"The Blade Itself" by Joe Abercrombie | Book Review
Series: The First Law (Book #1)
Page Count: 560
First Published: May 4, 2006
When it comes to fantasy, there are quite a few different "flavors" out there, and I do believe I found mine. You see, George R.R. Martin introduced me to dark, gritty fantasy, and ever since reading all of the published A Song of Ice and Fire books I have been looking for another series to fill this void. I'm not going to do that thing publishers do (that I actually really dislike) and tell you that The First Law is for the fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, but I will say that if that grim tone, expansive world-building, and occasional strange magic is what you are looking for—you should give this series a try.
The Blade Itself is a book without a traditional hero, or a traditional villain for that matter. Told from multiple perspectives, the book's three lead characters are a barbarian warrior, a crippled torturer, and an unbearably selfish young officer. Logen Ninefingers (appropriately nicknamed The Bloody-Nine) is an aging deadly barbarian, the kind of killer people whisper stories about, and his name alone instills fear. Inquisitor Glokta was once a dashing officer, but now at 35 years old he tortures secrets out of people, and getting out of bed in the morning is no easy task for him. Captain Jezal dan Luthar has no prior achievements to speak of, and yet his ego can barely fit in the room with him. A lovely bunch, aren't they?
What's interesting about The Blade Itself is how character-driven the entire novel is. While there are a few important events throughout the story, what the readers will remember most are the characters, and believe me when I tell you that the crippled torturer is going to be your favorite. Glokta's perspective is very unusual, and saying he is a morally gray character barely scratches the surface—comparing what he says to what he doesn't say was one of my favorite things, along with slowly figuring out his backstory. His chapters also come with a heavy dose of graphic descriptions, and that's something the readers should be prepared for—there are multiple torture scenes in this novel, and Joe Abercrombie does not hold back there, this book is not for the faint of heart.
Logen Ninefingers is definitely an interesting character as well—among other things, the novel pays attention to the clash of cultures, and Logen is right in the middle of it. And of course, seeing him fight is a whole different experience which I won't ruin. The truly despicable character here is Jezal—I could not stand his attitude, his dialogue, and his even more aggravating inner monologue. There are some interesting secondary characters as well, including the mysterious First of the Magi Bayaz, and the vengeance-driven Ferro who is definitely a handful but her attitude is not without reason.
Aside from its characters, the book truly shines when it comes to world-building. The author really gives the readers a good sense of the geography, different cultures, and the political situation (which often echo current or historical real world issues). The writing is rich, but not so complex that it becomes difficult to process. However, the pacing can feel quite slow because for the majority of The Blade Itself Abercrombie establishes and develops his characters and the world they live in.
Have you noticed I haven't said much about the actual story though? That's because to me this book felt mostly like setup for the rest of the series, and this is where my main issue with it lies. As a fan of fantasy, I don't mind focusing on world-building, I love the slow introduction of magic, and I certainly appreciate character development, but I need to know there is more to the novel than that because above all I love a great story. Only by the end of The Blade Itself can the readers finally understand where it's going, and it's clear that the actual story is meant for the other two books in the series. Yes, the pay off may be worth it, but hours upon hours of setup is a little too much. This is also the reason why I highly recommend the audiobook—the narrator Steven Pacey really adds a lot to the experience by doing quite a few different accents and voices, to the point where I actually forgot only one person was narrating it.
Overall, I ended up getting pulled into the wold of The Blade Itself and really enjoying it. Though it's definitely a slow-burning novel, the characters and the world-building are excellent, and the ending promises a very interesting story to come. If you appreciate dark, grim fantasy like I do, I would definitely recommend giving it a try.