the reveal of Salem Rews at the end, mourned the losses of Tul, Grim, Yulwei, and West, and was particularly heartbroken over Frost and Severard.

    I do agree about Ferro, she deserves more action, and I hope we see more of her in the future!

  • Zerocool says:

    Leave it out! You’ve really cocked it up this time Joe. Absolute rubbish of a review. You are bang on wrong. What? You should be perfect in all things? I think not my son. Listen here genius: these books of yours…they just work. No point in arguing it and acting all self-deprecating. If you can write this bloody chaotic beautiful madness, then do it man! Stop waffling! You are really good, Glokta is the cats meow, Logan is sweet, Gorst is dangerous and you ARE REALLY GOOD! Just sayin’. Now send me some whisky.

  • James says:

    Reckon you’re a little harsh this one. I’m less bothered by the female writing than you are, it’s a lot more rounded by the Heroes.

    I did wonder if there was maybe a plot line or two too many myself, but it all gets resolved pretty damn tastily.

    End of the day, it’s your first trilogy, and I’ve re-read it a bunch of times since publication.

    Must be doing something right.

  • Ed Knight says:

    I thought the conclusion was fantastic, the major pay offs to all the character arcs worked and left me thinking the whole trilogy through for a long time after I’d put down the book. The ending made perfect sense, after the initial shock, and is one of the reasons I constantly nag people to buy TBI.

    I didn’t have a problem with the feminine characters here. They were as flawed as the men and each in their own distinct way; Ardee, Vitari and Ferro are distinct female characters who work within the world. There’s not much to complain about. There’s no point upping the volume of female characters just to hit some sort of quota, but perhaps as you pointed out the influence of women could have been more greatly felt upon the men, as well as a greater incidental presence. Not really a big issue though and one you’ve already more than taken care of in your other two books.

    As for the lesbian characters, there’s been tens of thousands of words/hate spouted around the internet about it. I think it worked. Terez might be a little shrill and man hating but she has good reason to be, the situation serves to perfectly subvert the idea of the Prince and the Princess whilst also showing us just how far Glokta/Bayaz are willing to go. At no point is it painted as pleasant, as humorous or as something anyone should approve of. It’s horrible, but it serves to show Bayaz’ complete control and Jezal’s lack of complicity, impotence and ignorance to the levels of manipulation being worked upon him. There’s no obligation for Terez to be a Mary Sue because she’s a lesbian, nor does her character need to be as fully rounded as some of the others; the small arc works and her sexuality reinforces how deeply unpleasant things are even for those of power and noble birth.

    I’ve read through the trilogy three times now, it’s superb. As are BSC and The Heroes (best book I read in 2011). Thank you for your work, and thanks for putting the time into this blog.

  • Michael says:

    “I very much like the way things carry on beyond the natural endpoint to show the costs, consequences, and outcomes both political and personal.”

    Exactly this.

    The last time I read an ending this good was in the last of Robin Hobb’s Fitz series.

  • Weedypants says:

    Aha! I am proved right! (I think I’ll buy several new sets of Joe’s books to celebrate.)

    I said BTAH was best!
    And I always drone on about not rushing – with another edit or two wouldn’t LAoK have been as tight as BTAH?

    Read as a whole the trilogy works really well. Above all the characters are so good that the reader soon skims over the odd loose line or section.

    That said, where BSC and TH do better is in removing loose scenes, tightening the writing. Maybe a quick reader wouldn’t notice this, wouldn’t see a big improvement on the trilogy. I, however, read slowly and often don’t have much time for reading. So, I want a book that will entertain me even if I only read one page, or less.

    With TH (for example) I found I could pick the book up at any page, any scene, pretty much any paragraph, and be entertained. With looser novels (the majority out there) it’s often “Argh! Rubbish page” or “Uff, I’ll just skip through this dull impersonal description to get to some dialogue”.

  • Hammer says:

    Loved the series!

    This is likely me not absorbing the material as it was intended but I had a better grasp on Glotka’s, Jezel’s and the Northmens motivations. There were times Bayaz’s change in character confused me was he losing his feelings towards humanity due to the corruption from the seed because he started out a much more compassionate personality.

    I was also never sure how much of Logan’s temporary insanity was caused by his being partially of the other side, how much from the stress of being a lifelong warrior, and how much if any power did he draw from the sword Bayaz gave him.

    My feelings are that you have always had a nice depth of characters that balance out the shallow ones. After all there are plenty of shallow people out there in reality that do irrational things all the time, please don’t ever curb your characters to make them more politically correct, that also makes for some really boring reading.

    Looking forward to the new book!

    Thanks for the insights Joe.

  • slayerformayor says:

    I apologize sir…but you are wrong. The First Law Trilogy is flawless. I guess my point is that I won’t critique any of your work, because I want you to keep writing stuff like it. I mean…I trust you…but The First Law Trilogy means too much to me for it to be flawed.

  • Dave says:

    Regarding Glokta and “The internal voice is quite a powerful tool, but also one to use with care, and I could have been more sparing and more focused with it.”

