We pick back up a couple of months after the events of the last book, Bayaz and crew have returned to the city of Adua after their failed quest, Sand dan Glokta is a Superior of Adua and carrying out his duties – both for the country and for his boss, the Arch Lector, West and the Northmen are in the North fighting against Bethod. The king is about to die, and both crown princes are dead, and the nobles are trying their best to outbid each other in both favours and blackmail so that they can seize the throne. As if the kingdom doesn’t have enough troubles, the war with the Gurkish is about to come to a head.
All the plotlines set up in the last couple of books converge and get resolved – the wars with the North and the Gurkish, the succession, Bayaz’s plans. In a way, they’re resolved neatly, but not in the way you’d expect from a work of fantasy. No one in Abercrombie’s world is particularly nice, but almost everyone turns out to be nastier than you might expect – and yes, that’s possible. Although, the character arcs are certainly plausible and realistic, it’s still sad.
This book is certainly well crafted, but it’s not one that I particularly enjoyed reading. After the negativity in Before They Are Hanged, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and the characters that Abercrombie had spent the last two books building up get some measure of redemption, for all the blood and gore to pay off, but as Abercombie keeps repeating – “no one gets what they deserve.” There are a lot of battles, every characters gets put through hell, everything in sight is destroyed, but there’s no reprieve in sight.
Writers can choose to focus on how miserable the world is, or they can try to find inspiration in unlikely sources, which is what most fantasy does. Abercrombie chose the former, and it feels like he got swept up in his desire to write a gritty and realistic world that he forgot to make it likeable – it’s merely depressing. It makes me retroactively dislike the other two books for making a promise they didn’t deliver on, but no one gets what they deserve and that includes me, apparently.
I would write about the plot and the ending of the characters, but it doesn’t seem like it matters. It hardly feels like the end of a trilogy, it just seems like a few more moves have occurred in the game of chess that Bayaz and Khalul are playing. Indeed, Abercrombie has continued to write books that will hopefully end in some sort of resolution – there are three more books set in this world and a forthcoming trilogy. I don’t think I want to be along for the ride, though.
Readers that are not bothered by futility would like this series, though (fans of George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you.)
P.S.: Here’s a great review on Amazon that puts this all better than I can.
- “Before They Are Hanged” by Joe Abercrombie
- “Savvy” by Ingrid Law