Monday, 30 July 2012

The Blade Itself

Title: The Blade Itself
Series: The First Law #1
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Pages: 517 (paperback)
Published: March 4th 2006
Published by: Gollancz

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. 
Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules. 
Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it. 
Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult. 
Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.

Logen Ninefingers is a named man: one of the warrior barbarians of the north who has earned his own fighting name who finds himself dragged along to a city he doesn't understand and a reason he doesn't know. Jezal dan Luthar is trying to become a fencing champion while resisting amorous advances from a completely unsuitable - and off limits - woman. Sand dan Glokta is a bitter, pain-filled torturer who's trying to survive the politics of a dangerous government. Bayaz is a mysterious magician who no one really understands and has his own agenda which is barely even hinted at. These, and others, make up the wonderful and eclectic cast of The Blade Itself.

Joe Abercrombie is another bandwagon that I'm a little late joining. Yeah, he's not as big as like George R. R. Martin and stuff, but I've always heard good things about his books and they've always sounded quite interesting; I just haven't got round to reading anything by him up until now. And he's definitely a very talented author. His cast is wonderful, and you quickly and easily get a great feel for all of them. He gets inside their heads so well and makes all of them distinctive so you can from a few lines know who it is you're now following.

His story is intricate, even if for most of you don't have a clue what's going on: you're following these characters but don't know why or where they're going or what is really going on in the bigger picture for most of the time. When I was around 100 pages from the end of this book, a friend asked me what it was about and all I could answer with was a shrug of my shoulders and the very unhelpful answer of "People, doing stuff." It's all quite enigmatic, and I wished there'd been something more go on earlier than there is.

Of course this didn't stop me reading, if it did slow me down a little. It was just a little hard to get caught up in a story that wasn't particularly there.

I was enjoying it up until the penultimate chapter. Then there was an amazing scene - just a few pages long - that blew me away. I really, really want to know more about what was shown. Like really. Because there was no indication of anything particularly unusual, then suddenly - bam. You're hit with this information. And I can't wait to see what happens.

I'm interested in the fates of the other characters too, but bar one I'm less invested in them. Oh, maybe bar two. No, three. Ok, so turns out I'm more interested in some of the characters than I realised.

Outside of the characters, the writing was still very well done, and there was a nice mix of humour and violence. Nothing particularly horrific, but the fight scenes were realistically written without too much flying-about-of-viscera which I'm always a fan of. Though I if I can get through Battle Royale I'll probably be set for life on that front. And there were some laugh out loud moments, often not at times when you're expecting.  Most come from Glokta and his aides - Practicals - who I suppose have to make light of what they can in their line of work.

A very interesting book with some great characters, if a few too many ends are left a little too loose for my liking. Definitely a series I'll be carrying on with.

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