The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s debut fantasy novel, The Blade Itself was quite the hit among genre fans a few years ago, and all the hype drove me to find out what all the fuss is about. Yes, I’ve owned the book for about two years. I’m a slow reader.

“Jezal’s heart sank. A deep voice, she sounded like a fat one. Jezal couldn’t afford to be seen walking about the Agriont with a fat girl on his arm. It could ruin his reputation.”

The Blade Itself is the first in Abercrombie’s trilogy, The First Law. The story jumps between various characters, but focuses primarily on four characters: Jezal, the dashing and entirely assholeish nobleman; Glokta, the crippled inquisitor; Logen Ninefingers, a barbaric warrior from the north; and Bayaz, a mysterious wizard who seems to be behind more than he lets on. Cliché, cliché, cliché… oh yeah, and cliché. So it seems.

Surprisingly, Abercrombie’s greatest strength is breathing new life into these fantasy stereotypes, and wastes no opportunity to poke fun at them. In fact, fantasy clichés are littered throughout the whole novel and shamelessly made fun of. As the novel goes on, these characters really begin to grow on you, and you can’t help but love even the worst of them. Their snarky comments and unique insights are enough to carry even the most boring of scenes.

The book has also been tauted for it’s intense and violent fight scenes. The battles are wonderfully written, though I wouldn’t say this book is quite as brutal as others claim it is. I blame this on George RR Martin torturing spoiling me, but really, when the characters have so many funny things to say it can really take the edge off the bloody scene you just read through.

Speaking of George RR Martin, it’s clear that Abercrombie is a fan. At times, the book felt so much like an imitation of A Song of Ice and Fire that it came off almost as a parody. This comes through in Glokta’s character especially, the bitter and scheming cripple who reminded me a little too much of our favorite imp, Tyrion Lannister. In fact, I found Martin equivalents in nearly every character in the book, and sad but true… Martin wrote them better.

Then we come to the story: I really couldn’t tell you what this damned book is about. 527 pages and nothing happened. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. At least two things happened. We’re just not sure what they were yet. There’s something going on up in the north, some guy’s brewing a war, some other people are preparing, but overall nobody seems to care all that much. Except that one guy. A few scenes left me hopeful that something was about to go down, but the following chapter always let me down.

I understand that this is only the first in a trilogy, and many fantasy authors use such a book as a simple introduction to the world and characters. The Blade Itself does well in that regard, but I prefer some sort of climax and/or closure in whatever book I read, regardless of it’s position in a series, and I just didn’t get that here. Even the amazing characters, whom I grew to love very dearly, weren’t enough to motivate me to keep reading a lot of the time, and as a result I can’t agree with a lot of the hype surrounding this book.

Will I pick up the next book? I’m not sure. I don’t have a clear enough idea of what’s going on in the story to care very much, but I am somewhat curious where Abercrombie’s road will lead Jezal, Ardee, Glokta, and all the others.

The rest of you: pick it up for a light and fun read. Check it out at the library if you can. But if you have a high pile of books to read, I wouldn’t say this book is quite worth bumping to the top of your queue.

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