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94 of 101 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bleak End to a Great Ride.
It was with much excitement that I opened the box that months ago I had pre-ordered and had rapid-shipped from the UK.

As with the first two books, Last Argument of Kings has superb cover-art. It's a very dashing trilogy displayed on your bookshelf appropriately.

But to the story:

In the first two installments, in particular the first,...
Published on March 26, 2008 by N. C. Smith

72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Disappointing
When you come away from a book feeling disappointed in pretty much every character - minor and major alike, and outright wishing death upon several of them, it's hard not to feel disappointed in the book itself.

It left me wondering whether good writing was enough, or if something actually has to happen in the story itself. Ultimately, nothing changed for any...
Published on May 5, 2009 by MSB

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94 of 101 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bleak End to a Great Ride., March 26, 2008
N. C. Smith (Minneapolis, MN) - See all my reviews
It was with much excitement that I opened the box that months ago I had pre-ordered and had rapid-shipped from the UK.

As with the first two books, Last Argument of Kings has superb cover-art. It's a very dashing trilogy displayed on your bookshelf appropriately.

But to the story:

In the first two installments, in particular the first, action took a back seat to characterization. You can check out my critiques of both those books if you like. Some of the most interesting and original-yet-archetypical characters in fantasy were made flesh and earned high-praise for me for that feat.

In Last Argument of Kings, action definitively steps to the fore. All of the plot-lines that were set up like dominoes in the first two books are tipped, and before you know it you're swept up in a tide of the little black bricks like Mel Brooks' entrance in the computer-animated 'Robots'. From climax to climax, Mr. Abercrombie charges you through exciting conclusions to every plot and sub-plot introduced before-hand.

This is a difficult review to write because, even more than usual, I would be loathe to give away even the slightst hint of what happens, but most of those characters from the first books that you felt needed some comeuppance get it in this book. But Joe Abercrombie isn't sentimental, and by the end of this book it will be plain that some of those that got a comeuppance didn't deserve it as much as others or as much as you might have thought they did, and those that deserved good certainly don't get it, and many of those that you used to want good things for you'll find you no longer do.

The character Sand Dan Glokta has a saying not quite as ubiquitous as Logen's "You have to be Practical", but far more descriptive of Last Argument of Kings: "Nobody gets what they deserve."

In a manner of speaking, no character gets justice in this book. None of the character arcs end in a way that conventional fantasy norms indicate they should but are nevertheless ended with integrity. In a way, this is a masterful feat. I took JK Rowlings unsentimental killing of characters like the owl Hedwig or the house-elf Dobby for ungraceful, gratuitous acts included in the story simply to showcase her unsentimentality. I perceived none of that artless hackery here. The story concludes as it should, consistent with the world Joe Abercrombie established in the first book.

True - not everything is perfectly graceful. Some of the surprises that are inevitable in any tale - characters thought gone turning up in new guises, etc. - seemed a little forced, but these are small concerns. As a work of art, Mr. Abercrombie stayed true to his original vision.

Ironically, this is as much a source of dissatisfaction for me as a reader as a source of admiration for Mr. Abercrombie as a writer. These are great books. This is great writing. These are amazingly whole characters. What a flipping depressing way to end a great tale though - I get enough dissatisfaction about how things turn out by reading the news. It's not that everything ends badly for every character, but I would have loved to end the tale with a swelling of joyous emotion for just one of these perfectly crafted characters receiving a truly wondrous reward for all of the sacrifice they endured through the three books.

No such luck. Joe's broader message is really that all the struggles we endure, as the struggles of characters like Dogman, Colonel West, Sand Dan Glokta, or Jezal dan Luthar, mean essentially nothing at the end of the day, at the end of the struggle, at the end of their lives. We endure the futile struggle and are not rewarded.

Joe chose to not be kind to his characters. As the god that divines their fate, he implies our own fates are as forsaken. So depressing. I could hope he'd write a spinoff of one of the surviving characters that ends in showers of good fortune, but by then that would seem a cheap device. The moment has passed to lift the reader's heart with inspiration, or to at least lift one of these characters out of the mud and gore of a miserable world.

