Monday, 4 August 2014

Review: 'The Blade Itself' by Joe Abercrombie

Logen 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 Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, 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.

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.

Recently finishing Half a King has given me a craving for re-visiting the other works of one of my favourite fantasy authors of all time. 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 ‘Catlyn’ 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.


Click here to view The Blade Itself on Amazon UK


  1. My favorite series, bar none. The only thing about bloggin that is a drag is I have to limit my rereads lest things get stale. Else I would have read this trilogy twice the last few years.

    1. I know what you mean. Thankfully I only started blogging last year so I still have most of my re-reads ahead of me. Embarking on my Malazan re-read right now, actually. :D