“A fantastic introduction to Abercrombie. The Blade Itself is an Unputdownable read – a brilliant first novel!” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve wanted to read some Joe Abercrombie for ages, having first heard about his work when I first expanded to reading some non-tie in fiction at the beginning of this year. But yet, I don’t know why it took me this long to pick up the first novel in The First Law trilogy, entitled The Blade Itself, especially as I enjoyed it as much as I did. In fact, I’m struggling to find something negative to write about this novel. There’s only one thing that I didn’t particularly like.
But right now, if you haven’t heard a thing about The Blade Itself before, I might as well start this review by giving you a quick look at the plot. Due to the fact that it’s another one of those sort of novels that have fantastic blurbs, I’m going to have to leave it for you here, taken from Goodreads.
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.
You can see why this would enthral you, and there’s more – the novel literally begins on a cliffhanger, forcing you to read more. We want to know what’s happened to Logen to get him into this situation, and we want to know how he’s going to make it out. And of course, we want to know what he wants to do next. And this isn’t the only time in the novel where you will find yourself starting a chapter with a cliffhanger, oh no – there’s several more that will keep you turning the pages, and Abercrombie does this brilliantly for a first time author. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that this couldn’t have been an author’s first novel. I mean, I still can’t believe it now, typing this review, after I’ve finished the book. It was that good, truly.
The characters in this book are well developed and varied. As mentioned above, the main characters of this story are Logen, Jezal, Glotka and Bayaz, but the dramatis personae extends far beyond just four characters.
The Blade Itself is very much dark and gritty fantasy, in a similar manner on from George RR Martin’s popular A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Bad things happen to good people, there are several tragic moments, and this is far from a light-hearted romp.
I can’t really avoid discussing The Blade Itself without mentioning the action scenes in this novel, and I can say that they are – to put it bluntly, superb! They’re not only very well written, but they also add to the tension and keep the suspense building. There are several memorable scenes in this novel, and hopefully there will be more in the next two books in the trilogy, entitled Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings.
However, if there’s one problem that I had with The Blade Itself, and it’s a minor one – is that in the first chapter, Logen repeats some variation of this line: “Shit,” he said. Now, I don’t know about you – but having swearing chucked in once or twice across the novel is okay with me, and only in appropriate situations. However, Logen repeats it several times, in the first chapter alone, and this above all other things, feels rather forced, and out of place. I don’t know about you, but that’s my personal opinion.
Although you don’t really find yourself caring for the characters at all, there’s so much going on in The Blade Itself that it won’t matter – the pace rips along at a roaring pace and you’ll find yourself swept up along with it. You shouldn’t be able to put this book down.
I’ve wanted to pick this book up ever since I first saw the cover-art. I don’t know why, but I tend to like cover arts that fall into the ‘hooded man’I’ve wanted to pick this book up ever since I first saw the cover-art. I don’t know why, but I tend to like cover arts that fall into the ‘hooded man’ category. The Painted (Warded in the USA) Man by Peter V. Brett, The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller, Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky and Assassin’s Creed 2 are examples of that, and it seems, for however long we’re around, there’ll always be at least one hooded man cover on a novel in the bookshop, or on your bookshelf. Did I mention, there’s another thing that everything in the category has in common – they’re all really enjoyable, and fun to read/play. So, would this be the case with The Emperor’s Knife?
I’m pleased to say that yes, yes it was. The Emperor’s Knife, despite its flaws, I found to be a really enthralling read, and I can safely say that I will be eagerly looking forward to Book Two of the trilogy.
There. I’ve said it. But, in order to make this a ‘proper’ review, I have to write more than just that. So, you’re probably wondering what the heck The Emperor’s Knife is about. Well, let me tell you. Or rather, let Goodreads tell you, because I’m lazy:
There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike, marking each victim with a fragment of a greater pattern. Anyone showing the marks is put to death. That is Emperor Beyon’s law . . .
But now the pattern is reaching closer to the palace than ever before. In a hidden room, a forgotten prince has grown from child to man, and as the empire sickens, Sarmin, the emperor’s only surviving brother, is remembered. He awaits the bride his mother has chosen: a chieftain’s daughter from the northern plains.
Mesema travels from her homeland, an offering for the empire’s favour. She is a Windreader, used to riding free across the grasslands, not posing and primping in rare silks. She finds the Imperial Court’s protocols stifling, but she doesn’t take long to realise the politicking and intrigues are not a game, but deadly earnest.