I think this series is a work of literary art - all too rare in my favorite genre. But like watching a great but basically bleak cinematic drama, I only watch it once. Or like driving through South Dakota in the wintertime - I recognize the majesty of all that flat land, but am eager to be done with it. My ultimate position is that I think Mr. Abercrombie got carried away with his own cynicism and left on the table what might have been a great opportunity to inspire and uplift - and ultimately what might have been an unforgettable tale is instead one merely superbly crafted.
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72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Disappointing, May 5, 2009
MSB (California) - See all my reviews
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When you come away from a book feeling disappointed in pretty much every character - minor and major alike, and outright wishing death upon several of them, it's hard not to feel disappointed in the book itself.

It left me wondering whether good writing was enough, or if something actually has to happen in the story itself. Ultimately, nothing changed for any of the characters. If you want to know what they are like at the end of book 3, look no further than the first half of book 1. We're left with the same characters doing the same things, just to different people.

The perverse cynicism is so unrealistic and forced that I felt a near-overwhelming compulsion to fly to the U.K., have beautiful women drag Mr. Abercrombie to a pretty garden with singing birds and bright sunlight, and force him to take antidepressants until he breaks down under the torture and lets himself smile for a moment.

**** Spoilers ****

Glokta's ending was probably the best of the bunch, but still disappointing. He ends up in the same profession, doing things that he hates for a master that he hates for reasons that he hates, and gets to babysit someone he hates for added... err, hate.

Ferro becomes an extra superhuman woman bent on vengeance. That's different because she started out as just a superhuman (notice the missing 'extra') woman bent on vengeance.

Logen kills one too many of his own friends, flip-flops between being sure he can be good and sure he can't, and really doesn't do much more than spectate. Even in his big fight, West and friends win the battle for him. He's just a leaf swept along by the wind, and I can look out my window to see that. The character didn't even contribute many hilarious observations like in past books.

Jezal. Bah, where to start? The "noble with redeemable value" turns out to have none.

Bayaz ends up being every bit the bastard I suspected he was. Every "villain" in the series has the moral high ground over Bayaz, and this is the guy who ends up getting everything he wants.

If there is a message or theme to this series, it's this: only bastards accomplish anything, no one can better themselves, you only hurt yourself when you do good things, and everything you love is a lie.

Take Glokta and his relationship with his Practicals. He was good to them, every one. There seemed to be mutual respect and affection. So, of course, Frost betrays him for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Severard, who had plenty of money to buy a home, somehow gets himself in debt while he's at sea (how is that even possible?) and decides that the best course of action is to betray his greatest and steadiest source of cash. Vitari just glares at everyone a few times and leaves. Joy?

West is another example. Possibly the only character who changed at all in the series. He rescues a woman from a lifetime of cruelty, forced labor, and later from rape, and is rewarded with her choosing another man and then promptly dying. He finds his courage, leads armies, and ends up having an entire building fall on him. Abercrombie goes so far as to tease us with the possibility that West might *only* end up with serious, life-altering injuries and psychological trauma. For an entire page or so, it is suggested that he might mend his relationship with his sister and start a romance with a pretty girl, but HA... don't be silly, he ends up suffering an agonizing death as his entire body literally falls apart.

Good lord, enough is enough. The cynicism is outright forced on readers from every single direction the author can think of, whether it makes sense or not.

I understand the concept of questionable pasts, character flaws, all that. But I think you need to look towards Jaime and Tyrion from the Song of Ice and Fire series to see how it should be done. Those two can both be ruthless, conniving bastards, and have serious character flaws, but there's still *something* there which lets you understand and/or cheer for them. And they change. For both better and worse, they change.

