Review: THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 532
Release Date: May 4th, 2006
Series: THE FIRST LAW, Book 1
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Liked It

As war in the North draws closer, a chain of events kicks off bringing the most unlikely of souls together. A dashing guardsman training to win the annual Contest. A Northman warrior who is sought out by the First of the Magi. A torturer for the King committed to rooting out treason. Their lives cross in unexpected ways as the First Magus Bayaz begins nudging events into motion that will have ripple effects across the whole world.

THE BLADE ITSELF is here to prove once again just how much I value characters over all else in a book. My synopsis above is incredibly vague because it is so hard to pin down a clear throughline that connects all the dots – at least, at this point in the adventure. If you’re the kind of reader who needs every book in a series to have a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end, you’d probably be happier reading something else. If you’re on board for what is very clearly Act 1 of a much bigger story, then settle on down for first entry in THE FIRST LAW series.

From the beginning, the strength of this book is how easily Abercrombie gets you into the heads of his characters. Did I have any idea what was happening in those first pages as Logen flees through the woods from an assailant? No. Did I immediately feel his desperation as he fought for his life? Absolutely.

The introductory scenes for many of the POV characters are cinematic, not in the bombastic action sense, but in the way they paint a picture and make you feel like you’re in that big opening scene of a movie. One of my favorite moments was watching Luther jogging through the town the first time we meet him. The simple act of him passing by important buildings, how Luther behaves around ladies and the important figures he passes, it gave so much information about both Luther and the town and its social structure – all simply by having a character go for a morning run.

Abercrombie walks that line of creating characters that you do not necessarily like but that you absolutely want to where their story goes. I spent a good chunk of the book wanting to punch Jezal dan Luther in the face, which is a credit to how much his POV was written as arrogant and self-centered compared to other characters. And yet despite wanting to punch him, the man stumbles into the most interesting of situations. Glotka, a man who works as one of the king’s torturers, was intriguing in his awareness of the fact that he is very much a pawn in a political game, even if he doesn’t quite yet know why or who the players are. Here’s a man with a despicable job (and I did have to skim read a scene or two about his work), but I somehow found myself respecting his intelligence and empathizing with the circumstances of war that crippled him and pushed him to the fringes of society.

And of course, there’s Logen Nine-Fingers, a warrior from the North who is easy-going and reasonable until pushed to violence. Probably the most memorable of the characters (certainly the most likeable), Logen’s the one who will pull at your heart strings. Somehow, he’ll make you misty-eyed over a cast-iron pot.

There are other characters who flit in and out, some of whom are clearly just at the beginning of much larger stories. Ferro, for instance, an escaped female slave, spent most of the book away from the central action, serving more to help set up the stakes of what’s going on in the rest of the world. And that’s the thing: this is definitely a book where the payoff in later books is going to determine whether or not the time spent in these many seemingly unresolved and only loosely connected storylines was warranted.

I’ll admit, when I finished THE BLADE ITSELF, I was at a bit of a loss. There were SO MANY story threads that seemingly went nowhere or were unresolved. But while I didn’t necessarily have a better grasp of the world, I DID have a cast of characters who were on the brink of…something. And so here I am, reaching for book two, because what on earth happens next?? And any book that makes me want to throw my carefully crafted TBR out the window as I reach for the sequel must be doing SOMETHING right.

13 thoughts on “Review: THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie

Add yours

  1. I am so happy you enjoyed this one!! And I wholeheartedly agree with you about the characters development. Logen is the character that is more dear to my heart, in some sense, but my favorite is Glotka. Not because he is an enjoyable character but because he is one of the best characters ever, in my opinion (as the series progress we get more and more development for all the characters, so it is far easy to judge when you get to end of it), for his complex nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! #2 was probably my favorite of the trilogy, so I hope you like it. And what’s this “carefully crafted TBR” thing? Mine’s more like a teetering pile that often scares away children and pets, not to mention me 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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