At first glance The Blade Itself is pretty old-school: it's book one of a trilogy (entitled The First Law; the second volume, Before They Are Hanged, is out now, to be followed by The Last Argument of Kings in March 2008), it features an old wizard mentor character and a barbarian hero as well as an untried youth, a feisty young woman and an army of nasty barbarians on the march in the north, whilst a resurgent desert empire threatens our heroes' homeland - the Midderland Union - from the south. There's also the threat of a non-human species gathering its forces beyond the northern-most reach of humankind's lands (isn't there always?).
Yet Abercrombie invests these storylines with vigour and energy. None of our heroes are quite what they first appear to be and the author expertly deconstructs them throughout the book, revealing their true motivations when you last expect it. Abercrombie is also a dab hand are writing excellent battle scenes and swordfights. There is also a hint of otherwordly alieness in this book, such as the scenes set in the House of the Maker which are quite memorable. The only major complaint I had about the book is the lack of a map. Most fantasy novels with a map don't really need them, but with military campaigns getting underway it would be nice to tell exactly where Adua is in relation to the Northlands, and where both are in relation to Dagoska, for example. But this is a minor complaint at best.
By the end of the book the pace has been ramped up to a compelling level, as our heroes depart in different directions to face their various destinies and full-scale war seems about to erupt on all sides. The Blade Itself is a tremendously enjoyable novel and I count myself fortunate to have read it late enough in the day to only have a brief wait for the second book.
on 29 June 2010
Joe Abercrombie was recommended to me by a friend who has also been reading fantasy for a long time. He knew I was a huge fan of David Gemmell and said there were some similarities between his and Abercrombie's work; a certain level of grittiness, grey characters and an unpredictable plot. If Brent Weeks writes dark fantasy or crime fantasy, then Abercrombie's is definitely gritty fantasy or maybe blunt force trauma fantasy. Marketing people love labels, and sometimes they can be annoying, but in this case it tells you exactly what to expect. A shock to the system that will leave you reeling and bloody afterwards.
At first you might think The Blade Itself is a Me Too book as two of the characters are a battered warrior and a cranky old wizard. However, another main character is a torturer, someone who was himself a victim of torture, so much so that he is now crippled and in constant pain. And if someone were to kill him it would almost be a relief, because there would be an end to his daily suffering. Glokta was a former golden boy, a swordsman of renown who was captured by the enemy and broken in their cells. He didn't slaughter an army single-handed and fight his way home. If that's the kind of fantasy story you're expecting then look elsewhere. What emerged from the enemy cells not only looked different but inside Glokta was a new, very twisted man. This bitterness might sound depressing but in fact Glokta's dark sense of humour and internal monologue is some of the funniest material in the series. In any good book, no matter the genre, if it's dark you need some comedy or an undercurrent of black comedy to make it less depressing and Glokta delivers this.
What emerged for me throughout this book is how human Abercrombie makes his characters. All are flawed in some way, emotionally or sometimes mentally, and while some have previously achieved greatness, they have also stumbled since those heady days and turned down darker paths. His characters have texture and are perfectly formed in the mind of the reader. A hero might have won a great battle, but what does he do afterwards? Marry a princess and walk off into the sunset to live happily ever after? Well, there isn't such an animal in this book, although you can find this sort of thing in some fantasy that is more fairytale and less realistic. That's not to say there are no happy endings, but each person has their own version of that concept, and likewise each character in the story does as well. A happy ending for one person might be an end to physical pain, or revenge, or glory on the battlefield. It's very much a personal thing.
After reading only one chapter I realised this is not a typical fantasy series. Abercrombie might use some familiar tropes, but he takes them and remoulds them to create something unique. We are given hints throughout the trilogy of a momentous past full of great deeds carried out by wizards who are almost god-like beings, disciples to Juvens, the greatest of them all. But all of that is gone. They are a part of history that few remember. Remnants and bits and pieces remain, but this story is not about giants reshaping the world with their bare hands. The story is what comes after, but we are also given glimpses of other forces at work that are pulling the strings behind the curtain.
