The Darkness That Comes Before, in spite of winning the "most pretentious title in fantasy" award in a field inundated with self-important tosh, stand...moreThe Darkness That Comes Before, in spite of winning the "most pretentious title in fantasy" award in a field inundated with self-important tosh, stands up very well to a second reading:
The first fifty pages constitute a pacey and exciting prologue, as we're given a whistle-stop tour of the world and it's major workings in an incredibly clever fashion. Then, sadly, we get bogged down with Drusas Achaimian, the trilogies' nominal protagonist.
I haven't got a massive problem with the guy, but it feels that he was rather over-written by Bakker. His tedious (and repetitive) passages of self-doubt and cod-philosophy making the first 20% (Kindle reader, sorry) of the book a bit of a lifeless struggle. And he and Esmenet are such a crap couple it really makes you dislike the guy more than feel for him.
However: Once you forge your way through this necessary exposition and sub-par "characterisation", the book picks up the pace and interest levels exponentially. I've honestly never encountered something like Kellhus before in any film or book, and Cnaiur was my favourite barbarian until Abercrombie introduced me to the Bloody Nine. The action is excellent, the interactions between the more interesting characters are really compelling and the mechanics of the world make for some very interesting dynamics of power.
Here's someone who's obviously sat down and thought "if there was real, strong magic, why wouldn't it rule everthing?" And come up with a pretty decent set of answers.
Bakker's world was allegedly ten years in the making, and I can absolutely believe that. Fine he abuses umlauts and accents in a way that comes across as artificial rather than foreign, but hey: It's epic fantasy, and in one way or another they all have to pay tribute to Tolkein.
If you are able to get along with his ocassionally sterile and stilted prose and overlook the flaws in his personal outlook (only a life-long academic could make a fantasy book this pretentious) there are a lot of things in this book that really deserve your time and attention.(less)
By Pratchett's (admittedly high) standards, this is definitely a bit rough. It's obvious that he's had a retcon a lot of the ideas in this book to get...moreBy Pratchett's (admittedly high) standards, this is definitely a bit rough. It's obvious that he's had a retcon a lot of the ideas in this book to get where he has with the series, but there's still that smooth prose and sense of fun you really don't get with a lot of other books.
Definitely worth re-reading just to see how the series started.(less)
It's very long but without being undisciplined (it genuinely has a great deal to say), it covers some really nasty ground but it's necessary in relati...moreIt's very long but without being undisciplined (it genuinely has a great deal to say), it covers some really nasty ground but it's necessary in relation to his earlier work and doesn't feel gratuitous (after the blackly comic torture meted out by Glokta and his boys it's absolutely right that we get put on the other side of the poker, as it were) and it has female characters who actually feel like female characters (not women controlled by their damn womanly emotions or men with strapped-on tits). It covers the Years of Blood in renaissance Italy analogue; Styria, interweaving the blood and politicking of warring city states with the revenge story of a woman wronged by her employer.
Along the way it looks at the value and cost of mercy, the easy slide a world without rules can give a person cause to take from good to evil and the motivations behind meaningful, lasting change.
It's pretty dark, as with all his stuff, and it's actually a really difficult read in places but I can whole-heartedly recommend it. After a second read, I think this might be Joe's best book.(less)
I love everything about The First Law trilogy, the characters, the world, the way the two are intertwined. I even love the three covers. Absolutely ad...moreI love everything about The First Law trilogy, the characters, the world, the way the two are intertwined. I even love the three covers. Absolutely adore it, end to end, top to bottom. And this is likely my favourite book of the trilogy. I am completely beyond the point at which I would be capable of providing an unbiased review so here a few hundred words of me cheerleading Joe Abercrombie:
Before They Are Hanged is the second act in the superlative "The First Law" trilogy, having spent several hundred pages on character building and establishment of tone in The Blade Itself, BTAH takes the established threads, teases them out into a plethora of new locations then gives them a damn good fraying.
The most impressive thing about these books, right from page one, is how hard the author is obviously working. Everything about them speaks to colossal restraint, hubris-free proof-reading/revision, and ceaseless graft: Characterisation is folded into scene-setting is folded into terrain description is folded into dialogue is folded into exposition. Constantly. Like some kind of seamlessly entertaining matryoshka doll.
When we finally come to start learning about how the supernatural elements are influencing the story it perfectly picks it's way along the knife-edge of ludicrous do-anything hand waving and rigorously over-explained dullness. When we're sat down and literally given history lessons about the back-story of the world we are genuinely left wanting more. When he switches from incredibly disparate character voices and situations there is no jarring feel of annoyance at leaving the current point of view. The book doesn't end on a cliff-hanger.
There are two deaths I think 90% of readers familiar with this style of book would have seen coming from miles off, and his characters are so well written that they're a bit too perfect on occasion (not flawless, just too predictably perfect for what they are). But this is just a phenomenal novel.
When I first read this, I was relatively inexperienced with the New Wave of fantasy (people swear more, there are distant nods to realistic terrain an...moreWhen I first read this, I was relatively inexperienced with the New Wave of fantasy (people swear more, there are distant nods to realistic terrain and characters, goodies and baddies aren't as clearly defined and Named Goodies are more susceptible to the embrace of the Grim Reaper), so I had thought it blowing my hair back was due to my lack of context.
Happily, I was wrong in the best possible way: It blew my hair back because it is an incredibly sure-footed first step in what is -hands down- the best fantasy trilogy that has yet been written. One of those rare books that makes you happy you take the time to read.
The Blade Itself marks the first steps in the journey of a likeable bunch of sociopaths through a dark, honestly examined and charactered fantasy setting. It's greatest strength lies with the characters (Abercrombie read Psychology for his degree, and boy it shows), but a lot of the fun comes from watching the archetypal fantasy characters travelling through the archetypal fantasy world, but done honestly. Much like Pratchett at his peak this looks at a fantasy story, turns its head sideways and says "hold on a minute..."
The square-jawed, beautiful champion fencer went off to war and was promptly captured and tortured for a period of years because he arrogantly overestimated himself, returning home a crippled ruin. The noble savage barbarian from the Northern Wastes spends a lot of his Northern time bloody cold. And there's a great deal more savage than noble about someone who kills great numbers of his fellow man for a profession. The commoner risen through the ranks by his own merit to mix with nobles had to have a hell of a reservoir of something to drive him there. And the gentry would not be best pleased associating with this grubby oik.
Of course, it being a first novel there are a few missteps: When plot takes precedence over character (Glokta visits the University) to move things along the pace can slacken, he introduces a completely unnecessary over the top comedy foil (Brother Longfoot) in order to have the characters talk to one another later and some of Jezal's hand-holding internal monologue should have been cut. But these are minor, petty things to complain about when something this good is in front of you.
I could write ream after ream of boring recommendation for you, but frankly this is a book anyone with even a cursory interest in fantasy should be required to read.(less)