Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Thisabercrombie-01-the-blade-itself is the first book in a trilogy called The First Lawand I should stress that it is not in itself a complete story. In fact, in many ways it reads more like a  prologue. A coming together of the cast and setting the stage before the story itself gets going.

That’s being a little harsh perhaps, but I didn’t find it a satisfying experience to read just this book so it’s worth noting. Be prepared to invest in all three books. And it is probably worth your time reading all three because this one has a lot to recommend it.

Now right before reading The Blade Itself I had just finished a re-read of The Lord Of The Rings (my first in a while) and so I couldn’t help comparing the two books while I was reading this one. And it’s quite a contrast.

While The Lord Of The Rings deals in heroic figures who are larger than life and better than the average man, The Blade Itself is populated with mean, petty, broken people. Aragorn and Frodo are the sort of people we might aspire to be, while the characters here are the sort we would look down on and judge wanting.

And yet, throughout the book and despite the horrible things that some of the characters do, there is a thread of hope of redemption running through Joe Abercrombie’s story. The suggestion that regardless of what they have done they can do something good. A detail that I think actually rings true in Tolkien’s work as well.

While unquestionably modern fantasy with all itsgrimdark trappings there are moments here where wondrous buildings are described and events are narrated where it sounds like just the sort of thing we might see in Middle-Earth. So we have an interesting melding of the classic high fantasy with the new gritty realism.

And the characters are very interesting and quite complex. You may well not like them very much and in some cases you may find that characters you thought were likeable turn out to be very flawed indeed. But for all that I found myself captivated by their lives and wondering how things were going to turn out for them.

Which is of course why it was so damn annoying that the book just ends. It’s not even a cliffhanger, it just ends.

There are clearly bigger elements being set up here. Corruption in the “Union”, Shanka (humanoid, apelike, goblin creatures) massing on the borders of the north; The Empire restive in the south and Eaters (people who have eaten men’s flesh) causing havoc for their own reasons.

None of this is resolved or even really clarified for us. It’s a big, epic, story and clearly you have to read the whole thing for it to make sense. But it’s a story I very much want to read all of now.

Amazon.comThe Blade Itself

About Eoghann Irving

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