One of the three main characters is Logen Ninefingers, a warrior from the North, a Named Man, and someone well known and respected. He is also feared, and rightly so, for his past is incredibly bloody and unpleasant. The second is Jezel, a foppish turd who has no real aspirations who I found incredibly unpleasant and difficult to like, throughout the trilogy in fact. But of course I don't believe we're supposed to like him very much, not at first anyway. And the third is Glokta, who through his work begins to realise that a conflict seems to be brewing between the Union and the North. There is also a third political power whose influence is felt more acutely in the next books in the trilogy but I won't spoil any details.
The plot is full of twists and turns where characters bludgeon, torture and blackmail their way towards answers, and by the end of this first book you are deeply immersed in the world and the fate of the characters. The fight scenes are brutal, detailed without being over the top, and Abercrombie does a good job of painting both the world and the characters without it clogging up the story and making you read pages of tedious description. This was his debut book and it immediately caught my attention and I couldn't wait to read the next two books in the trilogy. I can also see why this book was nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award for fantasy, because Abercrombie's no nonsense style of writing shares elements of Gemmell's style of digging into areas of fantasy others wouldn't dare to go. There is magic, and mystery and elements of the supernatural in the story, but none of it is done overtly.
A minor complaint I've heard from a couple of people is the lack of a map. I can see why someone might want one, but I don't think it's really necessary since the whole story and all of the characters are effectively conjured in your head through the text. If any writer has done a good job then you can clearly see the cities and the characters, and you can navigate around without being led by the nose. I'm not against maps, and if there is one then great, but I don't spend time flicking back and forth to it as I read any book. But some people expect it in every fantasy book and seemed genuinely put out by what is a minor issue at best. To me at least, it seems like another fantasy trope, and this book, and indeed the series, does the unexpected which makes some people uncomfortable.
If you want a fantasy book that isn't safe, that is full of gritty, violent and fascinating characters in a well thought out world, with a story that is often surprising, then this is the book for you. Abercrombie is an exciting new voice in the genre and his blunt force trauma fantasy novels certainly leave an impression (and a mark) on you after reading them.
on 31 January 2009
Usually when a book has many good reviews and I agree with them, I don't bother adding my voice to the throng. However, in this case I'll make an exception because I enjoyed this trilogy enormously. Not what I'd call hardcore fantasy, but a great story set in a fantasy environment. Many others here have sung the praises of these books in detail. What really sets them apart from most fiction I've read - the characters. Outstanding. Superb. The most interesting, funny, realistic, complex characters I've read in a long time. I think I read someone compared the author's writing to Dickens. I thought - come on - are you insane? After reading this, I think they must've been talking about the characters. Truly Mr. Abercrombie is in the same parish as Dickens when it comes to characters. Sand den Glokta is the most interesting character I've ever read outside Dickens. Jezel, Ardee, "Ninefingers" the Dogman... all great. After reading this along with "Before They are Hanged" and "Last Argument of Kings", I'm looking forward to his next book.
on 18 March 2007
I admit it - I bought this book purely because I liked the cover. It's a bad habit I have, and it doesn't often pay off, but this time it really, truely did. I was stunned to discover I'd just bought one of the finest fantasy novels I've read to date. Abercrombie's prose is deceptively simplistic, but under the surface is an elegance of style that makes it not only easy to read, but pure fun as well.
The Blade Itself boasts the most interesting cast of characters I have come across in a long time. Despite fitting into familiar stereotypes, Logen Ninefingers, Bayaz, and Luthar are still fascinating and fun, but it's inquisitor Sand dan Glokta who really steals the show with his dry cynicism and refreshing honesty. Some of his chapters are startlingly grusome, but I challenge anyone to put the book down in the middle of a hair-raising torture scene. The secondary characters - including Major West and his sister, and Logen's band of barbarians - all have their own stories and voices that make for an addictive tale of swords, sourcery and cynicism.
I'm giving The Blade Itself four stars because, despite its brilliance, it only tells a fraction of the story, and it is impossible to judge the entire saga from the first installment. I look forward to finishing Before They Are Hanged, but I've no idea how I'll wait another year to find out what happens next!
on 29 May 2009
I decided to give this book a go having read some favourable reviews on a fantasy literature website, and having got somewhat bored of the traditional fantasy genre.
I really enjoyed this book, the characters were well written with strong personalities, and the plot was full of mystery and intrigue. My favourite character would have to be Inquisitioner Glokta, his cynicism and sarcasm made me laugh out loud at times. Each of the characters seems to have an interesting history, and how they all mesh together makes for a gripping read.
