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

I was up until half five yesterday morning reading intensely to finish off this story. I didn’t write the review then as it would have been a tired, mumbled mess with little to no eloquence and it wouldn’t have included any cool sounding words. Let’s see how I get on now after a good night's sleep…

Prior to reading this, I had completed Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy and enjoyed it a lot. Where that was classic story focused fantasy with twists aplenty, this is best described as a macabre, dark and twisted character study of morally questionable individuals. This narrative takes place in a world that seems to be brimming with a blood-splattered past, interesting races and a heightened amount of warmongering aggression between the countries and factions. There is a lot going on in Abercrombie’s world yet, it is a shame that the two versions of this book that I have didn’t include any maps. I did get a little confused trying to compose a mental map of the world and distinguish where the action was taking place.

The greatest accomplishment achieved by Abercrombie here is the characters he has created. The four main individuals are:
Jezal: A vain, selfish nobleman and talented fencer.
Logan: An infamous warrior.
Glokta: A tortured and crippled torturer.
Bayaz: A mage whose motives are mystical.

I will not go into any real details about them, how they intertwine, their opinions shared in monologues regarding the others (if they meet that is) but it is a pleasure to read about these characters that are, on paper at least, completely unlikeable. There are times that these characters surprised me with their thoughts. Glokta’s internal opinions are darkly humorous yet tortuous when relating to his past, and the womaniser and dashing swordsman Jezal actually having some weird emotions for only one lady are two fine examples. The players’ interactions had a Tarantino-like quality.

This book was a slow burner for me. It has many great qualities but whilst reading I occasionally had an internal dilemma about whether I should put it down and pick up something with more action. Two or three amazing set pieces excluded (such as a fencing contest and Logan’s old gang’s antics), it doesn’t really include many all out adrenaline fueling segments. Towards the end, however; reading this was quite intense hence why I was up until stupid o’clock to finish the story. I reflect that this book's main agenda was probably for the reader to get to know the characters because this is done extremely well. At the finale, the seams are brimming with reported conflicts and a bizarre proposed mission that the characters find out are their fates and destinies moving forward. To conclude, I have to admit that Before they are Hanged is set up phenomenally well and I am looking forward to shortly jump back into Abercrombie’s world.
James Tivendale, 8.3/10

The Blade Itself is the first book written by Joe Abercrombie, published in May of 2006 and the first in the First Law trilogy. And if you’re looking for something to stun you out of a reading slump, then this is the book to go for.

When I go about looking for new books to read, whether I’m just window shopping or whether I need a new book, I tend to resort to Amazon. I look up something I know I liked, then look at the similar items and what other people bought bits of the page. That is how I came across Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. The selling point was down in the reviews part of the page;

The Blade Itself ... is reminiscent of two other recent debuts by young authors: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

Now any regular FBR readers will know that I loved both those books, and so it was an easy decision to purchase The Blade Itself.

The reviewer goes on to say that The Blade Itself “ distinctly the least well-written and -imagined of the three,” and once again I think the reviewer has got it right on the nose. Now, let’s be fair here, The Name of the Wind is the epitome of flawless writing, and Scott Lynch isn’t too far behind either. So to be the least well written of these three is like being the bronze medallist in the 100 meter sprint at the Olympics.

Still pretty damn good.

The book splits between five or six viewpoints, and for the majority each gets its own chapter to shine in before jumping off to another. There’s a barbarian, an interrogator, a fop, a manic, a hunter and a soldier. Abercrombie, for the most part, weaves between these viewpoints well, and the only time that the viewpoints start clumping together within a chapter is when the characters similarly clump together in the story.

Easily the most impressive aspect of this book is the changeup in writing style that each character is awarded. Logen Ninefingers, the barbarian and Dogman both have very gritty, earthy and uncultured styles, with contractions and bad verbage all over the place. Jezal Luthar, the fop, is pretentious while Sand dan Glokta, the interrogator, is littered with the thoughts of the character, a technique that Abercrombie uses almost exclusively for this character.

Being able to pull this off as well as he does show Abercrombie’s abilities. And maybe the focus on this aspect of his writing is what pulled the thread out of the storytelling. It is a little unfocused, with several small parts of the book seemingly unhelpful in the grand scheme of the book. I enjoyed them. They play to my desire to get lost in the lives of others. But others will and have criticised the unfocused nature of these diversions.

