The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

TheBladeItself

Bane of Kings reviews the novel The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie’s debut novel, the first in The First Law Trilogy, published by Gollancz in the UK and Pyr in the US.

“A fantastic introduction to Abercrombie. The Blade Itself is an Unputdownable read – a brilliant first novel!” ~The Founding Fields

I’ve wanted to read some Joe Abercrombie for ages, having first heard about his work when I first expanded to reading some non-tie in fiction at the beginning of this year. But yet, I don’t know why it took me this long to pick up the first novel in The First Law trilogy, entitled The Blade Itself, especially as I enjoyed it as much as I did. In fact, I’m struggling to find something negative to write about this novel. There’s only one thing that I didn’t particularly like.

But right now, if you haven’t heard a thing about The Blade Itself before, I might as well start this review by giving you a quick look at the plot. Due to the fact that it’s another one of those sort of novels that have fantastic blurbs, I’m going to have to leave it for you here, taken from Goodreads.

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of 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 nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.

You can see why this would enthral you, and there’s more – the novel literally begins on a cliffhanger, forcing you to read more. We want to know what’s happened to Logen to get him into this situation, and we want to know how he’s going to make it out. And of course, we want to know what he wants to do next. And this isn’t the only time in the novel where you will find yourself starting a chapter with a cliffhanger, oh no – there’s several more that will keep you turning the pages, and Abercrombie does this brilliantly for a first time author. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that this couldn’t have been an author’s first novel. I mean, I still can’t believe it now, typing this review, after I’ve finished the book. It was that good, truly.

The characters in this book are well developed and varied. As mentioned above, the main characters of this story are Logen, Jezal, Glotka and Bayaz, but the dramatis personae extends far beyond just four characters.

The Blade Itself is very much dark and gritty fantasy, in a similar manner on from George RR Martin’s popular A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Bad things happen to good people, there are several tragic moments, and this is far from a light-hearted romp.

I can’t really avoid discussing The Blade Itself without mentioning the action scenes in this novel, and I can say that they are – to put it bluntly, superb! They’re not only very well written, but they also add to the tension and keep the suspense building. There are several memorable scenes in this novel, and hopefully there will be more in the next two books in the trilogy, entitled Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings.

However, if there’s one problem that I had with The Blade Itself, and it’s a minor one – is that in the first chapter, Logen repeats some variation of this line: “Shit,” he said. Now, I don’t know about you – but having swearing chucked in once or twice across the novel is okay with me, and only in appropriate situations. However, Logen repeats it several times, in the first chapter alone, and this above all other things, feels rather forced, and out of place. I don’t know about you, but that’s my personal opinion.

Although you don’t really find yourself caring for the characters at all, there’s so much going on in The Blade Itself that it won’t matter – the pace rips along at a roaring pace and you’ll find yourself swept up along with it. You shouldn’t be able to put this book down.

Verdict: 4.5/5

The First Law Trilogy: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings.

More Joe Abercrombie: The Heroes, Best Served Cold (Both novels are set in the world of The First Law, but not part of the actual Trilogy)

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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  • Colin Hagreen

    I almost agree with your review; almost, but not quite. I did care about the characters; more so as the series progressed, and I read through all three of the ‘First Law’ series in a week, I was enjoying it so much. To me the (mild) swearing in the book felt very much in character for Logan, and contrasted well to his Bloody Nine alter-ego. I don’t know if you have reached the end of the series, or just the first book, but the characters become more real, the pacing improves and the end of the third book is quite superb. My younger son and I still have arguments as to what it actually means for the protagonist involved (he says, carefully avoiding spoilers…)

    Great book, great series, and an author worth watching.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment :). For your information, I haven’t read the rest of the novels in the Trilogy but I intend to read them as soon as I can.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=536706324 Colin Hagreen on Facebook

    I almost agree with your review; almost, but not quite. I did care about the characters; more so as the series progressed, and I read through all three of the ‘First Law’ series in a week, I was enjoying it so much. To me the (mild) swearing in the book felt very much in character for Logan, and contrasted well to his Bloody Nine alter-ego.

    I don’t know if you have reached the end of the series, or just the first book, but the characters become more real, the pacing improves and the end of the third book is quite superb. My younger son and I still have arguments as to what it actually means for the protagonist involved (he says, carefully avoiding spoilers…)

    Great book, great series, and an author worth watching.

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