Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself
Title:  The Blade Itself

Author:  Joe Abercrombie

Publisher:  Pyr, 2007

This is the first book in The First Law trilogy.  See my reviews of books two and three.

Plot Summary:
The Union has existed as the major power in the world for centuries, made safe by the First of the Magi, Bayaz.  Now the Union is threatened by barbarians from the north and a newly consolidated power in the south and Bayaz is back.  This time, he is accompanied by his apprentine, Malacus Quai and a northman, Logen Ninefingers. 

But there are all sorts of intrigues already occurring in Adua, the Union's capital, and Bayaz is not always welcome.  Glokta, the chief inquisitor and torturer, is at work trying to unearth corruption.  Major West seems to be the only one properly preparing for war with the north.  Jezal dan Luthar wants to win the Contest to impress a lady and gain fame and glory.  And then there is the mysterious Ferro from the south who can't see colors and seems not to feel any pain.  They all meet in Adua, and set course on a mission that no one seems to understand except, perhaps, Bayaz.

I borrowed this book from my friend Sudha recently because I was intrigued by one of the female characters; my friend chose to spotlight Ardee West from this trilogy in her Rosie's Riveters post.  She warned me that it was full of violence and that it was very, very dark.  She was not exaggerating.  My goodness.  It seems like there is a pitched battle sequence or knife fight in this book every five pages or so.  There is a lot of blood.  I don't know just how violent and bloody those passages were because, I admit, I skimmed most of the fights.  I must confess that I do this in all fantasy novels.  I just don't really care about fight scenes.  I can't visualize them, I don't want to visualize them, and I feel as long as I know who is alive and who is dead by the end of them, I'm not missing too much.  Battle sequences are not my motivation for reading fantasy novels at all.

This led to me skimming more of this book than I'd like, but I still think I got the gist of it.  Thank goodness this is the first book in the series because when I finished it, I felt thoroughly out of my depths.  Sudha mentioned to me that she was annoyed that this series does not come with a map; I agree with her.  I am one of those people who couldn't find her way out of a paper bag, so hearing about Northmen and southerners and people on what may have been an island... I had absolutely no sense of the distance of things, and I think a map would have helped with that.  As to my general confusion as to what was happening, I like to think I am in good company in that.  Most of the characters, from what I could tell, were just as lost as I was.  I assume there will be a gradual lifting of the fog as the series continues so that I can say "Oh, now I get it!"

Since I didn't quite know everything happening with the plot, it really was the characters that made this book for me.  I have a soft spot for a certain nine-fingered barbarian and his kind-hearted commoner-who-rose-to-fame-in-the-military-by-determination-and-hard-work counterpart.  Even the characters I didn't like, though, were drawn so well.  Jezal, for example, is an upper-class brat who thinks the world should be handed to him on a platter.  And when you see the world through his eyes, you can see that he truly does believe that.  He doesn't think he's being a snob or a complete jerk; he just truly believes that he is better than everyone else.  It is fascinating to see, and I think Abercrombie does very well with the inner voices of his characters.

The character who really won me over was Glokta, the former hero turned government torturer.  He is such a complex character and I was so absorbed by him.  He tortures people for a living, but his every movement is pure torture for him.  He growls at people and taunts them, but when someone shows him true kindness or friendship, he is so sincerely moved and grateful for that contact that it almost makes me cry.  I am both repelled by and utterly drawn towards him.

I guess I would say that The First Law trilogy is probably a "man's" fantasy, full as it is of battles and violence and a plethora of male characters (and only two major females through book one).  It also has fully-realized characters, a setting with a deep history and a plot that promises to become majestic as the series continues.  I would definitely recommend it to the epic fantasy fans out there, with the caveat that there is a lot of violence in it.

I read this book as part of Galleysmith's Seriespalooza week.


  1. I do seem to like Men's fantasy, but this sure to be a book with a lot of violence, I do wanna read it. Cos I love epic fantasy, and no matter that there is not many females around, I am used to that

  2. Anonymous12/18/2009

    An interesting review! I'm planning on rereading this for the Flashback challenge to see whether I will like it more. I hear the second and third in the series are even better.

  3. How interesting! Your description of Glokta is especially intriguing. And with all that blood and gore, it is a mystery why it hasn't been made into a movie!

  4. Linda- I think you'd really like this series, as even though there aren't many women, none of the ones in it are wimpy! I definitely plan to continue reading in it.

    Chasing Bawa- Yes, I remember you saying that! I will be continuing the series, but just need a slight break from the violence. Will start again maybe after January with book 2.

    Rhapsody- Haha, you're so right! It DOES seem made for movies! I think fantasy books are hard to make into movies. Look how long it took Lord of the Rings to get produced, even though it was good!

  5. Hi, I'm sorry. I never did get back to you. I posted which books I will be reading for the "Flashback Challenge"
    I also got one of my friends to do it too.

  6. Anonymous12/18/2009

    very explicit review... I have never read any of the book... but sounds intriguing, next year I might give a try..

  7. I've really been wanting to read this one for some time now (even have a copy in my TBR collection). I am glad you liked it, Aarti despite the level of violence.

  8. This sounds really intriguing. I don't like explicit violence, but I don't avoid it either. As long as it's a good story, it works for me! :-)

  9. I love the cover. I have not yet been able to get into fantasy novels but will probably try one for the Take a Chance Challenge. Hopefully one not so violent

  10. I do the same thing with battle scenes. I just get so confused by them and the switching of the different perspectives that it makes more sense just to look for names up until the end of it. :)

  11. Despite the many battle scenes and the lack of a map in the book, your reactions to the characters makes me want to read this book. I really like deep character portrayals, and think that this would make an interesting read for me. Even though this is typically "guy" fantasy, I think I would like it. I am going to hold off on it for awhile though since I have been reading a lot of dark books lately, but this one goes on the list!


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