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Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 159102594X
Pub. Date: September 2007
Format: Paperback, 340pp
Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books

“You have to be realistic about these things.” says Logen Ninefingers. Being realistic is a difficult thing to do for The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie’s debut novel. From the smooth storytelling, to the intrepid and intriguing characters, to the magnificent world building, nothing about this novel is realistic. But then, that’s the point of fantasy right?

Abercrombie has melded various cultural elements throughout history to create the world of the First Law trilogy. Glokta, former swordsman, now cripple, tries to move within the world of politics as a paid torturer, while his destroyed body continually fails him, and his envy of the healthy world around him rots his soul. Jezal, proud, handsome, noble, layabout, wars within himself between his desire to please others and his desire to amount to something. Logen, barbarian and pragmatist, is weary and continues to fight for no reason he understands. In addition to this is the dark horse Bayaz, the wizard who might just be a charlatan, or maybe not.

The world of the First Law is an amalgamation of periods from our own history. Logen is a barbarian of the Viking stripe, a warrior whose culture is tribal and simple. Glokta and Jezal seem to live in a society that closely follows eighteenth century England, with elements of Imperial Rome thrown in. There is also a medieval Middle Eastern culture that plays a smaller role in the story. Abercrombie deftly weaves these cultures together, adding some original elements, and creates a world of intricacies, plots, and a mysterious past that will take later books to really develop.

Abercrombie is a skilled writer whose clever turns of phrase are darkly funny. From Glokta’s thoughts on bodies in the river, Logen’s pragmatic remarks, or Jezal’s naivete, each character is full and vibrant. Filled with intrigue, the plot moves along, meanwhile developing characters the reader will become deeply invested in. If Abercrombie’s writing has a flaw, it his use of swearing in the story. Although humorous at times, I found that I was more often thrust out of the story by the use of modern curse words than drawn in. Some readers will take offense at his usage, but the story is too interesting to dismiss only because of this. Each character’s motivations are different but compelling, and the fight scenes are impressively described.

Abercrombie’s novel ends too soon. The characters and world have been set up, a few key events have occurred, but I was left unsatisfied in some ways. I’m still not sure what the point of the story is, other than a few cultural potshots and the character development. While I enjoyed the reading, and look forward to the next installment, I still am not sure where the story is going. Still, the character development is fun to read, and I hope the second book will really move the plot forward.

I recommend reading The Blade Itself. The story is wickedly funny, the fight scenes memorable, and the characters fascinating. Nothing in this novel is as it seems, and Abercrombie’s contribution to the genre is sure to endure.