Review: The Blade Itself (The First Law #1) by Joe Abercrombie

Rating: 10/10

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 Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, 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.

Review

“Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

A book that speaks for itself, in many nuanced, intriguing voices. The first thing I loved about this book was the stunning voice that gripped me right from the first page, then again when we met Glokta, again with Jezal and so on. I’d heard Abercrombie was good, but I didn’t quite get it until my hands were sore from holding the book long into the night, and I was already chalking it up on my top ten books list. Each character is carefully carved out of the words they use, each distinguished from the other by a tick, a certain way of speaking that only masters of their craft are able to weave onto the plain page. I-damned-well-enjoyed-this-book. Glokta’s internalising might just have been my favourite part, but there’s a lot of character to sink your teeth into here.

The premise, for those equally as late to this party as me, is that the Union, and its capital Agua have many enemies. The Northmen … in the north, and the Ghurkal across the sea, as well as perhaps the Flatheads. All, of which, have designs on the Union; first in a warning from the King of the Northmen’s champion, Fenris, who wards of oncoming war if they do not relent Angland into Northmen hands. Meanwhile, Logen, a barbarian out of luck, seeks out a Magus, the First of the Magi, Bayaz … who wants Logen for an unknown reason. And whose journey will take him to Agua, to Agriont, the seat of the Union, and into the path of many, many enemies.

“I’ve fought ten single combats and I won them all, but I fought on the wrong side and for all the wrong reasons. I’ve been ruthless, and brutal, and a coward. I’ve stabbed men in the back, burned them, drowned them, crushed them with rocks, killed them asleep, unarmed, or running away.”

The handling of characters is epic in the sense that each one offers something abstract from the others at first, but then you watch them all come together into a coherent story that is so complex, so ambitious, that you don’t think Abercrombie will pull it off, but he does. And when it does, the payoff is … incredible, or devastating, depending on which way your world view sits. There’s political intrigue and magic to boot … and Logen can speak to spirits. There’s war on as many sides, coming from as many fronts as possible – this book is a whole load of awesome packaged in the most grim, downright human writing possible. Coupled with stiff crotches, and a lot of pissing and shitting, this book is truly worthy of being called grimdark.

All said and done, I’d say go and read this book right now if you haven’t before. Go and read it again if you have. And I’ll most certainly be starting the second book very soon (read: immediately).

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