Eyul is burdened both by years and by the horrors he has carried out in service to the throne. At his emperor’s command he bears the emperor’s Knife to the desert in search of a cure for the pattern-markings.
As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence and rebellion, the enemy moves toward victory. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who once saw a path through a pattern, among the waving grasses.
Certainly ambitious for an author’s first novel, huh? I’d like to say that I was slightly cautious about reading The Emperor’s Knife before I actually did read it, but alas, that was not the case, I dived into the book with little more than the blurb to see my way through. And, after the first few pages, I wasn’t confused. I wasn’t wondering who these characters were and I wasn’t wondering what the hell was going on. Neither does Williams overload you with info-dumping, the bane of many fantasy authors.
The characters are certainly well developed, and intriguing enough to keep you reading along with the captivating plot, that although is unoriginal when you look at previous fantasy novels, is certainly enjoyable, and combined with a well-designed world that has obviously had a lot of thought put into it.
Unfortunately, not every novel is perfect, and you will often find the pacing a bit uneven, with parts (especially towards the end), where you are turning the pages desperately to find out what happens next, and other times where you aren’t turning the pages as fast as you should be, which is a letdown, but one that I’m not too fussed about.
The novel itself draws upon several Middle Eastern influences, which is something that I’ve not encountered in fantasy before, so Williams gets +1 on the originality front (if there are more fantasy novels that draw from Middle Eastern influences that I haven’t read yet, drop me a line – I’d love to read them). You can tell that the world has been carefully constructed with a lot of research put into it, especially when you look at the magic system.
If there’s something else that let the novel down, again a minor issue, is that the ‘big reveal’ wasn’t as good as it could have been, and people who’ve read this novel will probably share my thoughts on this thing. Also, there’s romance, lots and lots of romance in this novel, although don’t let that put you off from reading The Emperor’s Knife. Romance or not, you won’t want to be missing this. It contains several elements of a dark fantasy novel, yet at the same time it still feels like you’re reading an epic fantasy, a novel that could be fit into the same sort of genre as George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
I’d also like to point out that although The Emperor’s Knife is technically part of a trilogy, aside from a few parts where Williams sets the scene for the rest of the novel, it could effectively be read as a standalone. However, my advice is, don’t read it as a standalone and buy the next book as soon as it comes out! For one, I can’t wait to read it, and if Williams sorts out the pacing in the next novel, it will be truly superb. I strongly recommend this novel to any fans of fantasy that are looking to try something new.
More Tower and Knife: The Emperor’s Knife, Knifesworn (Coming Soon)
I’ve recently finished The Innocent Mage, as you’re probably aware from the fact that I’m giving you this review. As you’re no doubt aware by now, it I’ve recently finished The Innocent Mage, as you’re probably aware from the fact that I’m giving you this review. As you’re no doubt aware by now, it’s the first in the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology (The second being The Awakened Mage), and focuses on Asher, who leaves his miserable life in a coastal city in the hope of making a fortune. Employed in the stables, Asher soon finds his dreams coming true, befriending the Prince Gar, and receiving more wealth than he could ever hope of getting as a fisherman.
Asher becomes unknowingly part of a prophecy, and is watched by enigmatic members of a group called The Circle, who have dedicated to protect what they call “The Innocent Mage”, who is the character destined to save them from evil. And they believe that Asher is that character…
Yeah, it doesn’t sound that original does it? But, let’s move aside from that and talk about what good things this book contains. First of all, the characters. As it’s your average fantasy plot, you may think that the characters are weak an undeveloped. But oh no, far from it. By the end of the book, you’ll be on good terms with the characters. You’ll like them. This is perhaps the strongest part of The Innocent Mage, the characters, be they Asher with his country-drawl (at least in the first half of the novel), or the King himself, as they are believable, and they quickly become characters who you find yourself thinking that you’ve known them all your life, despite the fact that Asher’s way of speaking is kind of hard to get used to at first.
The world created by Miller is richly developed, and although she didn’t explain much about the magic system, I believe we will see more about it in The Awakened Mage, which I can say that I’m looking forward to.
Although the pacing is uneven at first, I for one enjoyed the book despite the flaws that I found within its pages. Sure, it’s not the most original work, but it might just be one of the better ‘prophecy’-type novels that you’ve read yet. Although it isn’t exactly a page-turner, The Innocent Mage is a slow read with some parts that you may feel drag the story down a bit, and I can only hope that after reading this, The Awakened Mage will have to be one hell of a read to make up for the action that this book lacked.