Ultimately, memorable characters or not, nothing happened in this series. Glokta is still doing terrible things he has no interest in doing for masters who don't tell him why. Jezal is still a naive coward. Ferro is still all about vengeance. Logen is still the Bloody Nine. And in case the author doesn't make it painfully clear, you can't change either.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Confess!, August 29, 2008
Alright, I'll confess: I loved this trilogy and I enjoyed the third installment every bit as much as the first two. This is an unconvential fantasy epic that stands typical fantasy stereotypes on their heads and I had a blast reading it and would unhesitatingly recommend the entire series. This is fantasy with dirt under the fingernails and pus festering under ragged scabs though. Sure, you have your traditional cast of characters...barbarian warrior, old wizard, handsome young captain, and a fearless warrioress, etc. but Abercrombie takes these archetypal characters and gives them deep character flaws, dodgy pasts, and poor attitudes. They must face hard circumstances in a complicated and morally ambiguous world. His books are complex and extremely well-plotted, the characterization superb, the dialogue excellent, and the writing is involving and keeps you riveted to your seat. Even though this finale ran over 600 pages I managed to bang it out in a day, partially because it is so deliciously readable but equally because I simply couldn't put it down until I finished it.

The Last Argument of Kings is a grand finale too. Abercrombie satisfactorily ties up most all of the major plot points but there is enough ambiguity at the end that additional books would not necessarily be precluded. Personally, I would have preferred a tighter, less ambiguous ending but I wouldn't be surprised if elements of the ending weren't driven by the editor/publisher. I'll forgive Abercrombie for it and, I confess!, I still loved the book and think it is a wonderful five star read.

I'd hazard a guess though that there will be some readers who may not like how this series ended...because it isn't necessarily pretty and it certainly isn't a fairy tale ending. Unlike those tidier fantasy stories, Abercrombie doesn't forget that battlefield corpses don't just magically disappear and besieged cities aren't magically made whole at the end of the day. His is a dirty, gritty world every bit as nasty as medieval Europe and the story and the endings reflect this adherence to realism. As Logen Nine-Fingers often says, you have to be realistic. Abercrombie definitely is realistic and the story reflects it. Wounds come at the price of disfigurement and death, people will do awful things to accomplish their goals, and people aren't charitably motivated. The weak get squashed, soldiers get maimed, the powerful do horrendous evil to hang onto their power and the more things change, the more they stay the same. You have to be realistic about these things dear reader, and that realism is what sets this trilogy apart and makes it such a great read.

The first two novels present enough character development that a reader could hope that the books would end on a high note in a Tolkienesque fashion, but they also provided plenty of clues that there could be a grim ending indeed. I won't give away any of the plot and ruin your enjoyment, but I will say that this book did not disappoint me, was just as compelling a read as the first two, and the story gets the ending that fits it even if it may not be exactly what most readers expect. It is the ending the story deserves though.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hasty, miserable ending to a promising series, April 15, 2009
Like some of the other reviewers here, I agree that this series is very well-written and entertaining for the first two books. But book three is where it gets to be a joyless, depressing slog.

Now don't get me wrong -- I don't necessarily need a happy ending. And only a fool would have assumed from the first two books that this series was going to be all rainbows and lollipops at the end. But honestly, when you follow a group of characters this long and get to like some of them, you at least want some closure. Instead, in this book, you get plot by stupidity, personalities shifting 180 degrees, and main storylines coming to abrupt, unexplained endings.

It seemed unbelievably cynical that absolutely NOBODY in this book came to a satisfying or pleasant conclusion. Only one character seemed halfway content at the end, and even that was colored with continued misery. No matter what they did or how hard they tried, everyone I liked suffered horrific fates and random misfortune, and every flaw that seemed to have been overcome promptly returned just so everybody could be awful to each other.

