Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught up in one feud too many he’s about to become a dead barbarian. leaving nothing behind but bad songs and dead friends.

Jezal dan Luthar, paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than winning glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like little better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then he hates everyone. Cutting treason out of the heart of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendships – and his latest trail of corpses could lead straight to the rotten heart of government… if he can just stay alive long enough to follow it…

Another one of my major #bookfails when I discovered the blogospere, and what people where talking about in the SFF community, seemed to be the fact that I hadn’t read any Joe Abercrombie. That was partially remedied when I read his short story The Fool Jobs in the Swords and Dark Magic anthology, but that only emphasised the fact that I needed to read his novels. Now I’ve finished the first book in the First Law trilogy, that #bookfail has been resolved (in part) and while I can say I’ve been missing out, I think I’m still missing out, because I haven’t read the rest of this trilogy.

Much has been said about the ‘new gritty’ and Abercrombie’s part in that. And it’s true, there are no white characters here, only grey, greyer and black. Which makes it surprising that so many of the characters are as likeable as they are. In addition, the book is far less gory, foulmouthed and brutal than I’d expected. Yes, the characters and story are all that, but not nearly as much as I’d been led to believe from discussions I’ve seen on it. Then again, this is only book one, so maybe that’s coming up in the next books in this trilogy.

Usually when there are multiple storylines, in this case three, there is always one I like least and speed past to get to a good bit again. In The Blade Itself I enjoyed all three storylines and never found myself leafing forward to see when we’d return to a different story arc. But, though I enjoyed all three, I didn’t actually like all of our protagonists. Logan and Glokta were my favourites. I liked their inner struggle, between their ‘good’ side and their ‘bad’ side. I found the glimpses we got of these internal conflicts fascinating. In Logen’s case the struggle between him and his Bloody-Nine past and for Glokta, the way his humane side is buried underneath the bitterness and pain of his tortured self. While at times even Jezal seems to be redeemable, Logen and Glokta don’t need to be redeemed, their better side is there, but buried under their past and experiences, whereas Jezal just seems an unpleasant youth who might improve with age and experience.

While the book establishes the world, especially the characters fabulously and sets up the series, there isn’t a lot of plot resolution to the story. Or rather, there is, but far before the ending of the book, which leads to a feeling of open-endedness and means The Blade Itself ends on a cliffhanger with lots of loose ends for the second book to resolve. The book truly feels as book one in a trilogy and doesn’t really stand on its own. The Blade Itself is more of a character-driven book than a plot- or worldbuilding-driven one, but if you like character-heavy books, as I do, you’ll probably enjoy this solid read. I’d definitely recommend having book two and three on standby when reading The Blade Itself, because even if I don’t know why they are going where they’re going, I do want to know what will happen to the characters when they get there. And I wasn’t smart enough to have the other two books already waiting in the wings, so I’ll have to wait a while before I can find out!

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3 Responses to Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself

  1. csilibrarian says:

    Saw the link to this on Floor to Ceiling Books. Great blog name and great review!

    I'm still working on this book and like you I definitely enjoy how character-focused everything is so far. And it's good to know in advance that I ought to keep the other two books close at hand. I hope you get a chance to read them soon. :)

  2. Mieneke says:

    Thank you! And I love your blog name too, as I'm a closet CSI junkie ;-)
    I hope to read them soon as well, though it'll probably be after our London visit as that is when I get to splurge on books again!

  3. Pingback: Joe Abercrombie – Before They Are Hanged | A Fantastical Librarian

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