Locus Pocus

March 30th, 2008

Man, if only I spent a fraction of the time writing my books as I do dreaming up hilarious pun headings for my blog we might really have some quality fantasy fiction out there in the marketplace. I mentioned in the last post that I attended a panel at Eastercon about online reviews, and the opinion seemed to be pretty much unanimous that an author should never respond to their reviews. Best just to rise above it. You only dignify it by responding, and cheapen the authorial coin. Nothing to gain, everything to lose. The dignity of silence.

Yeah, right. Dignity? Me?

Probably I’m a bit late to this, but there’s quite a substantial review of Last Argument of Kings in the latest edtion of Locus:

“Abercrombie holds nothing back in his depiction of torutre, hand-to-hand combat, the clash of armies, and climactic assaults that recall some of the worst of World War II … But behind the mayhem there’s no Dark Lord or Darth Vader dreaming of the ultimate triumph of evil; (nearly) everyone here is fully human, driven by the force of circumstance and the vagaries of self. Last Argument of Kings ends the First Law trilogy with a mordant brilliance … Despite the apparent medievalism of its courts and tribes, this is industrial-strength, politically savvy fantasy for our own times.”

Mmmmmmm. Melts in the mouth. Equally warm and tasty was Hobbit’s response at SFFWorld:

“For those jaded by the genre’s predictability, yet hopeful about revisiting the elements that encouraged them to read Fantasy in the first place, this might be the series. A trilogy that justifies being a trilogy, produced in three years … For those who have stuck the course, this trilogy shows an amazing development and progression, not only in scope but also in writing style. And the man’s only three books into what, I hope, will be a lengthy publishing career. How do you top this? Recommended very highly.”

Not quite so easily digestible (at least for me), was the opinion of a guy I was lucky enough to meet at Forbidden Planet, and subsequently at Eastercon, the Little Kid with a Beard, who basically enjoyed the series greatly, but is one of an emerging group of, for want of a better description, cynical malcontents who had some issues with the ending:

“Abercrombie’s talent for developing believable characters and changing the tone and voice of each chapter according to the point of view is a joy to read. Although Abercrombie takes familiar fantasy staples, he manages to escape coming off as a cheap hack reinventing Tolkien … Strangely, Last Argument of Kings seems to rob both its reader and the protagonists of a peaceful ending. In fact by the end of the book you can’t help but wonder if certain characters are any better off than when the first book started.”

Endings, shmendings. In all seriousness, he’s not alone in having his doubts about the conclusion. It’s a difficult area to get right, and I always knew the road I took wouldn’t work for everyone. But then that’s true of every aspect of writing. Such is the torture of reviews for the author. Some consensus, please, guys? Just give me the objective truth, if you will?

Only a thousand, thousand voices, raised in a clamour of infinite discord…

Anyway, the differing response to the endings is something that I may have to look at in more detail once more folks have read the books, along with some spoilerific content about what I was trying to achieve with the whole business. Other than to live in an enormous mansion with a swimming pool shaped like a magic sword, of course. Still waiting on that one…

BY THE WAY: If you haven’t read the books, best not read the comments. They’ve got some spoilers in them, which I should probably have seen coming, and I’d hate to damage anyone’s enjoyment of my own books.

Posted in reviews by Joe Abercrombie on March 30th, 2008. Tags:

22 comments so far

  • Elena says:

    haven’t got to the end yet…you’ll know when i do, i’m sure, :)…but in the meantime, i’m just wondering how a *magic* sword is shaped that makes it differentiable from those of the non-magical persuasion?

  • Elena,
    That’s really more a question for a swordsmith, wizard, or swimming pool maker, but I’d imagine it has a) a fancier hilt, and b) flames or some kind of holy/unholy aura surrounding it.

  • jdp says:

    I’d like to suggest putting Best Served Cold on hold while you pen the Usborne Big Book of Hilarious Puns.

  • Susanne says:

    Strangely, Last Argument of Kings seems to rob both its reader and the protagonists of a peaceful ending.

