Monday, November 30, 2015

The Blade Itself Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Orion
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
Series: First Law Book One
Pages: 515

It’s more than fair to say, the word “good” has lost all meaning on Joe Abercrombie’s characters. All the major narrators will employ at least one of the following negative archetypes: they violently assault others, passionately hate the world, sneer contempt at people below their station, viciously torture people, or, of course, they do a fair amount of killing.

There are elements that make the major characters sympathetic but the bad always seems to outweigh the good.  And yet, this book is completely engrossing.  Watching the major characters trainwreck other innocent and seemingly good-natured people in this book can get depressing, but when they start to trainwreck each other the book’s cynicism is enjoyable.

The Blade Itself is a dark story, that brings fantasy characters together in a way that really hasn’t been done in the genre before. Abercrombie’s trilogy has a promising beginning.

The Blade Itself Plot Summary


The Union, the principle governing power in the world, is being challenged by people who rule lands in the North and the South (called the Gurkish).  In the midst of these events, The Blade Itself follows a myriad of different plot lines, many of which start to converge as the story progresses.
  • Logen Ninefingers is a barbarian from the North with a bloody history and boogeyman reputation that’s about to catch up with him.
  • Master Bayaz is a wizard of great renown, who left the Union, but promised one day to return.
  • Jezal dan Luthar is an arrogant nobleman’s son that is a Captain in the Union’s military.  He is training to win the prestigious fencing contest to please his father and to advance his position.
  • Collem West is a higher ranking officer in the Union, who was born a commoner.  He is currently helping to train Luthar and he’s watching out for his sister, Ardee, who lives with him.
  • Sand dan Glokta is a horribly crippled Inquisitor for the Union. He tortures people for confessions and helps advance the Inquisitions power within the government.

The Blade Itself Analysis


Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy may be the genre’s first Lolita – referring to the Nabakov novel here – and his Humbert Humbert is none other than Sand dan Glokta … although you could probably make a claim for any of these characters as a sort of Humbert Humbert.  Glokta may not rape children, but his profession of torturer makes him a despicable character none-the-less.  At the same time, by the way he’s written in the story, he becomes the most sympathetic of Abercrombie’s characters. I never thought I’d be rooting for a torturer, but I was wrong.  Glokta will go down as one of my all-time favorite fantasy characters.

While Glokta was my favorite, I found Jezal to be the most unlikeable of all.  This is ironic since he’s never committed any sort of crime, murder, rape, or any of the other horrible violent atrocities that the other major characters have.  He’s so arrogant and the way he takes a dump on ordinary people in the book is so infuriating that I find myself waiting for his untimely demise on nearly every page.
Bayaz also turns out to be an interesting character.  His historical role in creating the Union and his magical role as a wizard of sorts is shrouded in mystery. Is this the real Bayaz and what are the limits to his magical abilities? was a question I found myself asking over and over again.  This aura of mystery pervades over the entire story, and it’s what keeps a magical element, albeit a small one, over everything that’s happening.

The prose is remarkably simple. At times it can take me out of the story, but on the whole it’s handled well, especially the dialogue. Fantasy has a tendency to embellish its dialogue, and it can easily start to sound unrealistic.  Abercrombie has his characters talking like you would with your friends.  He handles profanity like you would hear it from any ordinary person.  This might ruin the magical aura for some fantasy readers, but for me this was a great way to present realistic sounding conversations.  The only otherworldly dialogue present in this story occurs, when events related to this “fantasy world” are discussed.

Abercrombie’s somber tale also runs the risk of heading towards torture or violence porn, but the book doesn’t ever cross that line.  There are scenes of torture, but Abercrombie simply gives readers the idea of what’s about to happen and then leaves the rest to your imagination.  Don’t get me wrong this is a violent book, but it never reaches the consistent levels of violence found in say A Song of Ice and Fire or the Malazan Books of the Fallen.

The plots switch focus between playing politics and the nature of power, to the individual dilemmas facing individual characters. The morality, or lack there of, turns out to be this story’s most compelling motif.  The way The Blade Itself combines sword and sorcery with epic fantasy will appeal to fans of both sub-genres and it is highly recommended to people who enjoy character driven fantasy.  I would also recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a cynical story – even if fantasy isn’t your genre of choice, this may change your mind.

Score: 9.5


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