Review: The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)

I didn’t read anywhere near as much as I wanted last year (I’m talking for pleasure, not work), so this year I’m setting about turning this around. I’m also wanting to read more fantasy (of the darker kind), as the novel I’m writing has fantasy roots. Aaanywho, I picked up Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’ trilogy, and as I’m about halfway through book two, I thought I’d chuck the review of book one up here.

So, here we go…

This is a 2.5 star rating, but I’m going to review this book as two parts because that’s exactly how it read to me – like two books… and sometimes even two authors, who put ‘The Blade Itself’ together.

I picked up ‘The First Law’ trilogy on a recent trip to my local bookstore. The sales clerk raved about it, and a quick check on Goodreads showed great reviews, so I was pretty excited to get started. Grimdark!

The blade itself

Here there be spoilers…

I have a like/hate relationship with this book. I began intrigued by the story, and with Logen Ninefingers especially (if it weren’t for him, and later his ‘merry’ band, I’d have thrown the book at the wall), but the further I moved into the book, the more frustrated and annoyed I became. The story started strong enough, Logen Ninefingers, talking with spirits, the Shanka – all good, then in came the world of the Union, and in particular Inquisitor Glokta and Captain Jezal Luthar – two very different peas in an almost farcical pod.

Glokta is an interesting character; once one of the Unions most famed soldiers, after 700 days at the “mercy” of the enemy, he’s a crippled, toothless shell of a man and now the best torturer the Union has. Abercrombie does well to make the reader believe Glokta is an old man; I was surprised to learn he was in mid-thirties. Glokta’s Practicals are also a nice touch to the man – Frost especially. At times, I was cringing at the amount of internal monologue Glokta has; less is more, and repetition can become tedious.

Captain Jezal Luthar is an awful parody. Godawful. The back of the dustjacket describes Luthar as a ‘paragon of selfishness’, but I found him to be lazily written. I’ve absolutely no problem with unlikeable characters, if fact, they often make a book, but Luthar is… well, did I say godawful? Especially when he’s marked against a character such as Ninefingers or Dogman, for instance (fleshed out and well-rounded). There’s room for shallow characters, but not room, I believe for shallow characterisation. Sure, he can really only go up from here, and there’s nothing BUT growth to be had, but Abercrombie shows he can write a great character, it’s more like he couldn’t be bothered with Luthar and that makes the book suffer in my eyes.

When I said farcical, that’s exactly what the Union is… with a few clichés thrown in for fun: a fat, dementia-riddled absurdity of a king; a ridiculously stupid crown prince more worried about fashion that his empire; the king’s guard (I’m talking 40-odd men here) who cower, whimper and almost piss themselves when their king is vaguely threatened (seriously? no one’s buying that); and a religious council (let’s call a sect a sect) who pretty much have their hand up the king’s bum like a puppet. Yes, I understand the need to make the Union appear as defenceless and gormless as possible, but this is beyond believability – I can suspend belief, I can, but c’mon!

sheldon1

The one man in the Union who does understand the ridiculousness (and danger) of the situation is Major West, a commoner risen above his station, much to the derision of the blue-bloods (yep, I see that cliché too). But him, I like.

350 pages in and it was a struggle; where was the story arc? Where was the plot? It was Ninefingers and his old crew that kept me turning the pages… well that and I’m stubborn. I was finishing this book, and I was going to be honest in my review.

Then something happened. The story finally kicked in. It had been wandering all over the place, almost as if it were trying to find its way. When Ninefingers, Bayaz, Luthar, and Glokta walk into the House of the Maker it was like they awakened the author. The writing (mostly) fell into place, and I began to see the story Abercrombie wanted to tell.

From here on in I read the book quickly; I was interested and intrigued, and even grew to tolerate the beige that is Luthar. The magic, both dark and curious, began to show its other hand, and the Eaters are a great creation. THIS is where the story should have begun. This is also where I realised the first 350-odd pages had been the longest character introduction I’ve ever read. From here, Abercrombie pretty much holds his own. The ‘Bloody Nine’ chapter is a bloody good read, and the scene where the Bloody Nine rises is a stand-out.

For me, the structure doesn’t do the story justice; I was close to giving up so many times but perseverance got me through. Thing is, a great read shouldn’t be about perseverance, especially when the last 150-odd pages were a good, and at times, a very, very good read.

I can’t forgive the amount of times ‘Er…’ appeared, though, I just can’t. Everyone says it. All. The. Time. If I’d have made a drinking game of it, I’d have been hammered a couple of chapters in. If I’d based the game on exclamation points, I’d be back in the mud. (Ping to the editors on that – less is more, less is more!!!!!)

drunk dog

Make no mistake, Ninefingers and his old crew carried this story for me; they were the only ones I was invested in.

So… here we are at the end of this review that will get two ratings: 1.5 stars for the first part, and four stars for the end. Nothing we learned in the first part, couldn’t have been given to the reader in a hundred-odd pages without losing any of the understanding of characters, culture and the history of the world Abercrombie has created.

I’ll start book two, and see how it goes. Though I’m now a wary reader.

One thought on “Review: The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s