    I’ll admit that I found myself nodding in agreement when I read that line… Not sure why, though. I think I wanted a happy ending, but then I think the story would’ve suffered somewhat if you’d ended with flowers and little blue birds. 😉

    Anyway, I just stopped by to voice my undying love for LAOK and Glotka, in particular, and while I was sad for Luthar’s, um, weakness and Colem West’s, er, unfortunate exposure (how hard is it not to spoil things!) I thought everything turnd out the really well in the end and I will now immediately return to Blade and read the entire series in all its glory, safe in the knowledge that I won’t have to wait months for the next installment. Nice!

    PS: Will you write another book wherein Bayaz gets his comeuppance, Joe? Please? I wanna pelt the guy with pomegranates.

  • Ady Hall says:

    Redemption, Joe.

    I guess I was looking for those characters to be able to redeem themselves in the end and do the right thing. Or the good thing. Or the Okayish thing.

    Loved the trilogy. Loved the books and you are quite rightly taking the online review sites by storm. A quiet, undermarketed first book grabbed the necessary attentions and has built up into an all-enveloping snowball descending into the Hells of retail publishing – to put out some of the fires of tired/predictable books that seem to clutter Waterstones.

    However, I wanted a bit of deliverance from LAOK. By the third book you love the ones you hated and hate the ones you loved. And I wanted the personal journeys each went thru to play some part in the equation. Perhaps because I recognised the qualities so deftly portrayed – and wanted to think I (ahem, people) would act differently.

    But, of course, they don’t. And the point is that people do what they do. Politicians lie. Cowards crumble. Crap happens to the undeserved.

    Yet sometimes, just sometimes, there can be something worth cheering about 🙂

  • daft sod says:

    I’ve only read “The Blade itself” yet, but all those hints and comments about the last installment increase my anticipation. I happen to like “unhappy” endings. I’ve had far too many cheesy endings…

    PS Keep up the good work Joe
    PPS Did I mention that I’m buzzing with anticipation when I tink of a certain trilogy I haven’t finished reading yet…

  • BSM71 says:

    Apologies for that whole test thing.

    Can I just say you ruined my families easter sunday by having the damned nerve to write such an outstanding final book. I’m usually a bedtime reader but LAOK was so good I simply had to finish it.

    And as a Catholic this ment missing mass and all the supposed ‘Hocus Pocus’ that goes on.( Actually any excuse will usually do)

    You have no idea the damage you have caused, butterfly effect and all that.

  • Anonymous says:

    Ending?

    Hey Joe, I just got a hold of a copy of LAOK and I have to say i loved it….all the way up till i finished and thought, “Damn, is that really all?” I couldn’t help like feeling like there would be a fourth book. I felt like you left a lot of the characters stories with a cliffhanger. SPOILER ALERT (for those who havent read yet, look away.)

    With Logen plunged into the depths of the river with Dow ruling the North. Ferro heading back south to finish off the Emperor and Khalul, and if the Union would invade Gurkhul, not to mention the plague thats killing off so many in Adua. Well, anyway its a great series and i can’t wait for Best Served Cold. Best of luck with the pool, im having mine put in right now. (and yes, it is in the shape of a magical sword.)

  • Jen says:

    Just finished LAOK yesterday. Wow. I think I agree with everything Susanne said – especially, we need to see Bayaz getting his. Make it so, captain!

  • Den says:

    Cynical Malcontent? Why thank you.

    That’s probably the nicest thing anyone has said about me for ages (including my Mum).

    As I think I mumbled at Eastercon, I applaud the lack of ‘happy-hollywood-ending’. But I’d pay good money to see Jezal serve Bayaz his own testes. Male authority figures: meh, who needs ’em!

    Maybe I’ll start an online petition for ‘Bayaz’s Balls’ – after all, he’s a one man WMD.

  • Bob Lock says:

    Hiyahs Joe,
    Just finished LAOKs and, on the whole, I’m contented with the way it ends. If anything it’s true to life, not everything ends with a ‘happy-ever-after’ even if you wished it would.
    I thought this third one was a lot more gritty, some of the fight scenes particularly bloody and gruesome but they did work extremely well and had me wincing more than once.
    Although you’ve hinted that this is the end of the trilogy I can’t help but feel there is still more to be explored in your surviving character’s futures. I hope you do a ‘Donaldson’ and reprieve them with another trilogy.
    Go on, you know you want to!

