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Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself

September 21, 2009

109. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (2006)
The First Law, Book 1

Length: 531 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 23 August 2009
Finished: 05 September 2009

Where did it come from? Barnes & Noble, with a holiday giftcard.
Why do I have it? I’d heard a lot about this great new fantasy author, and I’m always looking for good new epic fantasy.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 19 January 2009
Verdict? Eh. I’ll probably be passing along this one, along with its sequels, to someone who might have better luck with them.

Epic fantasy
that’s filled with blood, mud, and dirt
but not so much plot.

Summary: Logen Ninefingers is a war-battered barbarian whose only real goal is to stay alive. Jezal dan Luther, however, is a young nobleman and officer in the army, whose days consist of drinking, gambling, and training for the all-important fencing contest. Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta was once like Jezal, but war and torture have left him crippled, broken, and bitter, and his occupation as torturer for the Union’s Inquisition leaves little room for the niceties of court life. These three men may seem very different, but their lives are about to be thrown together. For their kingdom is on the brink of war, a war which has attracted the attention of Bayaz, a cheerfully brash but powerful old man who may or may not be the First of the Magi.

Review: I’d heard from a number of sources, both on the internet and in real life, that this series was great, a fantastic new voice in high fantasy in the same vein as Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss, and that I was absolutely going to love it. I was so sure I was going to love it that I actually bought all three books in the series right off the bat. And, unfortunately, and disappointingly…. not so much.

The story is certainly ambitious in its scope, with multiple well-drawn POV narrators, and the world that Abercrombie creates certainly does have potential. My problem was that, for the life of me, I just could not get into the story. As good as the characterization might have been, I never really cared about the characters, and so never got particularly invested in what happened to them. I’d pick this book up, meaning to read for half an hour before bed, and get three paragraphs in and decide I’d rather be sleeping. The story never really grabbed me until about a hundred pages from the end, and I’m sorry, but 440 pages in is not where you want your best hook.

A large part of the reason why this book was such a struggle for me was almost certainly the writing style. Abercrombie spends a lot of time focusing on elements that didn’t seem that important to the overall plot, while skimming past descriptions and information that would have been useful to have. (Like, for instance, for a book about wars and territories and politics, it really needed but was sorely lacking a map.) Combine that with a seeming inability to properly use commas (seriously, what happened to his editor? I’m not talking about stylistic usage, either, but necessary grammatical commas.), and you’ve got a writing style that is clearly aiming for “gritty” but ends up landing on “unpolished”.

The Blade Itself is the first part of The First Law trilogy, which was originally supposed to be published as one novel (but at 1500+ pages, it’s clear to see why it was divided). The result is that this book reads like an extended introduction to the characters and to the world, which may have accounted for how slow I found it in parts. And, while the pace may pick up and the storylines may get more interesting in later books, this one didn’t pique my interest enough to make me want to go find out. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: There are plenty of people out there who really love this series, and if you like darker high fantasy that isn’t all glowy elves and sparkly magic, you might be one of them. However, it just wasn’t to my taste, despite how badly I wanted to like it.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, BookCynic, A Dribble of Ink, Fantasy Book Critic, Grasping for the Wind, Medieval Bookworm, Neth Space, OF Blog of the Fallen, Rat’s Reading, The Wertzone
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Logen plunged through the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head.

Cover Thoughts: Tattered, dirty, and blood-spattered does pretty effectively capture the tone of the book, so I’ll give it that.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2009 8:35 am

    Oh, I don’t like a poorly edited book at all. Too bad this one disappointed you.

    • September 21, 2009 9:09 am

      bermudaonion – Occasional grammatical slips or a few bloated passages don’t really bother me, but both, constantly, make it hard going.

  2. September 21, 2009 8:37 am

    I saw this post and thought, Oh, goody, I am totally in the mood for a swordy epic fantasy book, and Nicki always reads good ones – alas, it’s not my day for it. :P

    • September 21, 2009 9:14 am

      Jenny – Well, it still might be your day. Plenty of people rave about this series, plus I can’t really put my finger on why it didn’t work for me other than “I couldn’t get into it”, which is such a subjective thing.

      I also really recommend Lies of Locke Lamora, if you’re in the mood for swordy epic fantasy and haven’t already read it (which I don’t think you have?).

  3. John permalink
    September 21, 2009 8:54 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the lack-of-editor comment. He really needed one and a good one would have pared this trilogy down to at least a duology if not a single book. Also, as my 12th grade AP English teacher would say, “SHOW me, don’t TELL me.”

    • September 21, 2009 9:16 am

      John – Well, and apart from the content editing, there were also usage editing errors that drove me up the wall. “You don’t understand Jack.” and “You don’t understand, Jack.” are two completely different, non-interchangeable sentences… and yet…

  4. September 21, 2009 8:39 pm

    That’s disappointing. A coworker recommended this one to me, and I was planning on reading it once I’d met my TBR goals for the year. Now I’m thinking it’ll be a lower priority goal.

    • September 25, 2009 9:05 am

      Memory – I think you should still give it a shot — tons of people (even those with whom I normally agree) really love it, but it just wasn’t working for me… but it might for you.

  5. September 21, 2009 10:55 pm

    I’ve been wondering about this one…really couldn’t tell if I’d like it. Now I think probably not.

    • September 25, 2009 9:07 am

      Elizabeth – It might be worth reading the first chapter or two in a library or bookstore to see how well you get along with Abercrombie’s style.

  6. September 22, 2009 7:24 am

    Apparently I am able to just skim over errors! That or his British editor is better than his American one. I still plan on continuing the trilogy but I’m not going to pay for it. I hope it improves though.

    • September 25, 2009 9:11 am

      Meghan – I can skim over a lot of errors, but for some reason, this time they just stuck in my craw. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you think about the next books… I took them off my TBR pile but haven’t gotten rid of them yet, pending the opinion of someone who is a little more ambivalent and a little less “OMGBESTBOOKEVER!!1!” :)

  7. yanguss permalink
    September 24, 2009 4:27 am

    It seems that we have read different books :) Perhaps because I knew from the beginning that the Blade Itself was not meant to be the next big epic fantasy (as a matter of the fact it is very much a mockery of the multi-volume monsters flooding the market and some of the cliches in the fantasy genre) but just a good and kinda realistic story.
    At least for me it was refreshing not to have the usual strictly good and bad characters.

    Anyway I think you should at least try the next two volumes since they get better and there are enough plot twists some of which might even surprise you :)

    P.S. Kinda weird that stuff about the commas… Definitely different books… ;)

    • September 25, 2009 9:15 am

      yanguss – I don’t think I was expecting it to be the next Wheel of Time or anything, but I’d seen it compared to Sanderson and Lynch by multiple people, and I just don’t think it lives up to that standard – certainly I didn’t find it nearly as compelling.

      But, different strokes, and all that. Or maybe as you say, different books. :)

  8. September 25, 2009 10:46 pm

    I’m sorry to hear this didn’t work for you. I own it, but still have not accomplished reading it! One day I will!

    • September 28, 2009 1:12 pm

      Kailana – No worries, I had it a long time before I read it too. :)


  1. September Wrap-Up: Books and Reviews « Fyrefly's Book Blog

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