Book Review: The Blade Itself (The First Law Book 1) by Joe Abercrombie (published by Gollancz)
Completely torn by this book. I have read so many glowing reviews of it and had some very high hopes for it. I really wanted to love it. It’s lauded as one of the best grimdark fantasy series of recent times and I was looking forward to a gritty, dark and twisted tale with some morally ambiguous characters to love/hate. I’ve read Half a King, the first book of Abercrombie’s YA fantasy series The Shattered Sea, which I enjoyed, and I was hoping this book was going to be darker and grittier.
Instead, the first half of this book was tedious. Bloated with too many scenes of political wrangling. Seriously dull, with predictable characters, dialogue, situations and plot. I only continued reading because I was enjoying the character and storyline of Logen, and the writing is brilliant. I almost gave up around half way, but I persevered, and I’m pleased I did. Because the second half of the book got a lot better. Still not great, but better.
The story is told from the point of view of a few characters. The main ones being: Logen Ninefingers, who is a Northern outlaw with a shady past and some questionable bandit friends, but who has a special ability that makes him sought-after by a wizard. Inquisitor Glokta, who after a glorious reputation in his youth as a soldier, returns from war a cripple with no friends anymore and a massive chip on his shoulder, to perform torture for a branch of the Government of Adua that sniffs out treason and then snuffs it out. Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a spoilt brat who is good at fencing and card games, and not a lot else. Oh, and he’s good a whingeing, he does a lot of that. Yawn.
There are a few chapters from the Dogman, one of Logen’s bandit friends; from Major West, Luthar’s friend and a likable character until he does something a bit nasty to his sister, and also from Ferro, a ferocious escaped slave who also has some ability that the wizard, Bayaz, is after and who is the only female we hear from.
The lack of female characters was annoying, especially as the only other females we hear about are lusted over by the men, even Ardee (Major West’s sister) is ultimately just Jezal’s love interest even though she has a bit more ‘wit’ than the other trophy women in town.
The plot is slow going until the last few chapters when we finally learn why Bayaz is back in town and then Ferro arrives and things go off! Yay, some action!
Where was the gritty, dark, twisted and evil? Perhaps I’ve read too much / watched too much gore that I’m now immune to it. But most of Jezal’s storyline was about him fawning over a woman. And the bitter and angry cripple Glokta went positively weak at his one good knee when an old friend was nice to him again. The only shock for me was when Major West loses his temper quite spectacularly, as that was pretty evil.
My biggest issue with this book is it felt like I’d read it all before. Perhaps if I’d read it back in 2006 when it first came out it would’ve felt fresh and new. But, stop me if you’ve heard this before: a wizard comes back from obscurity to save the world and to do so puts together an unlikely band of men (and one token woman) to go on an important journey. Hmm.
I’m guessing that journey will form most of the second instalment in this series, but I won’t be reading it. Past the mid-point of this novel I enjoyed The Blade Itself enough to continue to the end – and it was a great end! – but put simply, I don’t want to spend any more time with these characters or with this world.
My rating: 2/5
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