The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
MICHAEL EVEREST SAYS . . .
A barbarian, a torturer and a nobleman walk into a bar…sounds like the start to a bad joke? Wrong. It’s the start of a bloody good story. In ‘The Blade Itself’, the veritable menagerie of characters are led into the depths of plot twists and turns, played like puppets at their own game. Other members of the cast are just as colourful, particularly the ‘Named Men’ from the North.
First off, everyone seems to be in over their heads. Logen Ninefingers is somehow roped into accompanying a returned-from-the-ancient-past Arch Magi to the capital of civilisation. Inquisitor Glokta is chasing at shadows, marking smugglers and scriveners as traitors and conspirators. And Jezal Dan Luthar, who wants nothing more than to get drunk and wile away the nights in a buxom bosom, has somehow ended up training for the grand tournament. The plot itself is twisted terrific fun, but its characters’ interactions that make the story.
Abercrombie writes with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. His prose is refreshing, different, conversational even. At times it’s like being sat across the fireside from the writer, at others it’s as if you’re behind the eyes of each character. He dips into the darker side of humanity – or inhumanity in some cases – not afraid to pull the punches on just how low some people are willing to sink to. And the fight scenes…! Bloodied and bloody, if the printers ran out of ink, they could squeeze the pages and use the red stuff instead.
Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he’s a dab hand with a pen as well as a the many knives – and you can never have too many knives.
J. P. ASHMAN SAYS . . .
I listened to this on Audible. The narration is superb.
I’m an Abercrombie fan, that’s for sure, but I’ve read and listened to his work in a strange order. So far, this is my least favourite book – however, that’s not to say it isn’t brilliant, just that I much prefer the others I’ve read and listened to so far. All of which have set a high standard. There were portions of the story up until two thirds the way through that I zoned out on.
None of which involved the Northerners. They are my favourites.
The last third was brilliant to be sure and promised more of the same with an intriguing ending. The action was superb and the characters more so. Say one thing for Joe’s characters, say they are real!
LAURA M. HUGHES SAYS . . .
Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy was my first real introduction into the world of modern fantasy; when I first read The Blade Itself several years ago the only other fantasy authors I’d read much of were Tolkien and Feist, both of whom write far more ‘traditional’ fantasy, and I revelled in Abercrombie’s refreshing writing style during this re-read as much as I did when experiencing it for the first time.
The language is forthright and sparing, the tone is dark and dry, the action is bloody and grim, and the humour is often laugh-out-loud hilarious. There are so many brilliant lines and moments of bathos (the First of the Magi storming out from the bathroom springs to mind), enough that you can’t help but admire not only Abercrombie’s ability to write but also his imagination’s seemingly endless supply of amusing situations and dry witticisms.
The Blade Itself introduces two of the best fictional characters ever created: Logen Ninefingers and Sand dan Glokta. Both are very cynical, both are very realistic, and both are very, very different. Glokta is a cripple and member of the Inquisition, a former soldier who was tortured for years in an enemy prison camp and now does the same to others for a living; while Logen is the leader of a group of grizzled Northmen, a band of barbarians cast out from their tribes and wandering the lands beyond the mountains. The other characters – Ferro, Dogman, Jezal – are also very entertaining to read, and all have their own unique voice that comes across brilliantly on the page. Abercrombie really captures the essence of his characters: Jezal’s self-centredness, Logen’s practicality, Glokta’s sneering cynicism – and despite the switching POV’s I never once experienced the ‘internal sigh’ such as when beginning a paragraph about a ‘meh’ character (a bit like a ‘Bran’ or ‘Catelyn’ chapter in ASoIaF).
For all that, though, I have to say that not an awful lot really happens in the book – it pretty much functions as an introduction to the characters and a set-up for the next book. However, it’s easy to overlook this most of the time as the character-focused narrative keeps it ticking along nicely, and some of the internal monologues – particularly those of Logen and Glokta – are so entertaining that you can forgive the story for being a little slow in places. You also have to remind yourself that it’s the author’s debut novel, and any minor flaws are guaranteed to be ironed out in future works; as Logen would say, you have to be realistic about these things, after all.