After getting hooked on Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Seas trilogy, I figured it was time to go into the rest of his bibliography and start at the debut novel, The Blade Itself, the first book of the First Law trilogy.
Abercrombie’s primary strength is his ability to create unique and exciting characters and build worlds which feel lived in and with rich histories. The comparison to George R.R. Martin’s characters and style is well-deserved as both authors tend to take the fantasy genre in a different direction than the norm. Sometimes you’ll be cheering these characters along in battle. Other times, you’ll find them incredibly annoying, or you’ll sit in disbelief at the barbaric actions which they’ve decided to take. Most importantly, you’ll understand the reason behind those actions, even if it hurts to read them.
The Blade Itself is told from multiple perspectives starting off with Logen Ninefingers, a barbarian fighting for his life against an attacker. After evading capture or death, Logen confers with the Spirits and is told to meet with a man at a specific place. He embarks on a quest to join with the First of the Magi, Bayaz, a wizard of legend who seeks to return to his chair at Adua.
From this opening chapter, we switch to Inquisitor Gloka, a former nobleman who was captured in war, tortured, and left crippled and in constant pain. While his chapters are packed with descriptions of torture, we are also treated to many of his thoughts which serve as dark humor to break the tension. From his perspective, the reader is made aware of the various plots and politics going on behind the scenes.
The last primary perspective goes to Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a nobleman who is the embodiment of first world problems. He is the son of a wealthy father and spends the majority of his time getting drunk and playing cards with his friends. He looks down on everyone else under his caste and seeks glory and accolades by joining a fencing competition to which he hates training. Between training for the competition and his growing infatuation with the sister of his lower born friend, Luthar has his work cut out for him.
Together, these primary characters are the focus of the narrative and drive the plot forward. There are other POV characters along the way whose involvement has yet to manifest into significant plot points.
If there is one complaint about the novel, it is the vagueness of a significant plot. The characters have their own goals and direction, yet they don’t seem to push forward into an overarching conflict. By the end of the novel, the reader is aware of a major war brewing across the world. There is also a shadowy magical element dealing with figures from their religion. Somehow Bayaz, Logen, Jezal, and Gloka will be getting involved with these events.
However, this weakness is majorly overshadowed by the character-driven narrative, the excellent battle sequences, and the intrigue the novel builds with each chapter moving forward. I’m confident all the questions will be answered along the way, and I’m definitely enjoying the ride.