Warren C.'s Reviews > The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
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Aug 03, 12

Read in March, 2012

The Following Review will be placed on all three books in the First Law Trilogy. Mainly because I discuss the books as a series:

The three books in the series are -

The Blade Itself (2006)
Before They Are Hanged (2007)
Last Argument of Kings (2008)

This is an odd trilogy for me to review. On one hand, I like the books very much and can recommend them to fans of ‘gritty’ fantasy, like the Song of Ice and Fire books. On the other, I feel a bit let down by the story and the characters. There seemed to be little pay off at the end for my time invested. In fact, I think the author did his best not to have that pay off, instead choosing to be ‘realistic.’

Whatever that means.

I do get ahead of myself a bit since the first two books pulled me in and kept me interested. The reason is the typical British writing style, full of quirky dialogue and dry wit. The story follows a group of characters as the country they live in deals with war on two fronts: One from the north by a Barbarian King and one on the south by country of religious zealots. This drama plays out over the course of the three novels, with each of the characters starting out separate and eventually coming to be involved with each other to some degree.

The characters in the book are the main reason read the trilogy. While some books can survive on the tale itself, The First Law trilogy is different. The story is secondary to the characters, with the world being nothing more than a mishmash of fantasy tropes. My favorite characters include the bitter and cynical former soldier Sand dan Glokta, who is a torturer by trade but has a weird sort of morality about him. His dry sense of humor helps lighten an otherwise dark setting. Another is Logen Ninefingers, a barbarian with a bloody past who is trying to change. His humble and realistic outlook helps to ground the other characters when they start getting above themselves. I also like Collem West, an anger prone soldier who has gained his position against all odds. He is a relatively moral person and does his best in an army of immoral people. There are other characters, of course, including a wizard, a nobleman, Collem’s Sister, and many others. They are all characterized well and help move the story along.

The characters in the series became real to me. My biggest disappointment with the trilogy comes near the end of the second book and throughout the third book. I won’t go in to spoiler territory, but at this pint is when everything starts to unravel. Abercrombie begun to take the hopes I had built up for the characters and started to dash them on the ground. I can understand not wanting to stick to ‘fantasy’ norm, yet I think that Abercrombie was so intent on being gritty and real that it hurt the story as a whole. I didn’t expect him to start destroying what I liked about the characters, but once he started, nothing he did was unexpected. I knew what would happen and I ended up groaning as each new event revealed itself. The third volume of the series is the weakest, when it really should be the strongest.

It is obvious these books are influenced by the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. Many of the characters could be extras in that series. I believe that The First Law trilogy is valiant first try, but ultimately the last book brings the trilogy down. It won’t keep me from reading more by Abercrombie, since I feel he is a good writer that creates great characters, but I just hope he doesn’t give in to his need to be ‘edgy’ in the future. There are two more books set in the First Law universe with another coming. I do plan to read them, but I am unsure if I will enjoy them or not.
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