This is one of those books that’s hard to talk about because I’m 15 years late to the party and it’s been beaten to death by every BookTuber on the internet. That said though, better late than never because The Blade Itself is an absolute delight to read and I feel like I’m filling in my fantasy knowledge gaps.
I didn’t read at all between 2007 and 2016 because of college then life circumstances, so I have had to do a lot of catching up on books that were published in those years and this has unfortunately been one of the ones that got lost to time.
Let’s show the book facts then I’ll share a few thoughts, mostly about my reading experience
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: The Blade Itself
- Series: The First Law, #1
- Author: Joe Abercrombie
- Publisher & Release: Gollancz/ Pyr, 2006
- Length: 560 pages (Orbit PB reprint)
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ for fantasy fans who like big casts and dark humor
Here’s the synopsis:
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.
Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.
The first thing is that I was not expecting the book to be funny, but I laughed out loud at least three times and had frequent chuckles. Great bloody fun. I noticed Lev Grossman and Lee Child both wrote cover blurbs for various versions of the book, so it struck me that they’re marketing this to a vast, vast range of readers. Grossman’s full comments in the back definitely influenced me to pick it up, I mean even Jeff VanderMeer plugged it.
So let’s see. The book was pretty slow in the first half, and essentially overall it was more focused on building the characters, the world, the political machinations and conspiracies, the basis for wartime conflicts, and setting up alliances. That said, it wasn’t boring at all. Not one second. Abercrombie has this digestible and engaging writing style that sucked me into whatever was going on.
Some things have to be done. It’s better to do them, than to live with the fear of them
He used asides from the characters minds to invite the reader into whatever insight is happening, and often times it’s sarcastic and hilarious. I liked the crippled torturer (by God he’s my age 😭) as much as any other character, and found the dashing hero prototype character to be totally insufferable. I heard this series tends to flip tropes on their heads and make you root for people you usually wouldn’t – totally, 100% accurate.
And of course at the pinnacle of tension, it’s paired with a flapping set of cranky old wizard balls as he has to interrupt his bath to rescue everyone… Just .. it’s perfect. Lots of “grimdark” published recently seems to rely on shock and authors trying to be terrible, where Abercrombie just lets story roll. It needs no gimmicks. The dark humor comes as the flip side.
He tossed the helmet back onto its stand, then stood there staring at the armour, lost in thought. “Once you’ve got it on, how do you piss?”
I got used to magic being over explained in a lot of modern fantasy books. I kind of prefer it like it is here, mysterious and potentially big and hugely disastrous. Just knowing the magic is there is enough and it keeps it more interesting not to know. Actually, the things that are hinted at but not explained are the things making me want to start the second book ASAP!
What Abercrombie does explain well is custom, history, politics, and action. It’s exceptionally easy to picture fights, chases, marches, the weather, and how everything happening plays into everything else.
There are a LOT of characters at first and it’s hard to keep the names apart, but give it time. It’s cool in these types of books to see how the storylines converge.
You carry on. That’s what he’d always done. That’s the task that comes with surviving, whether you deserve to live or not. You remember the dead as best you can. You say some words for them. Then you carry on, and you hope for better.
My only real gripe came with rare consistency errors, like the number of opponents would change from one paragraph to the next or one character who had just stated a culture didn’t have gods started screaming “fuck your gods!” at their soldiers. Minor but off-putting things that didn’t quite read well, but really didn’t affect anything and were quickly forgotten.
This is getting long, so let me wrap it up. If you like grimdark, action, world building, dark humor, cranky wizards, amazing casts of characters that shatter tropes, and the ‘shit happens’ atmosphere that runs rampant in the best military fiction, this might be a book for you. Big scope, big magic, big mystery. Don’t be shy if you haven’t read it yet, I’m right there with you 😅