Book review – “The Blade Itself” by Joe AbercrombieJune 11, 2008
I’ve finished this one some time ago and even started a review before that got lost, so I’m coming back to it.
The Blade Itself is the first book on The First Law trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie. I have read the entire trilogy already and so it might make it hard to review this book independently, but I’ll give it my best shot.
This series has a fairly basic fantasy setting: there are no orcs or elves or similar, and even magic is scarcely used. There is the mention of demons and a fighting race called Shanka, but both barely show up in this book.
Unlike most fantasy books, there isn’t off the start a clear definition of the threat presented by the “bad guys”. The book begins by following the paths of a few of the main characters, who are eventually brought together by Wizard to go on a conquest to, according to him, save The Union, which is the kingdom where most of the action of this book occurs.
The book itself doesn’t include any map of the main land or kingdom, so some times it’s hard to understand what is going on from a geographic point of view. There is a central main kingdom (The Union), on the north we have a cold and icy land called Northlands, and in the south an old Empire, defeated by The Union in previous wars, called Gurkhul.
The Union is, as the name somehow implies, an association of smaller kingdoms brought together by a ruler from the past. The present ruler is a weaker and older man and so throughout the book we witness the different games of power manipulation, helped and endorsed by institutions like The Inquisition or Trading Guilds. This brings an interesting dimension of intrigue throughout the story, not to mention it is often not clear who is actually “pulling the strings” in quite a few situations.
From a magic point of view, the book mentions only the main Wizard of the story, Bayaz The Great. Throughout the books Bayaz will talk about his other fellow wizards (some of which will actually appear in the 2nd and 3rd books) and about the Master Maker, a character Bayaz defeated who is opposed to magic but created wondrous mechanical inventions – including the Shanka race. This gives the books a very (extremely) slightly touch of a steampunk setting.
Bayaz, an apparently peace-appeasing wizard, is but one of the main characters but not the main one. We have Logen “Ninefingers”, a barbarian dangerous to enemies and friends; Jezal Dan Luthar, a soldier whose main concerns in life are drinking and finding pretty women; Ferro Malijin, a vengeful fighter from the south with an unhealthy keenness for killing Gurkish, and last but not least, Sand Dan Glokta, formerly hero of war, captured and tortured and crippled by the Gurkish, returned to his homeland to become a bitter Inquisitor.
As much as the story itself is very good, it’s on the unusual characters the book’s strengths really show: these “heroes” are very akin to the anti-heroes depicted on Stephen Donaldson’s books. The author himself studied psychology and it shows in particular on the reflections of life present and past done by Inquisitor Glokta.
Mind you, even though I am praising the excellently depicted characters, the story itself has enough twists and turns to keep fantasy fans happy. Maybe it’s not as evident in this first book, but it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems, in particular who is “good” and who is “evil”.
I therefore unconditionally recommend this book and this trilogy to any fantasy fan. 🙂 I sure hope the author continues creating such great quality books.