As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, Joe Abercrombie is a fantasy author who all my real-life friends have raved about for years and insisted that I read. From their proselyting, it seemed that my life would not be complete without sampling Lord Grimdark’s wares. So, in order to save myself from some accursed fate, I read the first two novels in Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series.
Unfortunately, grimwhine was not for me. If interested in the “why”, you can read my reviews of Half a King and Half the World.
Naturally, my friends were aghast at my heretical dislike of Lord Grimdark. That led them to berate my poor taste in fantasy literature. Arguments ensued thereafter until eventually they understood – even if they did not agree – with my lack of excitement with grimwhine, and so these close buddies of mine insisted that Shattered Sea was really a YA fantasy series and demanded that I try The First Law before I abandoned Lord Grimdark, because it was his masterpiece.
Well, I have recently completed my read of The Blade Itself, book one of The First Law. And, for those who have never tried it, I will attempt to sum it up succinctly for you.
This is a story told from multiple points of view by several main characters with the most important being: Jezal, the rich, noble’s son who is bratty and also a great swordsman; Logen, the northern barbarian who has a dark, mysterious past but wants to escape from it; Ferro, a fugitive slave from the nation of Gurkhul whose desire for revenge is greater than her common sense; and Glokta, a handicapped war hero who is now a torturer working for the Union’s secretive inquisition.
As a reader slowly tags along with these four, they slowly learn tidbits about each person, their pasts, the world they live in, and the coming conflicts that are a brewing. But finally, all these interwoven pieces begin to gather together for the last section of the novel in the capital city of the Union, where not only do these four interact with one another but also set up the story for the second installment of the series.
Now, I did enjoy The Blade Itself; it was an interesting enough book in its own way. However, the plot was a rather slow moving affair. (At one point, I actually found myself wondering if glaciers moved faster than The Blade Itself.) But once Abercrombie got everyone together in the capital, he did ratchet up the action, ending the story with a small bang.
Even with that being said, however, the characters in this novel were a bit of an enigma for me. Going into my read, all I had heard was how amazing they all were, how brilliant the characterization, how . . . you get the picture: Great characters. And I suppose they were very well developed, but unfortunately, I didn’t care one iota for any of them. Jezal made me want to slap him, because he was such an annoying, rich brat. Logen was boring most of the time. Ferro was an amalgamation of every ex-slave character I’ve ever read about. And Glokta (though he is the most interesting) would be a heartless bastard only to then turn around and go all gooey inside because an old friend apologized to him. I grew tired of each very quickly. Thank God the viewpoint changed between them constantly. It grew so bad that (unlike Song of Ice and Fire where I got sick of Martin killing everyone off) I kept hoping Abercrombie would execute someone, so they might be replaced with someone less boring.
I know all that sounds really harsh of me, doesn’t it? But I did like The Blade Itself. Really. I’m just disappointed with it. A disappoint that has grown rather than lessened in the weeks since I read it.
Why, you ask?
Well, for years, I’ve heard all these grandiose accolades about this book. People would tell me it was the quintessential modern grimdark. The tale that revolutionized the fantasy genre for a new century. Hell, one of my friends even anointed Abercrombie the Tolkien for the twenty-first century. (Yeah, he is the president of the Lord Grimdark Fan Club.) But as I read, I just did not see any of that. Still do not in hindsight. It was a fine fantasy novel. Abercrombie spent a lot of time writing a fiction novel which was “incidentally” a fantasy. But revolutionary? Not so much. Glen Cook’s Black Company series was more grimdark than this before there was a term for it. George R.R. Martin’s work in Song of Ice and Fire was far more “grim” in tone than anything I read here. Hell, even Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns was more “dark” and bloody than this tale. So for those reasons, reading this novel was a little bit of a letdown.
With all that being said, I actually am looking forward to reading the next novel in the series. Now, I can experience Before They Were Hanged without any grandiose expectations weighing it down. It will be merely me sitting down to read an interesting fantasy novel about some people mixed up in deadly adventures, not me sitting down to read the “MOST REVOLUTIONARY FANTASY NOVEL SINCE LORD OF THE RINGS” and I believe that will allow me to enjoy it better than I did this one – especially if Abercrombie kills someone. I mean, OMFG, this is grimdark already; a main character has to die now!