This book is very much going to live in its trilogy, as there is much that is left unsaid and only hinted at that will need to be picked up books two and three. But now that all three books are out, as well as one standalone book that is set in the universe, and another on the way in March 2011, you’ll have lots ahead if you liked what you found.
Joshua S Hill, 8.5/10

The Blade Itself is the first in a trilogy of books from up and comer Joe Abercrombie. Being new to the fantasy genre I was unsure what to expect, however, I need not have worried as from the first chapter I was intrigued and by the second I was hooked. Abercrombie is a true story teller and allows you to get to know the characters and actually care what happens to them. I think The Blade Itself will have a broad appeal as the fantastical is woven subtly at first, allowing you to be drawn into the beautifully twisting plots that run parallel with the three main characters before switching up a gear as the characters start to come together.

The story begins with Logan Nine Fingers a bloody and ruthless mercenary who has since deserted his post as champion of Bethod, a bloodthirsty warmonger who has now proclaimed himself King of the North. Logan is now content with keeping himself alive, having to fight off not only Bethod's henchmen but the horde of Shanka, a race of cruel and relentless creatures, that are sweeping through the North lands. From there we move to the South and Adua, seat of the Union and home to the rich and favoured, those of noble bloodlines who are born to high ranking careers and ladies of leisure who fan themselves in the ornate gardens of the city. Adua is also home to the Union's Army, which Jezal dan Luthar is it's current brightest star. Vain and shallow, Luthar's focus on gambling and drinking is overshadowed only by the impending fencing tournament and the glory it will bring him if he wins, until of course his friend's sister arrives. Adua is also home to Inquisitor Glokta who himself was once the army's brightest star, however, 2 years of unrelenting torture at the hands of the enemy put paid to this and upon his most uncelebrated return to his home he himself, now a crippled and scarred finds himself in the position of torturer for the Union's own Inquisition. A bitter man and with good reason.

"All things come to an end but some only lie still, forgotten ....There was a cold feeling in Logan's stomach, a feeling he hadn't felt for a long time. 'No' he whispered. 'I'm free of you'. But it was too late. Too late..."
The Blade Itself: The Tools we Have

Now war is looming again and it is this that brings Bayaz, The First of the Magi to Adua to claim his place on the Closed Council and to start a chain of events that, begrudgingly, throws these characters together.

Abercrombie pulls no punches in his description of bloody battles, yet he is never over gratuitous. The humour in the book is at times laugh out loud and there is certainly enough of the unexplained to keep you guessing and wanting more. There is nothing superfluous in this book, no plot that ends in a damp squib, everything is there for a reason. I found myself putting this book down towards the end, not because I became bored but simply because it was so good I didn't want to finish it! Luckily I now have the second book in the trilogy to look forward to reading. I would recommend this book to diehard fantasy readers and those reading fantasy for the first time alike as it is simply a damn fine read.
Amanda White, 8.7/10

Critical acclaim for Joe Abercrombie and The Blade Itself

An admirably hard, fast and unpretentious read - SFX

An incredibly accomplished first book - Emerald City

Great characters, sparky dialogue, and action packed plot. From the opening scene that is literally a cliffhanger you know you are in for a cheeky, vivid, exhilarating ride - Starburst

9/10 Simply a damn fine read.

Reviews by and Joshua S Hill and Amanda White

15 positive reader review(s) for The Blade Itself

40 positive reader review(s) in total for the The First Law series

Joe Abercrombie biography

Joe Abercrombie interview

The Blade Itself reader reviews

from England

This was a game changer for me in fantasy and sparked the love of the genre again. The main characters were brilliant and different to the usual typecast heroes and villains'. I've since read all of Abercrombie's work and am a big fan of his work.
10/10 ()

from England

l think the blade itself is a wonderful read
10/10 ()

from UK

It is now 12.30pm and I have to be up in 5 hours but can't sleep because of this book! Loving every minute of it, very funny and the characters are great if you don't need superhero to make you happy, well worth calling in sick for.
10/10 ()

from France

Not bad at all for a first book, but lacking in depth and texture - I understand that this universe is not meant to be especially original, but I found it a bit dull, and deprived of those details that really put you into the fiction. See what I mean? Interesting characters though - I'll read the 2nd book to see what happens to them.
6/10 ()

