I’ve just finished reading Joe Abercrombie’s first book – The Blade Itself. It’s book one of the ‘First Law Trilogy’ and a world which I first came across with the stand alone sequel ‘The Hereos‘ a few years back.
I’ve also recently got into Joe Abercrombie’s latest series ‘The Shattered Sea‘ which is definitely in the same vein as the First Law but in a new world, a grittier viking themed world. The First Law is a bit more traditional fantasy, but in Abercrombie’s signature style and whit.
So, The Blade Itself.
The Blade Itself centres around an ensemble cast who ultimately spend the course of the book all heading towards their meeting at the end of the book.
Each character is strong in their own right. There’s the ever-suspicious Inquisitor Glotka, once a famous swordsman turned torturer for the king after his own torture which crippled him. Even Glotka’s supporting cast of heavies, Practicals Frost and Severard, are memorable in their own right.
Captain Luthar, pompous young son of a noble training to win the illustrious annual fencing competition in the capital. He ends up realising that he is a pompous ass when he falls for his ‘commoner’ comrade’s sister. Not before she endlessly mocks him though.
There’s also Logan Ninefingers, exiled from the north by the self-made king Bethod. Once his champion, Logan is now trying to forget his past. Until he meets Bayaz, First of the Magi that is.
Bayaz is a wizard, but not your stereotypical wise old wizard of most fantasy. Bayaz is an aging, slightly podgy, mage who regrets what’s become of the world. One of the best moments of the book for me has to be when Bayaz makes an enemy spontaneously explode – while totally naked as he had been in the bath previously. An interesting wizard!
The world of the First Law is interesting as well. I mean, there’s plenty of standard fantasy tropes in there, as with the characters. You’ve got the barbarian style north, being harassed by a semi-magical foe to it’s north, and an exotic threat to the east. Sounds almost like Game of Throne’s world, yet I found this one far better executed.
The bit that I really liked that was a bit unusual was the ‘Union’ at the heart of the world and the story. The Union has become complacent with it’s safe monopoly of power in the centre of the world unchallenged for so long, and they have yet to realise the full danger of events going on abroad. I liked the characterisation of the Union, and I found the bits where Logan describes how alien he finds the place on his first visit very interesting.
I realised something else about the series and it’s world – there’s no map. I’ve become very spoilt with fantasy books when it comes to maps, and I always like to see one.
Of course, a map can be almost imperative to keep track of a story with a complicated world like Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings. Yet, the First Law, and it’s lack of a map, makes me realise that fantasy as a genre has become over reliant on maps. They’ve become an excuse to skip good description and world building – which Abercrombie does with such skill you don’t miss a map at all. So extra kudos there, and I hope the rest of the fantasy genre take it a little easier on the maps, as it actually can make the story worse off for it.
I really enjoyed the Blade Itself and I’d recommend reading it. You can pick it up online for next to nothing after all!
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