  • says:

    Hey Joe,

    I apologize, this is going to be long… it may be rewarding though for one as self-absorbed as yourself (or at least what you who off online).

    I first saw The Blade Itself on a shelf in Waterstones a couple of times when browsing their sci-fi/fantasy section around march-may ’06.
    In what I believe must have been after my exams that year, so around June, I was browsing again, now with the intent of making a purchase. Didn’t feel like following recommendations, but very little is conveyed by the exterior of most fantasy books. What caught my attention was your humble volume, and one that just said ORCS on the front. By happenstance I first picked up yours and had a look at the first page. Just a single glance was enough to tickle my curiosity. So… about two minutes later I was struggling hard to contain my laughter as I finished the prologue and poured back over the text. The only lines where “ugh” “ah” “shit” etc. but it was somehow incredibly intelligent! Ran over to the counter, threw away some cash and… went home to read.
    Impression after reading the first book: Wow, these are really interesting people, I want to know more.
    So i waited… and waited… and waited… and lo and behold just under a year later there was Before They are Hanged. Picked it up within a day or two from when it was released. Expressing a quick hope to myself, before starting, that the Blade Itself had not merely been a fluke, or like it is with so many TV and book series, a lot of effort put into the first episode or book, but when the series has started, deadlines become the priority, not quality or originality. My hopes, where answered. Before They Are Hanged was… not better… not worse… it was simply, not separable from The Blade Itself, only adding to the story. An interesting story… with interesting people… I just wanted more…
    And so the long wait came again. This time it was to be an entire year. It may seem a bit absurd, but it was more like AN ENTIRE YEAR! Where I come from we have a saying; he who waits for something good, waits in vain, never has this been less true than when almost a year to the day I finished the second book when I bought the Last Argument of Kings.
    I knew the release date was the 20th, but on the 18th I couldn’t contain myself any longer, I stopped by Waterstones and lo and behold, it was already there, with a 3for2 sticker!
    So… did the book live up to the expectations? All expectations where forgotten from the first page, the story was so engrossing that… well lets just say it was more so than the previous books which I already considered some of the best books I have ever read.
    So what is the point of all this text?
    #1 The First Law is the best book I have ever read.
    #2 Thank you for not doing what my ‘other’ favorite author did, let his series extend to 11, promise there would only be one more, then die!
    After experiencing the almost intoxicating gift of entertainment you handed us and I still have demands. I have no right to, but that won’t stop me will it:
    1. Write more! (I don’t know what, I’m sure whatever you want to write will be better than whatever I can think of)
    2. Eat your vegetables! (I refuse to be let down by yet another author passing away before they can bring more good stuff into this world)

    Take care!

  • says:

    When I got Last Argument of Kings, I set as aside the books I had been reading: Gene Wolfe’s The Sword of the Lictor, Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. Now you may find this hard to believe, but even though you all have incredibly distinct styles, a virtue, I believe these other authors’ works would have gained from a couple of lessons in that genuine feeling of real people I get from your work. Now I am not saying you would not also benefit from lessons from them, but frankly I can’t think of any specifics.
    When I react to parts such as the open-ish ending of the book, I do not feel that it should be different, it is a work that stands on its own. Its not for me to say whether Logen should rule, run or fight. It sort of seems more natural to take it as ‘his’ decision not mine or yours. This may seem a bit absurd, but is a testament to the life you have brought to your characters.
    It would be nice to see some of the familiar faces again in future stories, but I feel that with the books as you have written them, the main characters have lived the great adventure of their life (except perhaps Bayaz?) and no amount of writing, only literary-abuse could stop me from wanting to know more about them.

    Maybe this was a bit more useful, I don’t know, just needed a good rant.
    From what I gather from the interviews I have read with you and what I’ve been able to catch up from the blog you seem like a great guy in addition to being a great writer. Keep at it and do what you like.

