Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself 
Joe Abercrombie
The First Law, Book 1

From GoodreadsLogen 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 Glotka 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.

It took me some time to really get into this book, probably because I've been reading mostly the lighter urban fantasy lately.  However, once I did it turned out to be a pretty good story.  The characters are incredibly varied, and while I'm not sure I could say I liked any of them, they were very interesting to read.  

This first book of the trilogy was more providing background than anything else.  All the main characters had to be brought together so that they could leave together, plus Abercrombie had to introduce the world and its politics.  The Blade Itself is a slightly more difficult read because of this; explanations weren't always explicit for the various countries and people described, though by about the middle of the book I had a lot of it figured out.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  As I've said before, I'd rather figure things out myself than have the author insert an awkward conversation explaining things the characters obviously already know.  I'm still a little unclear on some of the mythology, but I certainly understood enough to follow the story.

Back to my original point.  Because of the whole bringing-the-characters together thing, the book started off slowly, but it improved a great deal once the background was established.  Action-packed and harrowing, this book does an excellent job of mixing fighting with political intrigue, decadence with hardship.  The Blade Itself is far less romantic than a lot of older fantasy series (though not quite as gritty as A Song of Ice and Fire).  Overall, a decent start to what I hope will be an excellent series.

Plot: 3 cupcakes
Characters: 4 cupcakes
Style: 3 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

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