    While you may be correct as a rule (who am I to say different), his self-deprecating internal monologues were pure gold at times in terms of comic relief and really, perhaps ironically, struck a nice counterpoint to the overarching nihilism that comes across in so much of your work. In this particular story you have most characters being hopelessly lead about by the grand and ancient schemes of a powerful few. Glokta’s suffering made poignantly and hilariously visceral by his monologues paints a stark contrast.

    For some characters (yous and those of others’ works) such a dependence on the internal voice might be considered heavy-handed and overdone, but with Glokta, for the most part, it just worked.

  • Andrew says:

    “Manly man’s world of men.” Take me to this world.

  • Jacob says:


    Still wondering what happened in the whole “Yulwei VS Tolomei” confrontation there…

  • mychal e.g... says:

    Thank you for writing these books! I don’t really read fantasy (I really don’t read much at all, natch), so I’m happy that the series I decided to invest in was written in a way that didn’t sacrifice realistic story progression in order to satisfy expectations. The Fellowship/Dagoska failures at the end of the second book actually made me more enthusiastic about getting into the third book! You’ve gone back and recognized the same gripes I had throughout reading the series (e.g. Glokta’s inner dialogue in the first book, way too much big action in Kings, little female character presence) and I wish to thank you again for sharing your reread thoughts.

    If I had to ask one question, it would be: how much did you omit from the series? I know the world of books lets authors get as in depth as they want, but was there anything you decided to leave out?

  • Jacob says:

    I think how you portray women does not come off negative in any way. They were reflective of the personality types they had. Ferro was a vicious, murderous former slave. Ardee was an abused, pretty woman, who lashed out and drank from her pain. Monza…despite having a rough life, turned out to be a horrible person. Finree was awesome, but the part when Gorst screamed at her that he “can’t ever have someone like you” shows the reality of how people view their own skills. Introspective. You have a gift sir. Keep using it.

  • Graham says:

    Good stuff Jo. The fact you think any of your stuff lacks tightness really proves you aren’t reading your competitors.

  • PJ says:

    Good introspection, I am glad to see you’re aware of the issue with female characters in the trilogy, which has been one of my stronger criticisms. Fantasy in particular can be fairly misogynistic purely by following it’s tropes, and I had been disappointed with the lack of strong females given your other genre inversions.

  • Hammer says:

    I like Graham’s comment and believe it to be true

  • Tommi says:

    I loved the trilogy, but I have to say the writing in the Heroes is beyond anything I’ve read. That book is just phenomenal! It will be interesting to see if you can find flaws with that one…

  • cassander says:

    No mention of bethod? His reveal was so fantastic. We spend 3 books hearing about what a bastard he is, then when we finally meet him, he insults the main character to his face and refutes everything we’ve heard about him, and we BELIEVE it! My favorite moment in the book.

  • Tom G says:

    I demand more Glokta. I will not ask nicely again. 😉

  • Mark B says:

    Sadly I bought The Blade Itself probably just a couple of months after it was released and it languished in my ‘to read’ mountain until this year… disgraceful I know.

    Anyway suffice to say I’ve just finished the trilogy and started BSC last night and loving every page. I’ve also found your blogs on the writing process for Red Country and these critical looks back very interesting. I do agree with the comments on the female characters to some extent, but it wasn’t something that especially occured to me whilst reading.

    I think Before They Are Hanged was probably my favourite of the three, although many of the twists/reveals in Last Argument caught me out too. Honestly I enjoyed the whole story and love the world and characters you’ve created.

    Even Glokta, the torture scenes so terrible you want to hate him but at the same time his internal voice is just comedy gold at times. Impossible to have a favourite character when you can both like a character or find them hilariously funny but despise them at the same time, but I think Glokta just edges Logen for me.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  • Dogman'sBladder says:

    Hey Joe, what are your thoughts on using Bayaz for a character perspective at some point? I think it would be fascinating for the readers and challenging to write. Then again he does seem to speak his thoughts pretty freely so maybe there wouldn’t be much difference.

  • Mark B says:

    Funny you should ask that Dogman, I was wondering the other day as I neared the end of Last Argument of Kings if we’ll ever have a novel set when Juvens, Kanedias etc were still alive in which Bayaz would obviously play a major role.

  • Hawkeye says:

    cassander, good call there my friend. The Bethod moment was powerful indeed. I was always more sympathetic to his son’s after that chapter. It’s also a good reminder of how history is told by the victor’s and is not always completely factual.

  • Gremlin says:

    So excited for A Red Country! Been an avid fan since your first book, though speaking of the ladies, I really want to see much more of Ardee West!

  • Tyson Perna says:

    This was so brilliant. Thinks for doing it.

  • Susanne says:

    My hat’s come right off. Thanks for this, Joe, and thank you for acknowledging some of the problems with your female characters, the only thing I took issue with in the trilogy. Loved the trilogy, loved LAoK, love you for being so honest with yourself here. Excelsior!

