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The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie | Review

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Series: The First Law #1
Published by Gollancz on March 9 2007
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy
Pages: 515
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased Book
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five stars - The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie | Review

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.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

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.

Well, isn’t The Blade Itself as deadly as a hushed-up autopsy?  Grimdark?  I swallowed it up and asked for another portion just like little Oliver begging for more.  With its deadly plot and guillotine sharp character arcs, this is going to be a novel that I will take comfort in rereading time and time again.  It’s a story that feels like a homecoming.  Its cozy and deadly in equal measure (well as cozy as a dagger threatening to spill every drop of blood.)   imagine wandering in the mountains and finally making your way home – a fire inviting you in, you can’t help but be enveloped by it…this is The Blade Itself in a nutshell.

This is the kind of plot that will quench your thirst for morally ambiguous characters, worldbuilding that swallows you up and transports you to a time and place that calls to your darkest parts.  You get caught up in the murky and raw life that is secret from the public perception.  Political intrigue gives you the Game of Thrones feel but delivered with a deft blow to the temple – giving you no reprieve before the next hammer blow rains down upon you.  Abercrombie delivers plots with the force of a kick to the genitals but with steel toe caps.  He wants you on your knees begging for the next story.

Joe Abercrombie has set up the characters beautifully, this is surely the one of the greatest achievements of the story.  The characters stay imbedded in your mind, they live rent free in your head and Abercrombie laughs a maniacal cadence, the giant puppet master that is happy to see the despair and anguish his victims…I mean reader’s experience.  Its dark and devious but above all The Blade Itself is incredibly human and it’s a gut punch to realise what we as a species is capable of.

Glokta is by far my favourite, I’m not sure what it is about a devious bad guy that gets my blood pumping but jeez this guy is the most entertaining character I have gotten to known in a long time.  A guy with more issues and flaws than vogue, but essentially, he’s got gut and grit and he’s going to completely going to do the unexpected, got some of the most hilarious one liners…he should be doing stand-up! 

“Hurray’, shouted Glokta. ‘Porridge again!’He looked over at the motionless Practical. ‘Porridge and honey, better than money, everything’s funny, with porridge and honey!”

Jezal, the young nobleman is a jumped-up little twerp that could learn a lot from those from lesser birth.  Logen “Ninefingers” an infamous warrior who we meet in the cold and desolate north, a haunted man whose story isn’t over.  Bayaz, the first of the magi – he’s mystical, magical and more than a little mercurial.  A deep backstory that is pulling me in quicker than a fisherman with a fish on the hook!

“It’s hard to stay calm when you’re terrified, helpless, alone, at the mercy of men with no mercy at all.”

I don’t really want to delve into the whys and the where’s with the plot – it’s a story that needs to be experienced, it has a pulsing heart, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to rip it out and hand it the next person.  Leave it to beat on its own, so that it can live on for that bit longer.  It feels alive, and it needs to be treated as such – it needs to be cherished for what it is – a masterpiece. 

The Blade Itself epitomizes brilliant political intrigue captured within a maze of legendary but human characters.  Abercrombie’s use of historical detail makes him take his seat at the table as master storyteller.   


joe abercrombie - The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie | Review

Joe Abercrombie was born in Lancaster, England, on the last day of 1974. He was educated at the stiflingly all-boy Lancaster Royal Grammar School, where he spent much of his time playing video games, rolling dice, and drawing maps of places that don’t exist. He went on to Manchester University to study Psychology. The dice and the maps stopped, but the video games continued. Having long dreamed of single-handedly redefining the fantasy genre, he started to write an epic trilogy based around the misadventures of thinking man’s barbarian Logen Ninefingers. The result was pompous toss, and swiftly abandoned.

Joe then moved to London, lived in a slum with two men on the borders of madness, and found work making tea for minimum wage at a TV Post-Production company. Two years later he left to become a freelance film editor, and has worked since on a range of documentaries, awards shows, music videos, and concerts for artists ranging from Barry White to Coldplay.

This job gave him lots of time off, and realising that he needed something more useful to do than playing video games, in 2001 he sat down once again to write an epic fantasy trilogy based around the misadventures of thinking man’s barbarian Logen Ninefingers. This time, having learned not to take himself too seriously in the six years since the first effort, the results were a great deal more interesting.

With heroic help and support from his family the first volume, The Blade Itself, was completed in 2004. Following a heart-breaking trail of rejection at the hands of several of Britain’s foremost literary agencies, The First Law trilogy was snatched up by Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz in 2005 in a seven-figure deal (if you count the pence columns). A year later The Blade Itself was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. It now has publishers in thirty countries.  The sequels, Before They are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings were published in 2007 and 2008, when Joe was a finalist for the John W. Campbell award for best new writer.  Best Served Cold, a standalone book set in the same world, was published in June 2009, and a second standalone, The Heroes, came in January 2011 and made no. 3 on the Sunday Times Hardcover Bestseller List.  A third standalone, Red Country, was both a Sunday Times and New York Times Hardcover Bestseller in October 2012.

The first part of his viking-inspired Shattered Sea series for young and old adults, Half a King, came out in July 2014, when it won the Locus award for best young adult novel.  The other two books, Half the World, and Half a War, followed in January and July 2015.

His collection of short fiction, Sharp Ends was published in 2016.  A new trilogy set in the world of the First Law, The Age of Madness, began in September 2019 with A Little Hatred. The Trouble with Peace followed in September 2020, and the final part, The Wisdom of Crowds is due in September 2021.

Joe now lives in Bath with his wife, Lou, his daughters Grace and Eve, and his son Teddy.  He spends most of his time writing edgy yet humorous fantasy novels…


five stars - The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie | Review


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