The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie

Hannah read The Blade Itself last month, and has not gotten around to writing a review until now. But the Blade Itself sets up the First Law Trilogy within Abercrombie’s universe of books. It is a grimdark novel that is incredibly witty and a great setup for a series that should be interesting to dive into. The novel starts with the reader meeting Logen Ninefingers as he runs from something chasing after his party. This starts him on a journey (at first without shoes) that will lead him to places he never thought he would go and placing him with interesting traveling companions.

Logen is just one of the many characters we meet, told through different perspectives, we meet this cast of characters through their own point of view (in third person) that lets us gain insight into their thought processes and their motivations. From other people’s reviews, Logen is seen as almost an anti-hero, but honestly he feels more like a hero no one asked for, who has a past he is not proud of but also not running from. He is a straightforward character who we see in different places as a fish out of water. He has certain abilities that will likely be helpful in the future.

Then we have the Glokta, a man who came from everything and after losing it all let himself respond with pain and torture in kind. Glokta seems to know how the system works and how to make it work to his benefit. As someone who would likely be an antagonist in a worse writer’s hands, Abercrombie uses Glokta in such an effective way where you understand his flawed motivations. The fact that he was once viewed as a powerful person and later lost it all, the fact that he came from power and was then ostracized. He needed power and needs others to lose it like he did. It’s an expansive view on a character who we see all the time, but their inner life and inner workings. Glokta is one where you can find your mind thinking about the most because he has the most to unpack.

And then there is Jezal dan Luthar. Ah, the stupid, selfish, egomaniac himself. This character is where a lot of Abercrombie’s wit and outright humor shines. Luthar is the butt of everyone’s joke outside the people who worship him. He is the epitome of what classism can lead to: someone who barely works for his life but thinks he deserves everything that is coming to him. I was laughing out loud at the way he described things. At one point, he is told off by someone and claims he was assaulted with their words. Yet he is also almost the tragedy of this book. He wants the semblance of power without any work for it. He doesn’t want danger, he wants glory. And unfortunately that may not be in the cards for him.

There are other characters including the all-knowing wizard who Abercrombie turns on his head and makes him the chaos that surrounds the book while still making him unique to all other things. There is the man who works hard for his life and is still being punished for it, and he too is treated as fully human who is imperfect and problematic in his own way. Overall, Abercrombie excellently takes tropes from high fantasy novels and gives you them and their normal characteristics, but also expertly inverts them and makes you look at them through a new light. It is the greatest showing of “show, don’t tell.” We are told many things about these characters, but we are showed something entirely different. We are shown motivating factors and flawed reasoning. It was overall deftly handled.

There are criticisms of this book. It is, again, the first in a series that is setting up a much bigger trilogy and an expanding universe. It can be slow in parts and feels like nothing concrete happens in this book other than setting up characters and scenes. Further, the two women-identifying characters take a back seat in this book. One is not shown enough, and although I understand that she is supposed to be a background person who becomes more and more important, it is always a bit disappointing that women are left in mystery while the men get a much more nuanced set up. And the second woman is the inversion of the femme fatale. Although this is so welcome in this series, I also wanted to see more of her other than just a small initial setup.

Hannah’s Lasting Thoughts: I really hope for a sharper look at the women in this book and others. There are so many men, just give me some women. Also, although it was slow in parts I still think this is an incredible romp and think people should read it.

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