  • Roger says:

    While it was a fun moment to read, IMHO Bethod’s accusations to Logen were full of shit. We know that he had an alliance with the Shanka, he decided to attack the North, he was in charge during the brutal sack at Carleon (while Logen was in bed recovering from his wounds),…

    Having the Bloody Nine at his side surely didn’t help, but Bethod had plenty of opportunites to step aside and opted to push for more until he became the king of the North.

  • Simon says:

    Joe are you going to do the same for ‘Best Served Cold’ I’m rereading it at the moment and I had forgotten just how bloody marvelous it is.

  • Mike G says:

    Hi Joe,

    Just finished reading the whole trilogy and about 60% through ‘Best Served Cold’. All I can say is great gob, delightful reads all around.

    As far as the trilogy goes, I thought they got better and better, with ‘Argument’ being simply sublime. Bayaz is simply the greatest character ever in my book. I love the whole concept of “What if Gandolf wasn’t this selfless ‘for the realm’ type of guy.” Instead of being the mysterious god-like figure with all the answers we love anyway since we know he was the worlds best interests at heart, through Bayaz we instead find out he’s the biggest self serving bastard of them all, so thoroughly at the top of the food chain, and no one even knows it (save for Jezel, Glokta, a few other servants).

    Then I think of poor Yulwei who is presumably trapped in the House of the Makers for eternity still thinking Bayaz is a stand up kind of guy because he took Bayaz at face value that he didn’t kill Juvens.

    I didn’t mind the dark ending at all, although if anything, West’s fate did bother me. What a horrible end for maybe the one guy that truly earned his position in the Union and was somewhat decent.

  • After having read the First Law I was celebrating that at long bloody last someone was writing the kind of fantasy I want to read. None of this airy fairy unicorn girl, quest for magic sword, elves, dwarves and gnomes cobblers. Plenty of visceral action, nasty characters you can still love, and dialogue that would make Tarantino blush. But I’ve just read your reviews of your own work and you’ve convinced me. I’m off to burn my copies…

  • […] hat für jedes Buch seiner Trilogie einen Eintrag gemacht: The Blade Itself Before they are Hanged Last Argument of Kings Es gibt auch einen zu “Best Served Cold”, aber der besteht größtenteils aus Eigenlob, […]

  • matthew says:

    Mr. Abercrombie, thank you for writing these novels. They are very fun and have not, until just this morning, ever caused me a moment’s unhappiness…

    As for this morning, I was at work, editing the timing on a web video, and listening to Last Argument of Kings on my Audible app. I was listening to the section in which the northern companions (“9”, Dogman, Tul, Dow, etc.) are traveling with Crumochy Fail (sp?) to his “fort” in the hills. Upon arriving and discovering what a shit-hole it is,the companions complain a bit, and Fail goes into a series of hilarious defenses of himself and his tactics. (beloved of the Moon, and all that)… And then he tells the tale of Laffer the Brave (a foreshadowing, if not too-serious, name for a chunk of deliberate comic relief, I’d assume). And when he gets to the part where Laffer and his men all get killed, heads chopped off, placed in a sack, and buried in a hole they “used to shit in…”
    I couldn’t contain it anymore. That fat barbarian is too funny.
    I laughed out loud in the middle of my office for about a solid minute. Everyone stared at me. I was unable to accurately explain why I was laughing lest I reveal myself as a subversive cubicle-book listener (read:slacker), so all now they think I am a weirdo.

    So, Crumochy Fail is awesome, but you, Joe, suck for getting me into trouble at work. 🙂


  • M.H says:

    I just finished reading the last chapter. Im not so experienced with fantasy or fictional books. I been reading some mixed variety of sci-fi, alternative history and fantasy like Tolkiens books before but this to me, was a touching story that was very moving.

    So many interesting characters. So many plots closed in such a masterful way and so many new doors opening for more books and stories! I truely love it and I feel sad when I see characters like West being a walking corpse, such a good man dying to Bayaz insanity (Yet he saved the union did he not) and Threetrees, a perfect king for the North wasted away in senseless wars between two nations.

    Such a good book. A good man to review his own work with honest words! Something I never been good at myself even on small college/uni tests 🙂

    Do continue writing!

  • pctek says:

    “Not enough, not interesting enough, occasionally very cliche. Why do so many of the female characters work largely through seduction? ”

    Women? I’m a woman…I find the ladies in the books just fine. Ferro. Savine, Rikke is a favourite….I could name others but you know who they are…
    Er…because for most of history that’s how woman have been treated, and still sometimes, so why wouldn’t they use seduction?
    Some do plenty of violence too, some do occasional violence…I don’t have a problem with most of them actually. keep going my ratings are 5/5 for the first 3, 4/5 for Book 4, back to 5/5 for book 5.
    As for the picky mistakes…he closed his eyes and stared at the table, we readers forgive that sort of thing…we get the idea….Closed his eye….sighs….stares at table….meh….I know he opened them again even if you forgot to say it…
    Too hard on yourself. Besides isn’t that the editors job? You just tell the tale…..and well.

Add Your Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *