Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrated By: Steven Pacey
Original Publication Year: 2007
Genre(s): Fantasy (Epic)
Series: The First Law (#1)

If I had to sum this book up in one sentence: A brutal, dark book employing multiple perspectives to tell a story of violence and political intrigue with a touch of fantasy that is surprisingly hilarious and often poignant. Of course that really tells you very little but it should evoke a superficial comparison with at least one very popular fantasy series being written (hopefully) today. It did remind me quite forcefully of Game of Thrones but it definitely has its own unique voice and spirit. And (view spoiler)[ all the main characters remain intact at the end of the book (hide spoiler)].

There are three main perspective characters: Logen Ninefingers a barbaric Northmen who has a reputation for brutal violence, Sandan Glokta a twisted, crippled agent of the inquisition who makes his living investigating (aka torturing) traitors of the Union, and Jezal dan Luthar a spoiled, arrogant young nobleman training for a contest of sword play. Both Logen and Sandan slowly reveal more depth and quickly become intriguing narrators and even Jezal occasionally surprises. There are also a few secondary narrators: Dog Man one of Logen’s former compatriots who keeps the reader informed of what is happening in the North, Major West, a common born soldier of the Union who has risen quite high and Ferro Maljinn who doesn’t appear until midway through and who appears to be a former slave who is obsessed with vengeance. All these characters are being caught up in a world crisis that is just being revealed at the end of this first book in the series. At the center of this crisis is the Arch Mage Bayaz. If this all seems a little confusing it is because a lot happens in the book and it is difficult to summarize succinctly. It is also, I think, most enjoyable to experience the twists and turns with as little warning as possible!

It took me a while to warm up to the book. It’s very masculine and starts off with a few far flung threads that hardly seem related and none of which are terribly enjoyable. Glokta is torturing his way through the merchants of the Union capital city of Adua, Logen is off in the North and goes in search of Bayaz after almost losing his life in a battle with “flatheads”, and Jezal is lazily training for a fencing match between daily bouts of drinking and carousing. There is little to connect them and the characters start off as less than engaging.

However, as the story slowly unfolds and the disparate threads start to become entangled the book became more and more engrossing so that by the end I was anxious to jump right into book two. This building of tension and interest is done really well and with few exceptions the characters become more and more fascinating. Jezal was the only character who didn’t improve upon further acquaintance but his day may be coming. I also really appreciated that though the tone of the book is quite dark it is balanced with a pervasive snarky humor. It remains throughout a very masculine book – there are only two women that feature in the story with any prominence and that prominence is very limited – but this stopped bothering me about a third of the way in as the narrative picks up speed and interest.

The only complaint I had worth mentioning is one that is a frequent problem with multiple perspective books focused on a spread out story. There are going to be certain storylines that just aren’t as interesting and therefore feel like getting through them is a bit of a slog. The time spent with Dog Man and the Northmen was less interesting storyline for me and the chapters spent with these folk, while rare, felt a little unnecessarily long.

The narrator Steven Pacey was also really great. In particular he gave a perfect voice to Glokta who is missing many teeth and who has a particularly sly humor. We also hear Glokta’s thoughts quite a bit, contradicting what he’s saying, and Pacey narrated this in such a way that it was never confusing.

Final verdict is that this is a surprisingly enjoyable book despite its darkness and I think I will be jumping right into book 2 Before They Are Hanged. 4.5 stars

This was my first Joe Abercrombie and I was duly impressed.  What authors have you been glad to newly discover lately?  If you are an established Joe Abercrombie reader what do you think is his best book?  Is it fair to characterize some books as being particularly masculine or feminine? 

View all my reviews

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