All in all, this third book seemed hastily-written, ill-planned, grossly cynical, and just plain depressing.
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63 of 75 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but not to my liking, January 10, 2009
Gregory (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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What can I say - Joe Abercrombie is a good author, who wrote a very well plotted, well characterized trilogy of low fantasy. Yet readers like me, who enjoy characters who we can cheer for, will not find this book a treat. By the end of the third book, nearly all of the major characters are revealed in turn as cowards, amoral tyrants , psychopathic murderers or self-loathing monsters. A phrase "banality of evil" came to mind many a time as I was finishing the third volume. As I read on, I found less and less to enjoy in spectacle of characters with some pretensions to goodness or morality being ground down and destroyed in turn, so much so that the last 50 pages I ended up mostly scanning. All in all, I find that the third book has spoiled whatever enjoyment I had from the other two.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Let's be realistic about this, April 19, 2008
This is not a happy book. The first two had their dark moments, but they also had their moments that made me chuckle. The first two had more hope. The first two, though occasionally violent, were tinged with excitement, while this one tends more towards a harsher reality and bleakness. It is, in fact, almost unpleasant, like being invited to dinner and then sitting through an evening while your hosts spitefully snipe at each other and talk of divorce.

''However, even with all of that, it is still a very well-written book. It will appeal to lovers of gritty fantasy and fans of sagas such as A Song Of Ice And Fire. Indeed, Joe's writing in no way suffers for the comparison; it is as good as GRRM's at his best. At least in my opinion. :) ''

A quick point to those who like to know these things: the first few chapters feature two sex scenes of a fairly graphic nature. There's another one towards the very end of the book as well. Again, these are more along the lines of what GRRM might write than what you would find from a more romantically-inclined author.''

There is a lot of grimness to this story, but much of it is quite realistic. In fact, the machinations of power and politics illustrated in these pages certainly reflect my understanding of the way our world works, and some aspects of the plot remind me of world events of the last decade. But don't think that it is a bare-faced allegory; perhaps I'm reading more in to it than I should. It is definitely a very interesting and original tale in its own right.

''As I said though, there is a dark undercurrent in this book. It's like the emails I write to friends when I'm feeling down; though I try not to bring them down there's a distinct lack of positivity in what I write and there's an air of frustrated despair. The book seems to get progressively more gloomy as it goes, because it starts with a fairly similar tone to the first couple of books. I wonder if Joe changed his outlook on life as this was written or whether he always had things planned this way. Some of the plot revelations towards the end of the book and some of the characters seemed to shift a bit from how I remember them from the previous books. I will have to go back through the first couple some time to see if there are actual discrepancies or whether they were consistent but I just saw them in a different light then.''

The ending is not very satisfying to me. Even taking into account the shift in tone, I still felt like it was a setup for another novel, rather than properly tying up the loose ends of the trilogy. I wouldn't say it was a weak ending, necessarily, nor even one of those disorganised info dumps that finally reveal how the butler did it in the parlor with the candlestick. I'd just say that I had hoped for more, for an ending that would make me feel good. Maybe that's what it lacked: feel-good moments. In fact, there isn't just a dearth of feel-good moments; they have been ruthlessly expunged from existence. ''

Not that the book is really dark, per se; it's cynical. I can't really say more than that without giving too much of the story away. And, besides, I'm beginning to repeat myself. :) There is still some hope and light, but just a very little. Not really enough to make me smile, but a more realistic measure considering the circumstances of the characters. A sort of governmental subsistence of hope, rather than a rich outpouring. Hope on welfare. '''

I most enjoy books with positive vibes. This book undoubtedly fails to meet that measure and yet I can unreservedly recommend it. It is remarkably well written, mostly not predictable--and that is coming from someone who finds nearly all novels easily predictable--and honest in its depiction of how people act in real life.

''I give it four stars. After all, you have to be realistic.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic conclusion to the trilogy, September 9, 2008
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Last Arguments of Kings by Joe Abercrombie is the third, and final, novel in the First Law trilogy. The first book in the trilogy is titled The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One) and the second book is titled Before They Are Hanged (The First Law: Book Two). Mr. Abercrombie is quickly making a name for himself with this trilogy. While there are traditional fantasy elements in this trilogy, it does not follow the normal, and usually ever present, clichés many other fantasy series do. If you like your fantasy filled with fluff and feel good storied, do not read this book. However, if you like your fantasy novels to have dark, gritty, nasty characters; then by all means take a look at this series.

