My Rating: I’d go there again (5/5)
Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than to live with the fear of it.
I’d heard about Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series awhile back but it was only recently that I felt in the mood for a pure fantasy book. I guess I’ve been hearing a lot of Game of Thrones talk and since I’ve already read the existing books in that series, I needed to find something else. The Blade Itself is a perfect recommendation for Game of Thrones fans who are experiencing withdrawl.
The Blade Itself follows several characters in a world that is on the brink of war. Each character is not exactly your conventional hero, hence the Game of Thrones comparison. These “heroes” are bloodthirsty, irritating, liars and murderers, but they all have some aspect that makes them redeemable and hence people that you want to read about.
Readers going into the series should be warned: there is A LOT of stuff happening in this book. There is a large cast of characters and because of that, there is a lot to learn about each character and the situation that they find themselves in. Abercrombie skillfully brings all these threads together in the end and shows you why each character matters to the other. Logen Ninefingers is a barbarian with a bloody reputation. Glotka is an inquisitor who has first-hand knowledge of torture, which he puts to good use for the Arch Lector. Next we get, Jezal, an pompous jackass that you love to hate (I’m hoping that he’ll be redeemed). Major West who seems honorable, but who may just turn out like his abusive father. Ferro, a former slave with an axe to grind and a wanted woman. And lastly, we have Dogman, a survivor of Logen’s former team. Not a one of them is inherently good, making all of them compelling; you’re constantly left wondering how the author is going to pull his story off with such dredges of humanity as his “heroes”.
At the start, all of these characters have little to do with one another. Part of the point of The Blade Itself is the author’s careful crafting that slowly pulls all of the character’s narratives together. At the start, many of the characters are physically distant from the other, yet you are aware that somehow each is going to be important to the other. For the most part, this task is accomplished in book one. Characters who have nothing in common find themselves now working together, for what ends, they’re not sure, but that’s a tale for book 2.
These complex characters is exactly what kept me turning the pages on this book. Each person had less than admirable traits, but there was always something that kept you from solidly labeling them in the “hero” or “villain” category. Ah, realism. For me, this ambiguity is what made this such a strong read. I liked having to think about the moral implications of some of the character’s choices, and I’m left wondering how things will change in book 2. Specifically, the two characters that struck me while reading were Logen Ninefigers and Jezal Luthar. Logen freely admits that he’s done some bad things in the past, but there’s something about him that tells you he’s a survivor. Out of the characters, it’s Logen that I feel is the most constant and closer to the ideal of a conventional hero. He’s done bad things, but he seems to have a sense of honour about him. The other character that sticks out for me is Jezal. He’s kind of an ass from the get-go and he has no sense of the harsh realities of the world. Essentially, Jezal’s rather young and naive and it does not show him to an advantage. I can’t wait to see how Jezal’s sense of the world is completely thrown into question, I’m kind of routing for his underdog story; that he’ll mature into an adult. But who knows, at this point, this young character could go either way and I don’t think the author it going to take a conventional approach to Jezal’s maturity – he is not going to become just a hero or just a villain.
The last character that I feel I have to mention is Ferro. She’s the only woman character that get’s her own point of view in the book. Since I’m a woman, I care about these things. At this point in the series, readers don’t get much about Ferro and I feel that she’s a one-dimensional character for the time being. She’s angry and bent on revenge, and there seems to be little else that motivates her. I’m curious about what the author is going to do with this character. Women in male written fantasy tend to get a bad wrap, but I don’t get the sense that this will be the case with Abercrombie, and I’m not going to learn more until book 2.
So why wasn’t this a 5 star read? Well, if there’s anything to complain about here, it’s the fact that the plot actually took a long time to get moving and I was expecting something more action packed. The bulk of the book is spent on the characters slowly moving forward to the moment where all their plot points converge. I was hoping that this would have come sooner. That said, it does leave me wanting to jump right into book 2. The Blade Itself ends with the main characters finally interacting with one another and setting out on new paths. I was left wanting. Good think I’ve got book 2 sitting beside me as I write this review.
The verdict. A great start to a series, filled with great characters, a black sense of humour and a coming epic battle. What more could a Game of Thrones fan want?
If you like the level of detail and the battle descriptions in The Blade Itself, give The Thousand Names a shot. It is pure military fantasy; however, it also has some flawed characters that you can help but be curious about. Like Abercrombie, Wexler takes his time bringing his main character’s together, but I think it’ll be worth the wait.
If, like me, you enjoyed the character of Jezel, give the Tiger and Del series a try. Tiger is very much like Jezal, and readers are left wondering if he’s really hero material. The series shows how this seriously flawed and pompous character slowly comes to maturity. Time will only tell if the same can be said for Jezal (I suspect it will not be so simple).
Lastly, since I’m so intrigued with the character of Ferro, I have to add Blood’s Pride to my recommendations. Like The Blade Itself this one is full of multiple viewpoints and there is one in particular that reminds me of Ferro: the Mongrel. We’re not given much about the Mongrel in book 1, but like Ferro, the Mongrel is one complicated anti-heroine, and one I’m waiting to learn more about when Fortune’s Blight is finally published in February 2015.