Saturday, January 23, 2021

Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Blade Itself (The First Law #1)
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publication Date: May 4, 2006
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 503
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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 Glokta 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.

Adult fantasy has been a genre I've enjoyed since high school, but I rarely read it since getting into YA. I've been experimenting with Grimdark for the past year or so and a friend has been on my case to read Joe Abercrombie with her, so we finally picked up The Blade Itself when I got it for Christmas. 

While I was very excited to get into this universe, I have to say it didn't quite live up to my expectations. This story follows four main characters: Logen Ninefingers, Jezal, and Glokta. They start their stories separately going about their normal day to day lives. Logen is traveling through the North to meet up with Bayaz, Jezal is training for a fencing tournament, and Glokta is doing his inquisitor thing. And that's that. For the vast majority of the book. 

Of the characters, Jezal was the one I cared least about. His chapters are all about training, women, and what a shitty person he is in general. Logen was a bit more interesting, but I got bored of his chapters fairly quickly. The most interesting of the main characters was Glokta by far. His backstory was fascinating and I enjoyed his inner monologue a lot of the time. There are also several side characters who are important to the story, and some others who even get their own POV chapters. There are a LOT of people to keep up with. 

There isn't much to say about the plot because there really isn't one. Nothing happens to move the story forward until nearly the very end, which is when it finally begins to pick up. It feels like the Lord of the Rings except it's the story of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli before they even get to Rivendell. The book ends just as they're setting off on their quest, which we know nothing at all about. 

I finished this book with more questions than I had going in. I don't know what any of the character's motives are or what their mission is. I don't know what Bayaz's goal is or where they're all going. This could have been condensed into a 100 page prequel a la Robert Jordan, but instead it's dragged out to 500 pages. 

Like I said, I enjoyed some of the characters and the ending made me want to see what would happen next. People assure me that I'll love the second and third books because they really take off, but after such a long book of backstory it's going to be awhile before I give this another go.