The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie

Cover of "The Blade Itself (First Law)"

Cover of The Blade Itself (First Law)

I simply cannot keep the title of this book in my head. It’s a fragment of a quotation, as is the title of the second book, and all I can remember is a key word. In this case, it’s ‘blade’ and the quotation was something about the blade itself inciting violence… so perhaps the title?

In some ways, this is like the book itself – good job with evoking an atmosphere, but hard to keep the detail straight in my head. It starts off very strongly, in the aftermath of a deadly fight with a lone survivor ‘Ninefingers’ plunging from a cliff. There’s something slightly ‘off’ in his description of Flatheads as their enemies – are they non-human? Are they aboriginals or foreigners viewed as non-human? Does it matter to the story? I was a little distracted by speculation. Coy authors bug me. But, Ninefingers is a good name for the character, I can remember who he is without a chart…

…no matter how many more characters are thrown at me. And that’s what happens for the next 200 pages…

Deluge of characters

  • Swoosh, we are following someone else entirely. It’s a once-tortured inquisitor limping to another interrogation session. Again an interesting engaging character, but… who the heck is this guy in relation to Ninefingers? Where are we? Are they on opposite sides, on separate many sides?
  • And then <pop> there’s the Grand Magus (dear, there’s magic too).
  • And the captain, who’s a self-centred, nth-son-of-a-noble-family, idiot who seems to be the obvious candidate for character development. He is falling in love with …
  • …the Major’s sister (merchant family, no noble standing)… sly jibes that go right over our dear captain’s head, even when she’s drinking at 10 in the morning.
  • Mustn’t forget the Major himself…
  • Ninefinger’s not-so-merry band of marauders.
  • And just when I think I am getting a handle on all these folks, getting ready for some plot, although I still not sure where, why, and when they might all relate, here is a new (female) character, a brutal escaped slave!  Almost chucked the book across the room at that point.

I applaud the ambition to weave so many threads through the tapestry, but it feels precarious to spin up so many plates before momentum is established on the caravan overall. If you look at other massive opi (opuses?) Anyhow, look at the Wheel of Time, and GRR Martin, and the Shadowmarch stories… didn’t they follow a core character thread for a bit longer before launching into the grand narrative whirlwind tour of the globe?

I almost applauded out loud when our Dear Captain turns the corner on page 367. Saw that coming N hundred pages ago, eh?

It was one long fast swoosh through the end of the book… and I think our main characters are in fact going to be co-located.  How exciting.

I am looking forward to seeing how this series turns out. Book 2 Before they are hanged is already waiting on the shelf… It’s better than this one, by the way. And like this one, dark ,very dark, but humorous with its bleakness.

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  1. Before they are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie « Bibliophage91's Blog

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