  • James says:

    I thought the ending was good; I liked the way it all went full circle.

    Let’s be honest here; in real life you rarely get a completely happy ending with all ends nicely tied up and everyone getting what they deserve.

    So why should we expect this in a book? One of the best things about Lord of the Rings is the melancholic ending at the Grey Havens; it just emphasizes the bittersweet element that encapsulates life itself.

    With the ending of LAOK, some characters get what they deserve, some don’t, and there’s plenty of scope for a possible continuation of the series later on.

    Everyone’s a winner, baby.

  • Beefeater says:

    OK, spoilers.

    I thought the ending was pretty cruel to the characters, but I’m not sure I agree that they didn’t get what they deserved. Apart from West and Bayaz, I think they more or less did – that is to say, they got what the whole of their character taken over three books deserved. Yes they’re over the top – and I’m sure a psychologist could read a bit into the way the new Queen is written – but then this is fantasy…

    The more I think about it the more I like Bayaz by the way. Seriously. I love his absolute self-justification, and his flaw of pomposity. He has the potential to be a real Francis Urquhart of an antihero.

  • ratbastrd says:

    Geeze, I’m only 2/3 of the way through Hanged, so I hope my typically bad memory doesn’t surprise me by having me remember that the third book apparently has an unhappy ending. Especially since it doesn’t come out in the states for nearly a year…

    Then again, I suppose I would have been quite shocked if it did.

    Looking forward to finishing the series. So whats next?

  • JL says:

    Just started reading “The blade itself” and absolutely love it. The first good fantasy book I had in quite a while.

    Best wishes from Switzerland!

  • Dave Ellis says:

    I loved it, Joe, by the dead it was bloody good.

    And I personally loved the ending, the fact that you left a good fifty pages after the battles to tie up most of the loose ends was a brave but ultimately triumphant choice.

    And to be honest, after reading about Logen doing a runner and mirroring the beginning, I just had a huge grin on my face…and that must mean it was a fantastic way to finish.

    Can’t wait for the next book…but I guess I’ll have to, ho hum.

  • Aaaargh! Many responses. Apologies I can’t respond to everyone…

    Susanne, Jen, Little Kid,
    Comeuppances? We’ll have to see…

    Ady,
    Redemption? We’ll have to see…

    Anonymous,
    Ending? Well, life goes on, you know. Not sure that makes it a cliffhanger, necessarily.

    Zero, if that’s right,
    Wow, man, that’s some high praise right there. Glad you loved the books, and hopefully I’ll write some more you’ll like as much in the fullness of time.

    Ratbastrd,
    LAoK should be out over there in the US by September, maybe even a bit before.

    jl,
    It only gets better…

    Dave, Beefeater,
    Glad you enjoyed it guys. I try, I really do.

  • Dave says:

    Couldn’t wait until September for it to be released in the US, so ordered it from the UK and just finished it. Tore through the last 200 pages. Really a fantastic piece of writing. I’m looking forward to letting it settle in and then re-reading the entire trilogy one after the other a bit more slowly.

    I have no problem with the ending. I did, like most people, want happiness for a few people and misery for others. Didn’t get that for the most part, but was glad to see that The Bloody Nine looks to be trying to get out of the killing business.

    Absolutely one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, and one of the most unique. Nice to read something full of characters and an exploration of moral shades of gray. Nicer still to read a fantasy that isn’t all about coming up with a new way of magic to work.

    Good, good stuff. Look forward to reading more in the future.

  • Martin says:

    I felt the ending was perfectly in line with the themes in the books. Everything is a circle, as Bayaz explained many times. Everything changes and nothing does, as Logen stated. I thought it exceptionally clever how book 1 started with “The End” and Book 3 finished with “The Beginning” both of which entailed Logen falling into a river which may or may not allow him a new beginning.

    Also Glokta’s thoughts ring very true in the end “First it is done to us, then we do it to others, then we order it done,” For the scene with Glokta/Pike/Sult. Again thank you for this very satisfying journey, now get work on more 🙂

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