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Posts Tagged ‘The Blade Itself’

I read the first book in The First Law trilogy, The Blade Itself, last year and thought it was decent but unoriginal and unspectacular – just about good enough to want to read more of the story. Which I’ve now done – and my opinions of it haven’t changed much; in fact, they’ve worsened.

The action continues on from the first book and is centred on three arenas: a cold northern land called Angland where a Union army battles a well organised horde of barbarians; a hot, dry southern land where crippled inquisitor Glokta must organise a hopeless defense of a Union colony; and a barren wilderness where a small band of viewpoint characters follow an old wizard to the edge of the world to find a magical rock.

Story-wise, structure-wise, I would use exactly the same word to describe this volume as the one I used to describe its predecessor: journeyman-like. Character-wise, it’s as basic as the earlier volume, except that this time there is much more character development. Even this evolution, though, is not much more than obvious and simplistic: snooty Jezal dan Luthar gets his face smashed in and learns humility; fierce, anti-social Ferro is shown a bit of kindness by Logen Ninefingers so she has sex with him.

Writing-wise, the book was pretty disappointing. Abercrombie never stops at one descriptive sentence or clause when several will do. Every chapter has a strictly adhered-to surfeit of long, dull paragraphs detailing what’s happening in the environment.

Many passages show a distinct lack of attention to detail. Here are three I noted:

Ferro knelt beside one of the pitted stones, her bow in one hand, an arrow nocked and ready. The wind made patterns in the tall grass on the plain below, whipped at the shorter grass on the slope of the hill, plucked at the flights of the seven arrows stuck into the earth in front of her in a row. Seven arrows was all she had left.

That’s right: one plus seven equals seven.

It was suddenly too late for heroics, and he knew it. It had been too late for a long time.

These sentences directly contradict each other.

Then he saw the grey face, if you could call it a face; a chunk of hairless brow, a lumpen jaw bursting with outsize teeth, a flat snout like a pig’s, tiny black eyes glinting with fury as it glared back at him.

Firstly – you certainly could call it a face … because it’s a face. Secondly, ‘lumpen‘ is not a fancy synonym for ‘lumpy’, as the author (and others) evidently thinks it is.

Another criticism I have of this book regards the Union army. The Union is supposed to be a powerful, expansionist kingdom-going-on-empire with colonies to the north and south of its homeland. But on the basis of the characters in this book, its military is staffed almost exlusively by vain, selfish cretins who couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Which leaves the story with a big believability deficit.

Nevertheless, I’m still – just about – inclined to get hold of the final volume in the trilogy, Last Argument of Kings, because, say one thing about Captain Maybe, say he’s a loyal reader who finishes what he starts.

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This is the first book in a trilogy (of course) called The First Law (which sounds unhappily like the name of a Terry Goodkind book). Joe Abercrombie is one of those new, younger authors that people seem to make much of these days, and who often aren’t particularly good writers, so I approached this book with a little trepidation.

In fact, The Blade Itself turned out to be a very solid book. It’s an unpretentious fantasy set in a low magic world, with the action divided between cold rugged northlands, a sophisticated central realm that seems based on late Medieval or early modern Europe, and a southern desert land. The three main characters are an crippled torturer who work for the Inquisition, Glokta Sand, a spoilt young nobleman and soldier, Jezal dan Luthar, and a world-weary barbarian, Logen Ninefingers.

The adventure is perfectly readable, and the characters are mostly likeable. Well, Glokta is supposed to be a nasty piece of work – and that comes across convincingly most of the time, but towards the end, he becomes annoyingly petulant and psychotic – against his own principles. Jezal is also a flawed character (intentionally) and he also becomes less likeable towards the end, for similar reasons. One subplot involves Jezal falling in love with his friend’s sister – and this was handled badly by the author, incorporating a couple of huge, embarrassing clichés (like the usually sharp and charming Jezal turning into a mumbling idiot when he meets her). Logen is the central and most likeable character – a rough diamond who is unsullied by the curse of civilisation – another bit of a cliché.

The story in this first novel represents the gathering of a group of heroes to go on a quest – although this aspect takes a long while to fully come out, and, when it does, neither the reader nor most of the characters are much wiser about its purpose because it’s being organised by a wizard, and, of course, wizards don’t tell people their plans. The wizard in question is another central character, but not a viewpoint one, but he’s portrayed interestingly as a stocky, bald man who looks more like a blacksmith.

Joe Abercrombie has created a perfectly competent tale, but not an outstanding one. It’s a work of journeyman-like proficiency, but not one of arresting originality. The characters are mostly believable, the writing is solid, the world interesting enough, and I thought it was better than Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and far superior to Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. I’d give the next book a go.

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