This is an excellent debut novel, and sets the scene well for the second book in the series, which I'm really looking forward to reading. I'm expecting great things of it!
I'd recommend this book for anyone who's feeling a bit jaded about the typical fantasy template that most authors these days seem to churn out. There's still plenty of swords and sorcery here, but written in a modern and refreshing way!
on 15 July 2011
The Blade Itself is not badly written, but it did leave me feeling slightly aggrieved: It suffers from what has become an increasingly common affliction within the fantasy genre, which is that by the end of the book the story has only just begun. This means that despite the fact that there are intriguing moments, there is no completion on any level and effectively another book must be purchased before any hint of destination (for any character) is glimpsed. This is not to say that one cannot have an effective series of books, but that a successful one must at least achieve some form of progression at the end of each novel. The rate at which this occurred was too slow for me to feel satisfied with this book.
I have rated it with three stars however, and that is for the fact that interesting foundations are laid and that there are facets to the characters which are interesting.
on 6 November 2009
AHH I loved this book so much! I ended up absolutely falling for the characters...Logen is my favourite. I'm sick of reading fantasy novels about glory and honour and you certainly don't get any of that in this book. It's dark and gritty and some violent parts made me gasp (audibly...on the train..which I loved). It has changed my perspective on fantasy novels and now, when I'm picking a new book, I find myself rejecting any that do not seem character-centric. One of my favourite books. READ IT!! Even if it starts slowly, keep going. You won't regret it.
on 31 May 2011
Firstly for all these people that gave this one stars don't believe it. This isn't a snooty book it's not pretencious, it's not trying to sell you a concept, it just wants to be pure action adventure and it works. I stumbled across this book by accident as it's not my usual thing but glad I did. Ok there are more famous trilogies out there and fantasy books, but I am rating this book on it's own merits. It takes a while if your not used to fighting fantasy books for it to get going, but once you get hang of the style it's well worth it. The triology of which I bought all three is amazing, well written, with colourful characters, and it has deception, intrigue, and political manouvres from characters that keep you wanting to read more and all three didn't disappoint. I loved the character Glotka and his shady dealings which reminded me a lot of Baron Harkonnen in the Dune Series in some ways. Anyway not being a bloke I have not read many fantasy adventures, but now Joe Abercrombie has become one of my favourite writers - keep them coming Joe!
on 21 June 2009
OK, after reading books such as the Magicians guild, and the Age of 5 i found it hard to find a book that even looked like it could live up to these two great trilogy's. I actually thought these books had ruined all fantasy for me, as everything i looked at seemed mundane compared to them.
After reading the great reviews for this book i thought i would give it a go, here's what i thought:
The first few pages were slow and i thought i had made a mistake in buying the book, but for £6 i soldiered on, and i am very glad i did so.
Once the story started progressing i felt myself being drawn in, you can actually see the characters develop as well as the authors writing ability thoughout the book, i was enthralled by the end of it.
Do you ever have those moments where you check how much of a book is left and want to find out the ending as quick as possible but make the book last as long as possible? well, this happened to me with 'the blade itself' Truly good book with great characters, a hint of the mystical and mystery and i felt myself wanting more, so much so that once i realised i was almost at the end of the book i put it down (for the first time since i started reading) and ordered the next one to be delivered as soon as possible.
Sorry for rambling on, but in short the first book is well worth the read and is up there in the league of Trudi Canarvan with her trilogy's. Lets hope he can keep it up for the next two books.
on 13 June 2009
i read a lot of books on a weeks holiday and so have taken to leaving books behind to save on the luggage weight. I enjoyed this book so much that I bought it back with me. It has all the components of the classic fantasy novel - characters with a past or a hinted at future, a magi, wars, battles and intrigue and an unlikely band of questers. This could have made it a 'tick box' exercise but Abercrombie develops the characters well, there's real humour and the paacing of the story is excellent. Some reviewers have felt the story had no end but I liked the way it would lead straight into the second book - no concessions to readers who want their fantasy parcelled into neat packages! I also liked to find a fantasy book that didn't feel the need for a map! I'll definitely be getting the 2nd in the series, and the 3rd and probably anything else he writes.