Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Blade Itself

by Joe Abercrombie
609 pgs  (First Law series #1)

Most of what I had heard about Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series compared it to George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, a series I decided to stop reading until Martin either finishes it or dies, since it’s a coin toss which will take place first. The comparison between the two is hard to avoid. They’re both character-driven epic fantasy series, which focus on anti-heroes and a motley assortment of fascinating characters. They both rely heavily on political machinations and shun the stereotypical elements of the genre. The Blade Itself does an excellent job of setting the stage for the series.

Logen Ninefingers is a famed and ruthless warrior from the North, nicknamed the “Bloody-Nine,” ever since losing a finger in battle. He’s now trying to leave that life behind, but continually finds himself dragged back into it. Sand dan Glokta is a crippled torturer for the Union. Once a young swordsman himself, he was captured and tortured for years by the Union’s enemies, barely able to move himself, he now uses the same methods of torture used on him to extract information from those who oppose the Union. Jezal dan Luthar is a cocky young nobleman reluctantly being trained to compete in his nation’s greatest sword tournament. And there’s Bayaz, the first of the Magi. A pudgy, balding wizard who is the subject of legends, but whom no one believes to be who he claims.

I mentioned the comparison to Game of Thrones, and while there are definitely similarities between the two, there are as many, if not more, differences. Abercrombie’s characters all seem to have redeeming qualities, which show themselves periodically and suggest that at their core, they’re relatively good. Abercrombie’s story contains an underlying sense of humor. There’s not the same sense of dread and foreboding, which GOT has, and which gives you a sense that ultimately, things will not end well for anyone. The final difference worth pointing out? Abercrombie’s story is done. Since he finished the trilogy, he’s written some stand-alone books and some short stories, which all take place in the world of the First Law, but the story arc of the series itself is complete. Ultimately Abercrombie’s story is one which stands firmly on its own footing and is one of the better ones in the genre.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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