I know not to expect "happy" from Joe Abercrombie. Still, I thought the previous two of these books ended fairly neatly. I think it was some deep cunning on his part in order to prevent readers from knowing what to expect.
This third installment has three main characters. I liked them all, but I think none of them got quite as much individual time as I might have liked. I thought Thorn and Brand were well-balanced in the previous book. They were good foils to each other and told their halves of the story well. Still, I liked all of the characters.
It's good seeing some of the previous characters, like Thorn, play prominent roles in this book as supporting characters. Yarvi also continues to function much better as a supporting character, rather than showing the reader what goes on in his head.
I liked what was revealed about the nature of the world, and the elven ruins. It wasn't what I would have expected, and not like anything I've seen elsewhere.
The previous two books had some aspects that perhaps could have been predictable or formulaic. I wouldn't say the previous books were either of those things as a whole, but just that they had some elements. This book really takes those tropes and turns them on their head, the way Abercrombie did so well in the First Law trilogy. There are some tropes popular in other fiction that are not necessarily believable in the real world, but what one tends to see in a story, and instead of making a pretty story with a perfect, happy ending, Abercrombie goes for realism. I don't mean "grimdark" realism. I mean something more balanced. Some of it dark and brutal, but still allowing for some hope, in the end. We see teenagers acting with maturity and responsibility.
This had its rays of hope, in the end. If you like a clean, happy ending, this wouldn't be a series for you, but if you want something more complicated, I think it's worth it.