Last Argument of Kings - Joe Abercrombie
This was some quick work. It's less than a year since I picked up the first part of this trilogy, and here's part three already, out next spring in the UK - quite an incentive for all those fantasy fans languishing in the long gaps between instalments in other writers' series. And the swift timescale has also not caused any drop in quality - on the contrary, each book in this trilogy has shown a distinct improvement, and with this fantastic concluding volume, I'd even go as far as to say it's become one of my favourite series. It's hard to avoid spoilers when reviewing the later parts of a trilogy, so if you haven't read the other two books yet, you might prefer to look away now (and go and read them, of course)...
So, our group of adventurers is back from their quest and in fairly low spirits; Jezal is weary but looking forward to his reunion with Ardee, Logan's heading back North to deal with Bethod, and Ferro just wants to kill some Gurkhish. Glokta, meanwhile, is busy canvassing in his own special way for the impending leadership election, but is increasingly torn between his duty to Arch Lector Sult and the demands of Valint and Balk, the bank who bought his services in Dagoska. West and the Dogman have reached the end of a long and arduous siege in Angland, only to find that Bethod has escaped them yet again. And Bayaz... well, who knows what he's up to? This sets us up for the final act, and as we've come to expect from Abercrombie, nothing quite works out how you think it will.
There's a lot more action in this one than either of the previous two. I normally find blow-by-blow battle scenes pretty boring, but these are so engagingly written that it's hard to look away. The mountain siege with Bethod vs the Northmen is particularly awesome, and has a real Helm's Deep feel to it; there's some good action elsewhere too. But, of course, the main attractions of this series has always been the characters, and they certainly don't disappoint either. It's very interesting to see a new side of Logan, once he's back among the Northmen and has a reputation to uphold (or live down); Jezal has to struggle between the simple life he now wants, and the glories that others want to bestow on him; and Bayaz's plans reveal that the affairs of wizards are definitely not to be meddled with. There are some unexpected promotions, unexpected betrayals and unexpected deaths, and overall there are plenty of fantasy conventions beaten bloody and sent packing.
The lack of a neat ending is a strong point in the series' favour, and a very fitting stylistic choice; the trilogy as a whole has crept gradually away from the standard fantasy template and gained a very unique feel. Having said this, for a book so different to Tolkien's, I'm going to make yet another Tolkien comparison - the aftermath and bittersweet ending has a very similar tone to the end of Lord of the Rings, which works very well and left me feeling still quite sad a few days later. I'm sure anyone who's read this far will be champing at the bit to get hold of this book anyway, but I can assure you that it's even better than the previous two, and well worth the wait.