Miller manages to turn the typical prophecy thing found in your average fantasy novel around though, and actually explores the characters that are involved with it and how it affects their life. We see multiple Point of Views from one of the main characters in this novel, the female Dathne, who shares the most screen time with Asher.
The plot is dragged out, and not much happens in The Innocent Mage making it feel like it’s only setting the scene for The Awakened Mage, especially with the cliffhanger that the book ends on. I can’t help but want to go and pick up the last book in the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Duology, and I just get annoyed with ‘books’ like these. You get your novel and then you read it, enjoying it, only to find that it’s merely half a book. Hardly anything is tied up at the end of this novel; making reading The Awakened Mage almost a necessary read if you are to understand The Innocent Mage fully.
Another thing that could be improved is the fact that the evil guy is outright evil. He’s just evil, nothing else, and in fact, he’s the only character that you don’t feel like you’re good friends with by the end of the book. (Well, he is the villain after all, and he doesn’t appear until the end of the book).
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll mention this again as I bring this review to a close. The Innocent Mage may not be the most original book, nor the cleverest or the most action-packed novel out there, but if you’re anything like me, then you should enjoy it and you’ll keep coming back for more. The Innocent Mage could also be classed as a nice introduction to Fantasy, as it doesn’t leave the reader totally lost and sticks to a tried and tested plot. A good first novel for Miller, and I’ll be looking to read more of her work.
Okay, seeing as I’m in one of my lazy moods today, and I can’t be asked to come up with my own summary for the book, I’m going to borrow it from HarpeOkay, seeing as I’m in one of my lazy moods today, and I can’t be asked to come up with my own summary for the book, I’m going to borrow it from Harper Voyager, the kind folks who sent me a copy to review:
“Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence has earned himself a beautiful fiancée, society’s esteem and a golden future. But the war is not going well. It seems Britain can only wait as Napoleon plans to invade.
After a skirmish with a French ship, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: a dragon egg bound for the Emperor himself. Dragons are much prized: properly trained, they can mount a fearsome attack from the skies. It falls to one of Laurence’s men to take the beast in hand and join the aviator’s cause, forcing him to relinquish all hope of a normal life.
But when the newly-hatched dragon decides to imprint itself on Laurence, the horrified captain’s world falls apart. Gone is his golden future: gone his social standing, and soon his beautiful fiancée, as he is consigned to be the companion and trainer of the fighting dragon, Temeraire …”
Truth be told, I’ve read very few books with dragons in. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, which seemed a bit too much like fantasy Star Wars for my liking, and well – aside from the odd mention in Warhammer Fantasy novels, and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, that’s pretty much it. However, I’m a huge fan of dragons. I love ‘em, and if I had the time to read more about them, then I most certainly would.
In Temeraire, Novik manages to create a wonderful history of the dragons, and creating various breeds that are seen all over the world and I hope she can expand upon it in the following Temeraire novels, which I am eagerly looking forward to.
The characters, although pretty stereotypical, are strong and interesting ones. Laurence is of course the main protagonist, so he shares most of the screen-time with Temeraire, and as Temeraire is a new, young dragon – the author uses this as an opportunity to expand on the dragons more, informing not only Temeraire, but at the same time, the reader. Although this may have a few incidents of info-dumping, the novel makes up for that flaw in other places.
I can see why Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and the upcoming The Hobbit), liked this book: “These are beautifully written novels, not only fresh, original and fast-paced, but full of wonderful characters with real heart.” I agree with him, with the exception of the fact that he believes this book to be fast paced. I found the pacing a bit off. Sometimes, yes – it would be fast paced, and indeed, we’re thrust into the action right from the get-go, but at other times the pace crawls down to the point where Novik is throwing tons of information on the reader…
Despite that though, Temeraire is an exceptionally good novel for someone’s first published attempt, and I will be picking up the next instalment in the series when I can, and I’ll probably review that as well.
Temeraire, as far as my knowledge of the Napoleonic Era goes, is pretty accurate, with the right terms being used and rather than calling the Dragon Riders, well Dragon Riders, Novik uses a term called Aviators, and organises her Dragons into the Royal Air Service, and uses experiences of negative attitudes to 20th Century RAF Air Pilots from other armed forces to tie in with this novel.
Another flaw that I felt showed in Temeraire was the fact that the final outcome, of the book, the grand final battle (I won’t spoil it for you, but if you know your history than you can probably guess which one), seems a bit rushed for my liking. Sure, the scale is big, but it just… fell short of my anticipations. It could have been an awesome ending.
