The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie 2006)

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Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy is one which I’ve wanted to read for a while. As a result I was quite pleased when I discovered a box set containing the original trilogy going for a decent price. The novels are best described as falling under the Dark Fantasy genre. The Blade Itself, the first book in the series, follows a rotating cast of characters, with the principle characters being a crippled torturer Sand dan Glokta, ruthless barbarian Logen Ninefingers and the selfish and unambitious Captain Jezal dan Luthar. Their lives are brought together by the machinations of the magus Bayaz, whom quickly stirs up trouble after he travels to the capital of the Union to reclaim his spot as the First of the Magi, bringing the cast together in a tangled web of political intrigue.

The book has a traditional rotating point of view which I have come to enjoy in fantasy fiction. It also seems to focus mostly on the three main characters. There are side characters, but for the most part the plot seems to focus on Jezal, Glokta and Logen. I tend to dislike novels that bombard people with too many side characters so sticking to three main point of view characters worked perfectly. However, this did come at a cost of not really being able to empathise with the side characters as much, though at the same time I’m glad said characters did not clog up the narrative. There were a few instances where it was not immediately obvious which character I was following in particular chapter, with the most notable offenders of this being the point of view segments following side characters Ferro and Major West. This was a minor issue but fortunately it never came up in the segments following the main characters.

The book was right to use Glokta, Jezal and Logen as its three main characters. All three have their various distinct personalities. Logen is a ruthless barbarian with a cynical street, but there is clearly a lot of good left in him, so much so that at times you forget just how much he’s done. At the end he turns out to have a split personality known as the Bloody Nine, which comes out when he is in danger. This personality is pure ruthlessness incarnate and a clever addition to his characters. Glokta is entertaining purely because he is anti-hero to an extreme degree, achieving results through torture and not particularly caring whether the people he tortures are guilty or innocent. He has an incredible cynical and sarcastic streak and there is something intriguing about viewing the world from the eyes of a bitter and cynical cripple who repeatedly pushes himself into new depths of coldness. Jezal is probably the least intriguing, if only because his only real character flaw is being egoistical and selfish. Other than that he appears to be a decent character, especially when put side by side with Glokta and Logen. Yet despite this he seems funny in his own right and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his point of view segments.

The other point of view characters are a bit uninteresting. Major West, I wasn’t certain if he even needed to be a point of view character since we seemed to see enough of him in Jezal and Glokta’s point of view segments, and I didn’t see him as remarkable enough to be having his own segments. Ferro, an escaped slave turned rebel to the Gurkish Empire, is an interesting character but I feel like she could have gotten more attention in the main narrative. The final character Dogman, I couldn’t get behind at all mostly because his narrative never really converges with the main story arc, instead keeping to its own subplot. I honestly questioned why he was even in the book to begin with. Overall however they were functional, just not as much as the main characters.

The book had a lot of dark cynicism and political intrigue in a unique and distinct setting. It felt similar to Game of Thrones but with a touch more magic and a more unique setting, as opposed to a realistic Medieval England in fancy dressing. The setting manages to be dark and realistic without drawing too much from history for its inspiration, something which I enjoyed. Overall I can say that this novel is probably one of my favourite Dark Fantasies, though I will not make my opinions of the overall series until I have read the full trilogy. Yet, this book on its own is great and it gives me hope for not only for dark fantasy but also the fantasy genre as a whole. I can’t wait to read more and see where the trilogy goes.

SCORE: 4.5/5

IN A WORD: AMAZING

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