In Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself (2006), swords, knives, axes, maces, spears, staves, bows, crossbows, tongs, chisels, lumber, fists, feet, arms,..Show More » legs, teeth, and magical force all are put to bloody use during scenes of cinematic graphic violence ranging in scale from arrests and interrogations to ambushes and skirmishes (full scale battles are sure to come in the second or third novels in Abercrombie's epic fantasy noir First Law trilogy). But good as Abercrombie is with a blade, he really excels at character development, irony, and humor.
The Blade Itself focuses on the troubles of the Union: the king is senile, his callow sons are unfit to lead after him, squabbling factions weaken the government, the over-taxed peasants are restive, the Northmen have invaded from the north, and the Gurkhul Empire is preparing to attack from the south. Into this situation Joe Abercrombie introduces three main point of view characters, each of whom is darkly delightful to follow.
--Logen Ninefingers, the most feared warrior of the North, is a killer who has come to regret his bloodthirsty youthful exploits. Surprisingly for a "barbarian," he is philosophical and open-minded--but look out if his Mr. Hyde berserker alter-ego the Bloody Nine surfaces! Acting on advice from spirits, Logen heads south to meet a mage who's seeking him. What will he make of civilization and it of him?
--Sand dan Glokta sourly remembers his glory days as the champion swordsman and star noble of the Union, which ended during the last war against the Gurkhul Empire when he was captured and tortured for two years. Now thirty-five, he is an ostracized, cynical cripple, limping around in constant pain as an Inquisitor for the Inquisition. Glokta regularly asks himself why he's doing what he does, even as he tortures confessions out of small fry "traitors" like plump merchants. Will he ever uncover the true enemies of the state?
--And Captain Jezal dan Luthar is a vain, snobbish, and lazily ambitious nobleman, expert in winning his fellow officers' money in cards and leading them in drunken debauchery. Does he have the desire required to train seriously enough to win the Union's annual swordsmanship competition? Will he ever fall in love or mature?
Abercrombie writes interesting supporting characters, too, among them Major Callem West, a farmer's son who rose through the ranks by dint of hard work and courage; Ardee West, Callem's intelligent and frustrated sister, who chafes at being limited to a woman's role; the Dogman, the scout for a band of Northern outlaws who believe their chief, Logen, is dead; Ferro, a black-skinned, yellow-eyed, snarling female ex-slave criminal warrior who lives for revenge; and Bayaz, the centuries-old, legendary First of the Magi who thinks that world affairs could use a little wizardly aid again. The Blade Itself is great fun when its characters--each with different cultures, backgrounds, personalities, prejudices, and agendas--spend time together.
With rich irony, Luthar and Glokta see the powerful mage Bayaz as an "old lunatic" or an "old fraud." The caustic thoughts of Luthar and Glokta often hilariously contradict what they say, especially when kowtowing to superiors. Logen has some great lines, too, as when Bayaz explains to him that civilized people enjoy the theater, and he says, "Stories? Some people have too much time on their hands." There are plenty of funny similes, as when Bayaz sends an obnoxious Northern prince packing with "a face as red as a slapped arse." There are plenty of pointedly comical situations, too, as when Bayaz leads his gormless apprentice and Logen into a theatrical supply shop to buy gaudy costumes with which to convincingly play their real roles. Even the action scenes have funny touches, as when Ferro and Logen are being chased over city roof tops by persistent Inquisition "Practicals," and they crash through a roof and land in a bed in a room and Logen thinks, "In bed with a woman again, at last."
Stephen Pacey reads the novel masterfully, turning a four star work into a five star one through his use of different voices and accents for the characters from different cultures and backgrounds. He gives Glokta a gap-toothed lisp, Bayaz a John Geilgud-esque sly grandeur, Logen a Northern England accent, Ferro a feral attitude, and so on, each choice entertainingly enhancing Abercrombie's characterizations.
The Blade Itself does have plenty of typical features of the epic fantasy genre, such as the identity-less, Orc-like Shanka overrunning the far north, the evil Prophet sending evil cannibal mages on evil missions, and the varied group of people preparing to go on a vital and dangerous quest led by an old wizard. But Abercrombie gives the genre a fresh spin with his anti-hero heroes, unpredictable plot developments, irony, and entertaining imagination.
Abercrombie plays hardball. The moment you think you are getting ahead of the plot; as soon as it becomes obvious who is going to survive and wh..Show More »o is not; an instant after you sigh with understanding and a knowing nod of the head, a new window opens, perspective changes, and everything in the room makes a new and different kind of sense. Finally you just quit trying to suss it all out, accept the fact that you are in the hands of a master, and listen--rapt. I have finished the first two books now and have no idea where this is going. I just know that I will be fascinated and satisfied when we arrive.
Steven Pacey is flawless. Exactly the narrator Abercrombie deserves. And all for less than ten dollars a book. This is heaven!!
Two caveats: under no circumstances should you read these books out of order, and if you have problems reading descriptions of brutality or tolerating common, sexually descriptive language, just don't bother starting.
If you like happy endings where the hero gets the girl or the hobbit returns home to sit by the fire then you need to look elsewhere. However, if you ..Show More »have enjoyed the first two books of this trilogy then chances are you aren't looking for those kind of endings anyway. If you are wavering on reading book 3 because of the darkness of the first two then be warned that it only gets worse. It is likely something bad will happen to whatever character you are rooting for.
Abercrombie is ruthless in the way he resolves his story arc and no character gets through unscathed. You will have to take comfort in the fact that you do get a full reveal of what's been going on behind the scenes from the beginning because you will find little comfort in what actually happens. Things go from bad to worse for most of the characters and even those who win big in the end are actually losers. The big reveal didn’t make all the pieces fit together perfectly for me, but I am going with 5 stars anyway because I totally enjoyed the series and I wasn’t left guessing.
When I step back and think about the series and the characters I still wonder why I like it. Each of the main characters has a dark side and does some truly evil things, female characters are treated pretty poorly by the author, and the world itself is pretty bleak and almost without hope. Then I think upon Steven Pacey’s reading and I wonder no longer. I enjoy almost every character in the series and it is simply because of the way Pacey reads them. They feel like old friends that I trust and therefore I am willing to look the other way when they do something I despise. I have listened to a lot of audio books and I would now list Steven Pacey as one of my favorite narrators.
So if you liked the first 2 books, bust out your antidepressants and get ready for more of the same. Although the ending does leave things open-ended enough for a continuation of the series, I am quite satisfied with the way all of the threads came together and don’t feel like I was left hanging. After all, you have to be realistic about these things.