from Gloucester

Basically, what everyone who is trying to pretend to be a proper reviewer is saying is that: This book is good, but has its flaws, like any book
10/10 ()

from Seattle, WA

I see a lot of people rating this book as a stand-alone novel. Seems a little unfair... this is only 1/3 of the story! The biggest complaint is the lack of plot... which totally kicks into full gear in Book 2. I read 'The Heroes' before I started this series, so I had a good idea of how exceptional this series was going be. I am half way through book 3 and I have to say for certain, that Abercrombie is my current favorite.
10/10 ()

from United States of America

What surprised me most that it's a fantasy book. Why? Because I have never seen such funny dialog, such well developed characters and such a superb plot in a fantasy. Those elements always seem to be saved for other genres, but with Joe Abercrombie, he pulls fantasy away from dreadful, thin as cardboard characters and cliche plot, to a masterpiece.
10/10 ()

from London

About two chapters into the book, I knew it was going to be unlike anything I had ever read before. I knew the characters, their thoughts and moods were expressed better and more naturally than anything I have seen. They are truly interesting people, and you want to know more about them. After three chapters, I was completely captivated. You don't get better characters, you don't get a better story. I've never laughed so hard reading a fantasy book. It was brilliant, and is, now, my favourite book at the moment. I've read it twice and will read it again for sure. There is no confusion with the lore, and it is actually INTERESTING for a change. In a large majority of fantasy books, one skims over most of the lore thinking: "hmm, evil wizards, stones, three goddesses. Yup. Got it." but the Juvens/Magi/Bayaz history came to life completely. Wasn't bored for a second, and was more entertained by most parts than all of the books I've read put together. Logan is a realistic (if you get the joke) badass. Usually I end up disliking the simple, unintelligent brute warrior, but he's awesome. Glokta's speeches become hilarious. Hell, they're hilarious from the beginning. It's nearly impossible to get readers to like such an "evil" character, but I grinned my way through all his torture scenes. Truly, and awesome, memorable, fantastic read.
10/10 ()

from Engalnd

Very well written, unfortunately the characters seemed a little bit contrived, the book does seem realistic in parts and try's hard to be gritty but I think the author is too inexperienced to pull it off sucessfully. The fight scenes are bloody but again come from someone who obviously lacks any real comprehension of fighting and men of war. The technical details of the fights are underwhelming and naive. The characters themselves are cliched and I found it hard to relate to them. Artificial sums them up well. It's hard to write about hardship and fighting when you have little experience and this shows itself throughout the book. Still I gave this book a 6 out of ten because it's still an incredible achievement. David Gemmell fans look elsewhere.
6/10 ()

from TN

I loved this book. Don't listen to anyone who tells you it isn't as good as The Name of the Wind -- I liked this book much better, actually. I'm a big fan of character development, and this book provides more than the vast majority of books out there. And they're interesting characters that you want to know even more about. Two things I've seen people complain about: 1. There is some repetitive prose, but that's *intentional* -- compare it to repeated themes within a symphony; and 2. The plot isn't in a big hurry to get anywhere in particular -- so if you insist on frenetic pacing, don't bother with this book. But if you like well-realized worlds and great characters, give it a try!
9/10 ()

from Wales

I have trudged through so much tripe in the fantasy genre that I was a bit underwhelmed when a friend bought this for my birthday; that's until I started reading it. This series is one of the best I've read. I couldn't recommend it more.
10/10 ()

from Ohio

The best thing I have read since George R.R. Martin. Dark, gritty, and bloody just the way I like it.
10/10 ()

from London

The best new fantasy series of the past 10 years. Having been a fantasy series fan since 1980, I've read most of the major fantasy series and I'm always on the lookout for new books to read. This stands head and shoulders above all the rest I've read in recent years. Witty dialogue, original storyline and with character development at a level I've never seen in any other series - Joe Abercrombie has a real gift for this genre. One that doesn't disappoint on any level. Buy it, read it and love it.
10/10 ()

from Northampton

This is a great book, Before They Are Hanged is even better! If you haven't read them, go out and get them today!
9/10 ()

from London

Joe Abercrombie is the best author around at the moment. I've read The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged and am waiting patiently (not easy!!!) for the release of Last Argument of Kings. If this kind of writing is the future for the fantasy genre then the future is very bright indeed!
10/10 ()

9.3/10 from 16 reviews

All Joe Abercrombie Reviews