Carol. 's Reviews > The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
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May 12, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, male-lead, epic-fantasy
Recommended for: epic fantasy fans
Read in August, 2011

The Blade Itself will undoubtedly become classic fantasy. I found it engrossing, and one of the best examples of the "darker" epic fantasies, with protagonists lacking in traditional heroic qualities and quests that are less than selfless. I liked the way the story was constructed, primarily following three main characters, with a fourth was added partway through the book. I was fairly certain they would intersect at some point, so part of the interest in the story is seeing how their individual tales will intertwine. The stories of each are mostly linear, with some appropriate flashbacks, but never done so choppily that one can't tell primary time frame. I can't tell you what a relief this is; I've been reading too many deconstructionist sort of fantasies lately where narrative skill is dropped for the ease of disjointed four-page scenes. Does everyone have narrative ADD? However, I digress.

Abercrombie has a gift for clear storytelling without simplicity. While I had heard this was a "dark fantasy," with unlikeable characters, I would wholeheartedly disagree, at least within the confines of this book. Perhaps on the surface our three main characters are unlikeable--one a 'barbarian' with a very bloody past, Logen Ninefingers; one a vain and talented peacock, Captain Jezel; and the last a maimed and internally tortured torturer, Inquisitor Glokta--but they are imbued with a humanity that makes them likeable despite themselves. Frequently we are privy to their decision-making process, and it becomes evident that their motives are more complex than simple bloodthirst, vanity or hate. Ninefingers is undergoing a shift in his feelings on fighting and war, after losing everything he has loved. It's lovely seeing how the entitled noble Jezel finds himself attracted to someone very different than he, and the stages he goes through as he realizes his love. Glokta's interactions with the Arch Lector are stunning; we quickly develop the sense of the long term and unethical mechaniations of the Arch Lector and develop further sympathy for the poor torturer. It was a brilliant way to help readers understand the political ramifications of the actions we've been witnessing without a lot of dreary exposition or monologues.

A portentous and sinister air developes through the book. There is the larger issue of the Union and it's surrounding countries preparing for war, and the local issue of a power vacuum around king's throne, and competing interests. The evil characters are frightening-the Northmen have a sorceress working with them, and the Emperor of Gurkhul uses monsters called "Eaters" as enforcers. Nonetheless, there are light moments, and moments of redemption, even in beginning chapters, such as when Logen decides to rescue someone, even if it should mean his death. It's an astonishing level of complexity, but Abercrombie handles it well.

I've already got the second book on my shelf waiting to be read.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2012/1...
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01/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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 Danielle The Book Huntress (Back to the Books) You're making me want to read this one soon, Carol!


The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) me too


message 3: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Derus Carol, I thoroughly enjoyed your review! I'm too lazy to go find out, have you read Mythago Wood yet?

You might have heard me carryin' on about how very much I dislike fantasy novels (narrative ADD or narrative narcolepsy, not much in between), but this book is lobster, caviar, and ice cream all rolled into one!

Ew. Well, I think you know what I mean.

Stephen rather offhandedly suggested I might consider trying this book out, and damn his eyes I really really like it. Give it a whirl if you haven't already!


Carol. Richard-thank you! No, I haven't read Mythago Wood yet, but I promptly added it to the front of my TBR list. And, while I will take a pass on the lobster, caviar, and ice cream combination to better concentrate on my taco 6-pack, I do understand your gist. I would caution you to beware of Stephen suggestions--he is, after all, a Gaimanite.


message 5: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Derus Carol wrote: "...he is, after all, a Gaimanite."

*sad sigh* Yes, poor laddie. Bad parenting? Peer pressure from low, rough companions? One always wonders where the road to perdition began.


message 7: by Brigid (new) - added it

Brigid Can I ask if there are any strong portrayals of women in joe abercrombie's books?


Carol. Not exactly. Jezel's love interest is interesting. Somewhat flawed but developed. Then later Ferro is introduced--she's an ex-slave hell-bent on revenge. I'd say she runs a little risk of the 'savage' stereotype, but she's interesting as well. Very focused. Ambercrombie perhaps played to his strengths--the women aren't offensively done; there just aren't many of them.


message 9: by Brigid (new) - added it

Brigid well, darn. I've heard so many great things about his books. So the women in his books aren't two dimensional, but their not strong? They are fully developed, correct? Doesn't sound like that would bother me as long as they read like real people. thanks for answering my question.


message 10: by Will (new)

Will I am curious what these "deconstructionist fantasies" are?


Carol. Will wrote: "I am curious what these "deconstructionist fantasies" are?"

Not truly deconstructionist, but extremely disjointed narrative structure. Specifically, Brent Week's Shadow series. Talk about narrative ADHD! It was making me crazy.


The Lit Bitch You totally made me want to read this now. I have it on my iPad but just haven't gotten around to it.....great review, I need to move it up on my TBR list :)


Carol. I highly recommend considering it as a commitment to all three books--for me, the final one really is what made it amazing. Really impressive character work.


Manju Logen was a favorite of mine in this but Glokta snatched that tag from him in other two books.

Nice review.


Carol. Thanks, Manju. I agree. In retrospect, I think Logen was set up to be a more typical, identifiable barbarian hero, but man, was Glokta ever a complex character. I had to respect it.


Brian Mccue This review stopped be from putting this down. Ok, I'll try again.


Carol. Thanks, Brian. You know, it was a really odd series for me as someone who is violence-adverse. I felt like it had a lot of the familiar fantasy about it (questing, evil wizards) but that it was more gritty and real. Abercrombie gave me just enough to care about characters I might have written off, particularly Glokta.


Alfred Haplo Glokta has the most potential to be a really complex character but his snarky, bitter attitude seems overly exaggerated to the point of being funny. Like... like I can't take his character seriously, even though I really want to given that he's a sympathetic figure. If you've watched old James Bond movies, I would imagine him as Hugo Drax accompanied by the metal-toothed Jaws... You know, eeevvviilllll... but also quite comical.

Overall a pretty fun book, nonetheless.


Carol. Ha! True, he was extremely bitter in his voicings, yet did so little to change his circumstance. I thought him really ... something in the next book. Do you know, I don't think I saw that Bond. I'll gracefully avoid the favorite Bond discussion...


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