Saturday, January 12, 2008

Review of The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie's debut novel, is the first book in The First Law trilogy. The final book in the trilogy (The Last Argument of Kings) will be released in the UK in March 2008, and the second book in the trilogy (Before They Are Hanged) will be released in the U.S. in March 2008. According to Abercrombie's blog, The Last Argument of Kings will most likely be released in the US in September 2008 which I was happy to hear because it is not nearly as long a wait as I had been expecting it to be. I keep hearing that it's the best book in the series and The Blade Itself was already rather good, especially considering it was a first-time novel.

Logen, a barbarian warrior known as the "Bloody-Nine" for his fighting prowess and nine remaining fingers, finds himself and his cooking pot the only survivors of his village after a fight against the Shanka. Since the North is becoming overrun by these creatures and his family and friends are all gone, Logen decides he may as well travel south. While he is camping, a half-dead wizard's apprentice visits the barbarian carrying the message that his master Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is summoning him. Tired of controlling his own destiny and seeing no more enticing options, Logen brings the apprentice back to Bayaz.

Glokta, a nobleman, was a fine swordsman destined for glory, but a war and time as a prisoner in the opposing side's torture chamber changed all that. Now a cripple missing half his teeth, Glokta has joined the Inquisition and is himself a torturer, although he often questions why he does it. The torturer becomes a pawn in the Inquisition's political scheming when the Arch Lector promotes him. Eventually, Glokta is given the task of watching Bayaz and obtaining proof that he is an imposter - after all, everyone knows the First of the Magi must be long dead by now.

The Blade Itself is somewhat traditional fantasy, but it is also not completely standard fantasy fare. There are warriors, mages, battles, a kingdom, and a prophecy; however, the lines between good and evil are somewhat blurry and there is more realism than in a lot of typical fantasy. For instance, Logen is not a handsome warrior who makes women swoon - he's hideous with scars and a face that's been pretty beat up over the years as he has been involved in fights.

This story is more about the characters than the plot. Personally, I rather enjoyed that aspect of this novel, but I have read a few complaints about the beginning just being a long character introduction and nothing happening until later in this book. It is true that the actual story takes some time to get going, but the well-written characters and the wry, sardonic humor prevalent in their points of view kept me reading even without a lot of action and plot developments. Also, some of the characters who show up less often may seem irrelevant to the story for a little while. Toward the end, the story did begin to come together and there was more actually happening, but some may find the book difficult to get into if character-driven stories are not their kind of book.

The prose was not overly florid but crisp, which is just right for a character-driven epic fantasy. It seemed very quality and fluid - there were not many awkward phrases or typos distracting me from the story. The thoughts of the characters are interjected throughout the story, but I did not find it jarring or out of place. It painted a very clear picture of the people in the book and I found very early in the story that I wasn't just reading the dialogue, but I could hear the tone of voice used and see the facial expressions of each of the characters as they spoke.

Not only were the characters well-developed but they made the story. The three main point of view characters - Glokta, Jezal, and Logen - were very human, flawed yet likable. Abercrombie really got into the head of each character and gave them each their own quirks and personalities, making them feel very real and alive.

This story would not fall into the category of comedic fantasy, but there is a lot of humor prevalent throughout the story. The phrasing, the character's thoughts, and the descriptions of some of the minor characters like the king and the lord chancellor were thoroughly entertaining.

The Blade Itself is an impressive debut novel and I look forward to reading the sequels. It may take a while for events to develop, but the characters and brand of humor certainly made it a worthwhile book that was hard to put down in spite of a slow beginning.


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