The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

(2007-10-02)

Published by Pyr
ISBN 978-1-59102-594-8
September 2007
432 Pages

http://www.joeabercrombie.com/

 

Check out Hobbit's review here (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/293.html).

 

Joe Abercrombie is an extremely frustrating writer. He pulls you into this somewhat familiar world, with characters you might recognize only to subtly reveal the surface is simply a deception.  Not only that, he sucks you into the world of The Blade Itself and places your fingers on the edge of the page waiting to turn the next page, only to stop telling the story just as another journey begins. That is, the book is entertaining and a great page-turner.

 

The Blade Itself is British writer (and music/film editor) Abercrombie’s debut novel, which also is the first book in The First Law trilogy.  His film background comes through in the novel as the imagery and scenes come across somewhat larger-than-life and in a wide-screen fashion. The novel bears some comparison to Greg Keyes Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone and Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire for the multiple points-of-view and aforementioned wide screen action.  One of these points-of-view is Logen Ninefingers, The Bloody Nine, a barbarian that may seem a bit Conan-esque, who has seen many fights and battles and has the scars to prove it.  Logen is encouraged to meet with the First Magi (essentially the most powerful wizard in the world) Bayaz. Encouraged is a strong word, Logen doesn’t exhibit much emotion as he simply meanders from moment to moment.  With his family dead and his former liege on the opposite side of his life, Logan has very little motivation. His past is nigh-mythical, with his name The Bloody Nine uttered as an omen of doom.

 

On the other side of the world, Abercrombie focuses two denizens of the city of Adua: Jezal, a foppish swordsman, and Glokta, the high inquisitor, himself a former swordsman.  Jezal falls into the typical role of a pampered, privileged youth with no aspirations.  He feels pushed into King’s army and pushed into swordplay by his father, despite showing some potential with the blade. Here we see a similarity between Logen and Jezal: neither is truly motivated.  Conversely, Logen is a main with a “decorated” past while Jezal is a man who shows much future potential.

 

Bayaz, aside from his incredible age, has little in common with the typical fantasy wizard. Sure he may speak in riddles, but there is no long white, flowing beard nor is there a long mane of white hair.  If anything, Bayaz from all Abercrombie relates about his physical appearance and manners, more closely resembles actor Dennis Franz.  Bayaz is a cranky old wizard who provides some of the more sparkling scenes in the novel.  Smartly, Abercrombie doesn’t have Bayaz flaunt his power, the magic, like the character, comes across subtly and casually. 

 

The other character who shines is the Royal Inquisitor, Glokta.  He is a broken, miserable man but Abercrombie still manages to make him an endearing character, one whose scenes were some of the most interesting.  This could be because of the inner dialogue Glokta continued with himself after finishing verbal dialogue with the other characters.

 

I thought the novel started a bit slow, I was thinking all the hype surrounding the book upon its UK release last year was going to leave me disappointed.  It has happened with other books in the past for me. Thankfully, Abercrombie’s story, and more convincingly, his characters pulled me into the story unheeded.

 

One thing I like a lot about Abercrombie’s writing was something I enjoyed about Scott Lynch’s writing – attitude.  There is a snarkiness about the characters and the whole feel of the book, almost an arrogance bordering on endearing. Also like Lynch, since he is the most recent writer to craft such a world but not the only, Abercrombie subtly crafts an intriguing world for these characters.  The world in which they live has only been in its “current” state for a short amount of time, ancient wizards (one might say gods) forged a war that transformed a once different world into what it is now.  Smartly, Abercrombie does not dump pages of this information into the novel.  Rather, it comes across in bits here from conversations involving Bayaz, pieces there as other characters discuss the mythical/historical past.  In short, the characters and world work organically with each other as both pieces of the story serve the greater whole of the story itself.

 

In my past reviews of many books, Pyr’s in particular, I’ve commented on how nicely the book is designed.  The same can be said with The Blade Itself; however, when carrying the book around to and from places, the thinner paper used on this particular cover doesn’t quite hold up.  That cover nitpick aside, Pyr keeps producing great first novels, and offering great novels only previously available overseas

 

I’ll end this review how I began it.  Abercrombie is a damned frustrating writer.  He writes so well and his story is so infectious it is difficult to stop reading and even thinking about the layers of his story and world. 

 

© 2007 Rob H. Bedford

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