Title: The Blade Itself
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Series: First Law #1
Published: Orbit (First published May 4, 2016)
Pages: 503 (Paperback)
So Joe Abercrombie is a giant in the fantasy genre, but I’ve been putting off reading his books for ages. What if I didn’t like them? Would I even be able to call myself an SFF reader? But, I shouldn’t have worried. This was fantastic.
“Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”
So The Blade Itself is a grim-dark epic fantasy following of cast of characters that I would generously call….morally suspect.
“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?”
Logen Ninefingers is a down on his luck barbarian; the Bloody Nine is infamous for his skill in battle but he’s low on friends, and he’s got a slew of enemies.
Captain Jezal dan Luthar is an obnoxious blowhard who thinks far too highly of himself and lacks any ambition beyond swindling his buddies at cards and earning glory fencing, as long as its not too much work.
Inquisitor Glokta is a torturer attempting to root out treason in the union while contending with his own scars and pain from his time in the Empire’s cells. He’s a vicious, cynical, sarcastic asshole – he’s also my favorite character.
“Blood gets you nothing but more blood. It follows me now, always, like my shadow, and like my shadow I can never be free of it. I should never be free of it. I’ve earned it. I’ve deserved it. I’ve sought it out. Such is my punishment.”
This is definitely a character driven story, and it starts of slow. Abercrombie takes time to build out this massive world, and introduce us to the characters. You can tell he’s building to something. And the payoff that comes in the last 100-150ish pages is totally worth it. But, don’t mistake a slow start with a boring start.
Abercrombie’s writing is incredibly compelling, and he has a way of writing characters that you love even if you shouldn’t. They’re damaged, haunted by their past, and generally loathsome. But, he has this ability to humanize them as you learn about them and the world they live in, you can’t help but want them to succeed.
“Everything frightens me, and it’s well that it does. Fear is a good friend to the hunted, it’s kept me alive this long. The dead are fearless, and I don’t care to join them.”
The one negative thing I can say about this story is the treatment of the only two main female characters who are rather one-dimensional. Ardee and Ferro are both abuse victims, though of different varieties, and can easily be summed up as sex appeal and vengeance respectively. But, I am hopeful that we will get more development of them in the next book because they both have lots of potential.
Ultimately, I’m so glad I finally read this, and that I’ve got a whole bunch of First Law books to look forward to. And, if you like bloody, stabby, epic fantasy with complicated characters and stellar world building, you should read this too.