The plot of this novel picks up right where the second book ended. The Union is doubly threatened. First by the Northmen, led by Bethod, and also from the south by the Gurkish. A simple army plot is not enough for this novel, or trilogy. So for added effect Mr. Abercrombie crams in several sub plots. Things such as a mysterious bank that seems to have its funds strategically invested in several different areas for optimal, shall we say blackmail. There is the process of who will be elected the new ruler if the king dies because he has left no heir. Additionally, there is the fallout of the mysterious magic item a select group of people were seeking in the second novel. Lastly, the plans of the First of the Magi, Bayaz, are laid to bare. There are even things I didn't talk about be cause of spoiler potential. If that seems like a lot of material to put into one book, well it is. But, it works. The plot never bogged down, nor did it ever feel like the section I was reading was irrelevant to the story. For 636 pages, this was a fast paced plot that really ties up all the loose ends from the previous two books, although, be warned. How Mr. Abercrombie ties up those loose ends may very well not be the way you want, nor expect, them to end.

The characters in this novel are largely the same cast of characters as were present in the first two books; Glokta, Logen Ninefingers, Bayaz, Ferro, Jezal, and West. However, one very interesting thing about this book is that the characters who I thought would dominate the story did not always do so. All the characters in this trilogy are complex. They all have flaws and doubts, they do things wrong and they are not always the most honorable people. It is rather refreshing to read about characters that do not always have the noble cause in the forefront. To add to that the character development in this book, and for that matter the entire trilogy is simply fantastic. The characters are gritty, hardened, and sometimes downright crooked. Yet, each and every one has something about them that most people will be able to identify with. They all seem so very real that it is easy to root, or hate, them. That is the true magic of the characters.

A couple minor criticisms about this novel.

1 - As with the first two books, the internal dialogue of the character Glotka. I will say it is a consistent thing between all three books, but for me it just doesn't work. This could very well be my admitted personal bias against all things first person. While it does not detract from the overall story, I can see others, like myself, who may be annoyed by it.

2 - There are a few scenes where I would have liked a little more description of the surroundings. I realize it is a fine line between too much description and not enough. For the most part, Mr. Abercrombie provides a sufficient amount of description, but there are a few scenes where I was left wanting just a little more.

Some things I really enjoyed about this novel.

1 - The between character dialogue. Simply, perfect. The banter, the flow, the pacing was all perfect. Each character has their own unique voice. Some fantasy books I have read the dialogue seems stiff and unnatural. That is not the case with this book.

2 - The characters. I really enjoyed the fact that the characters are not the typical fantasy clichés. The nastiness and cut-throat nature of the characters is a joy to read.

3 - The multi-layered plot. I like a book who's plot makes me think and try to get one step ahead (which incidentally rarely worked, I always seemed one step behind). Following the multiple plots to their ending was a joy. I was always curious what would happen next.

In my review of the second novel in this trilogy I said this:

"The First Law trilogy seems to be taking on the mantel of a fine painting. Taken piece by piece each book is solid. However, taken as a whole, as the entire trilogy, the true beauty of this work begins to stand out."

It is safe to say that the paining has been completed and it looks fantastic. This trilogy truly stands up against the `big' names in the fantasy genre. It is a refreshing take on a genre that can, at times, get bogged down within itself. What you see is not always what you get. With the First Law trilogy Mr. Abercrombie has staked his claim to his little corner of the genre. However, that little corner will most likely grow as he continues to write solid, engaging tales. This is a trilogy that I whole-heartedly recommend for those fans looking for something a little different.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Predictable ending, what's the hype about?, July 6, 2009
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Unlike many others who appreciated the ending of this series -- and even didn't see it coming -- I was heartily disappointed by what seemed like a serious cop-out. Abercrombie so consistently re-iterated his themes ("You have to be realistic," "Life isn't fair," "No one gets what he deserves"), that you pretty much know how it's going to end after book 1.