How many traditional epic fantasy authors are there out there? Obviously, you’ve got JRR Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Robert E. Howard, RHow many traditional epic fantasy authors are there out there? Obviously, you’ve got JRR Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Robert E. Howard, Robert Jordan, George RR Martin…. the list could go on forever. You think people would be getting bored of hearing the phase ‘The next Tolkien’, thrown on the front cover of novels over and over again by now. That’s not to say that all of the above authors are the next Tolkien, (okay, one of them may just be Tolkien himself, but that doesn’t count), it’s just at some point in their lives, they’ve all written epic fantasy. So have thousands of other authors. So, what could there possibly be that would make epic/high fantasy fresh and new?
As it turns out, no matter how many epic fantasy novels you’ve read, there will always be one novel (or series) in that genre that you haven’t read yet that you will find enjoyable. Such is the case with Michael J. Sullivan’s first published work, Theft of Swords, originally self-published as two separate volumes (The Crown Conspiracy in 2008 and Avempartha in 2009), contained in one Omnibus for your enjoyment, that – although not the most original work out there, is a pretty damned good read.
A read so good in fact, if it was only just coming out this year, I would have gone so far as to say that Theft of Swords could have been the debut of the year…
The Crown Conspiracy is the first book in the Omnibus, and kicks off the Riyria Revelations with a bang, drawing the reader into a world that they will find easy to get used to, and characters that will soon become your new best friends.
Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater are thieves, partners in crime. They’re the “Riyria”, and they are two of the most skilled thieves around. At the beginning of the first novel, both are hired to steal a sword from a master duellist, but instead find themselves captured and framed for the murder of a king.
It is only due to the assistance from an unlikely source that they avoid being hanged, and Royce and Hadrian soon embark on an experience that looks set to change the lives of the thieves forever.
The characters are likable right from the start, which is quite an achievement. We’re introduced to Royce and Hadrian as they are giving tips to the bandits that are trying to rob them, which really does beg the question, how can that not create a smile on your lips? It’s not just Royce and Hadrian that you’ll like as well. Prince Alric, The Monk Myron, and even the wizard Esrahaddon.
A positive thing about this book is that the ending isn’t as predictable as most epic fantasy novels that I’ve read, and you will no doubt be kept guessing as to what will happen next, who could benefit most from this, and who made that happen. All the while, you will be unable to stop flicking the pages to find out what happens next…
The Crown Conspiracy has a fast pace throughout the entire novel, which will keep you hooked but leaving you a bit disappointed when you find that Avempartha’s pace is quite a bit slower.
Avempartha, the second book in the Omnibus, and is a nice return to the adventures of Royce and Hadrian. Following on from the ending of the last book, a young woman hires the aforementioned duo to help save the village from attacks by a stronger foe, in a way which reminded me oddly of my favourite Western movie, The Magnificent Seven, although it is only Hadrian who attempts to get the defenders together in order to defeat the unseen killer, for Royce, working once more with the wizard Esrahaddon, in an attempt to steal a sword from the tower Avempartha, the book’s namesake.
Yes, another story that revolves around the stealing of swords, but hey, this is called Theft of Swords after all.
Avempartha is stated by Sullivan over at the Amazon page of the book that this novel can be read alone, which brings me onto a small ‘flaw’ that could make this series even better. Rather than re-release these books as an omnibus, wouldn’t it have been better to release them individually? I’m one of those people who prefer standalone books to Omnibuses, despite the fact that they take up less room on your bookshelf and you nearly always save money when you buy an Omnibus when you buy it rather than the individual books.
Back to the second book in the series, and this time around, Sullivan proves that nobody is safe and he is not afraid to kill off major characters, which is a good thing, especially in a six-book series. Obviously, Royce and Hadrian won’t be killed off this early in the series (due to their appearance on the blurb of the next two Omnibuses), but almost all of the supporting cast could meet their deaths and some come perilously close to dying at several points in both novels.
If I had to say which book was the more serious book out of the two, I’d say Avempartha, because although it does have its amusing moments, it was hard pushed to be as humorous as The Crown Conspiracy.
Overall, both books were fascinating and I eagerly await more from Michael J. Sullivan, for he is a superb author and this has left me only wanting to get the Second Omnibus, Rise of Empire, as soon as possible! Any fan of epic fantasy should love this series, as I haven’t found a negative review on them yet – and, seeing as The Crown Conspiracy was first self published released in 2008, three years ago, this is a very good thing indeed.
Phew, that was a lot to write. Now, and on that bombshell, let’s see how well they fare with my rating scale: