Enthralling modern classic of the genre; the plaudits are well deserved.
Publisher – Gollancz, Publication date – 8th March 2007
Page Length (Paperback) – 544
Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body – not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers. Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men. And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior with a bloody past, is about to wake up in a hole in the snow with plans to settle a blood feud with Bethod, the new King of the Northmen, once and for all – ideally by running away from it. But as he’s discovering, old habits die really, really hard indeed …especially when Bayaz gets involved. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Glotka, Jezal and Logen a whole lot more difficult …
Ask a fan of fantasy to recommend a trilogy and there’s a high chance they’ll point you towards Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law. I’m a bit late to the party, nearly 13 years late in fact. This is Abercrombie’s debut novel, which is quite frankly ridiculous; I got such a taste of professionalism, expertise, imagination and craftsmanship from the Blade Itself, if I didn’t know differently I’d say there is zero chance this could possibly be a debut.
I almost didn’t write a review. Afterall, the sales figures, existing reviews and overall extremely positive opinion of Abercrombie’s work speak for themselves, and there’s no much I can say that hasn’t already been said. Nevertheless, I just wanted to make a few points about what I liked.
The main strength of the Blade Itself is most definitely the characters. I’d have told you before reading this book that there was almost no chance of me sympathising with and rooting for a cynical torturer of the Crown’s Inquisition. Sand dan Glokta is that man. His POV chapters are always page-turners, whether that is merely reading his thoughts, his work for the inquisition or his interactions with other characters. As the story progresses you begin to see the layers to his character and honestly, it’s a real pleasure to be witness to his thoughts.
I also adored the POV chapters from Logen Ninefingers, the Dogman and Ferro, all offering something different but equally exciting.
I will admit that Jezal’s POV chapters were not quite as enjoyable for me, or at least his story arc wasn’t. They did sometimes offer a nice insight into the other characters in the story though, and although I didn’t feel his story was particularly strong, I am told by others who’ve read the trilogy that it really improves in Before They Are Hanged (Book 2) with this trilogy being likened to one long story rather than 3 separate ones. I can certainly see this. I wouldn’t recommend reading if you just want one book to read before moving on. The Blade Itself is brilliant, exciting, beautifully written, but in terms of story it has only just got going – this book excels in us getting to know the characters, the world, the conflicts and relationship dynamics.
The self proclaimed Lord of Grimdark definitely cranks up the grimdark scale, but I actually wouldn’t describe the whole novel as a purely grimdark book. It doesn’t pull punches and yes there are things such as torture in the book for a start but there isn’t anything gratuitous and you still get that sense of adventure and discovery – what I’m trying to say is that the book isn’t a list of horrible things happening to people like some grimdark books tend to be. It isn’t particularly bleak in setting or tone either. So I think the grimdark themes are used well when used but don’t expect a depressing, bleak and desolate book with feelings of hopelessness at every turn. It’s less grimdark than A Song of Ice and Fire for example, if you’d like a comparison. It’s not as bleak as the likes of Priest of Bones or Blackwing.
For me, the amount of magic, traditional sword and sorcery and adventure is at an absolutely perfect level, with a balance of politics, characterisation and storytelling all blended together nicely. The world feels believable and that massively helps with the immersion and overall reading experience. Maybe it’s the prose or the worldbuilding or everything put together but you really do just get an undescribable feeling of enjoying being a part of the world and the characters, a real feeling of professionalism like ‘yeah, this author knows what they’re doing!’
I have a massive TBR this year and I usually read the first book in a series and then give it a few months before the next one to balance out the new series I want to read. With this though I may have to move straight on to Before they are hanged.
This book deserves a 5 star rating and is one of the best books I’ve ever read, I highly recommend.