Sunday, October 28, 2007

Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s debut novel, The Blade Itself, has been quietly gathering praise since its initial release in the UK last year. I’ll say it right up front – I’m not going to say anything different, though I just might say it more emphatically. The Blade Itself easily equals anything released in epic fantasy in the past few years, and just may rise to the top.

The Blade Itself is book one of The First Law Trilogy and serves as the beginning of what should be considered a single story told in three parts. The reader is introduced to the central players – the aging and surprisingly contemplative warrior from the barbaric north with his mantra of ‘I’m still alive’, the spoiled-rotten nobleman with a purchased commission in the army training for a contest, the crippled, formerly spoiled-rotten nobleman and survivor of indescribable torture turned torturer of the King’s Inquisition, and the ancient magi with unknown goals, a wicked sense of humor and a biting temper.

This book is about characters first, and Abercrombie skillfully portrays them with near-perfect internal and external dialogue set at an ideal pace. These seem like real people from history rather than some over-done cliché or archetype. I simply loved the part where the magi, his apprentice, and the barbarian from the north must purchase clothes from a costume shop to look the way they should. This clever, verging on satirical, humor and wit infuses Abercrombie’s writing as he plays with many of the common fantasy tropes, makes them his own and shows us how things can be done in capable, yet irreverent, hands.

The closest I can come to a criticism of The Blade Itself isn’t really a criticism at all, just the realization that this isn’t a complete story. This is only the beginning – the players emerging, meeting and just embarking on the real adventure. Only hints of the underlying political struggles as well as re-emerging ancient battles are given with answers presumably forthcoming in the remainder of the trilogy – Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings. And I’m looking forward to finding out just where Abercrombie takes us from here.

The Blade Itself is the beginning of one of the most promising epic fantasies that I’ve read in years. Abercrombie had me laughing with his guile as he stops just short of spitting in the face of genre and set my heart racing through some the best written fight scenes of any genre. This one is not just for fans of epic fantasy. 8.5/10


Aidan Moher said...

Glad to see another one joining the dark side, otherwise known as Joe Abercrombie fans!

Can't wait for the five question interview!

A Dribble of Ink

Neil Richard said...

How long is this book? And is it in paperback yet?

i guess my more important question is who does he resemble (in writing style)? I'm not a fan of GRRM or Lynch, but everyone else loves them. But, I'm willing to give it a whirl. If it passes the 100 page test, I'll keep reading.

Neth said...


The book is about 500 pages long and the US release is in trade paperback from Pyr (who doesn't do mass market paperbacks). The UK version may have a mass market printing, but I'm not sure.

As for writing style, he doesn't closely resemble anyone. The closest I'd say is perhaps a cross between Lynch and Erikson, or maybe the darkly funny, yet kinda evil twin of Patrick Rothfuss. There is a lengthy extract available at his website -

Neil Richard said...

Thanks neth. I'll check out the preview. And an evil Rothfuss sounds most interesting.

Blue Tyson said...

As to what he reminds me of, a bit like something between Glen Cook and Steven Brust was what came to mind when I was writing about it the other day.

Then again, I didn't like the Martin book I read most of and haven't read Erikson.

It is better than that first Lynch book, for sure.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost through with this, and it's my favorite thing I've read this year. As a bit of comparison, I've read Lies of Locke Lamora and the first three Malazan books this year.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Lamora and Malazan, but The Blade Itself surprised me with how good it is. Can't wait for March, when the next one comes out in the U.S.


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