That said, I still found myself hoping he'd surprise me. The story is engaging enough, and assuming you're fine with moral ambiguity, the characters are interesting. What Abercrombie seems to be saying after hundreds of pages, though, is that all those pages... didn't matter. You just slogged through hours of reading to come back full circle. No character's journey mattered, no one's character development makes a whit of difference in the greater scheme, and it's all set to repeat itself sometime in the hazy future. It's like you just finished an impossible video game and someone hit "reset" before you got to save the game.

So if by "realistic," you mean fatalistic, futile, and meaningless, then spend your time drinking this in. I wish I'd spent my time re-reading Erikson, personally. At least there the moral ambiguity and pointless death comes with better characters, more graceful prose, and no gawd-awful "so-and-so sucked his gums."
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You Have to be Pessimistic About These Things, August 16, 2009
P. Vogel (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
When I started Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, I was immediately impressed with his characterizations, putting a new and darker spin on the tired old tropes of fantasy. Here was someone to show us that berserkers really aren't nice people to be around, that the young king does not begin as lily white and pure of heart, that power corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The oft-repeated catchphrase of Logen Ninefingers said it all: "You have to be realistic about these things." Now we come to the supposed end of the trilogy, and unless this is some trick of literary legerdemain (fear not, gentle readers, all is not lost?) I have to say the ending does not justify the price of the ticket.

Dark fantasy I get. Realistic, gritty fantasy I get. That evil often escapes justice, that people may sometimes lack the strength to do what is right, all of these things I expected to see in The Last Argument of Kings, as I had in the previous two books. However, when this gray injustice is universal, when every character fails to follow through, when none of the prominent characters appears to get what they deserve, I begin to wonder if clinical depression - or, at the very least, a pathologically cynical worldview - has not been pressed into print by the author.

The writing is not the problem. Mr. Abercrombie is a deft writer and very skilled in creating vibrant characterizations, the writing itself is a joy to read. It is the ending, and the heavy-handed, overwhelmingly negative message it forces upon the reader.

I think the real key to these books is Sand dan Glokta. It would be going to far to call him the protagonist, but he does seem to be a reflection of the world Abercrombie has created, and - ironically - it's most comfortable inhabitant. But increasingly, one of my central problems with Glokta's methods came to reflect my issues with the trilogy as a whole. As recent news events have surely demonstrated, torture doesn't work. People will, eventually, say anything to make the pain stop, whether they know anything or not. But Glokta never guesses wrong, never operates on false information, not once. In Abercrombie's world, torture always works, because the world is a mean and small place and most people are terribly weak.

This is, ultimately, where The First Law trilogy fails for me. It isn't realistic - it's blatantly pessimistic, and the ending suffers for it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars, March 24, 2009
Kat Hooper "Kat at FanLit" (St. Johns, FL, United States) - See all my reviews
Say one thing for this reviewer, say she's a weak-minded sucker.

She really enjoyed the first two books of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy. This story was original, had a unique style, fascinating characters, and a darkly cynical style. She liked it. It was fresh. But she was kind of hoping, even daring to expect, that the last book, Last Argument of Kings, might have an ending that was, if not perhaps exactly happy, at least somewhat satisfying.

Unfortunately, Last Argument of Kings was more realistic than happy. Hooray, some might say -- a realistic ending! But realistic is not what this reader reads fantasy for. For three books she read about people's heads being chopped off, painful body parts clicking, toothless gums being sucked at, pain, wasting disease, bodies being cleaved in half, more pain, betrayal, torture, treason, tyranny, loveless marriages, abusive fathers and brothers, miscarriage, alcoholism, prejudice, more pain. Lots of pain. It has to get better, right?

Alas, no. There just wasn't enough redemption to balance all of the pain. A couple of characters became more noble (they couldn't have become less so), but their triumphs were outweighed by the degradation of other characters. It was all just kind of depressing.

Besides that, there really wasn't anything new in Last Argument of Kings. The story ends (for better or for worse), but there was none of the freshness that was so exciting in The Blade Itself. The writing is well above average, but not brilliant, and it certainly wasn't pretty.

What she's trying to say is: The First Law is an entertaining and well-written story for someone who is more the cynic than the optimist. But it left this reviewer feeling icky. Very icky.
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