The Blade Itself is exactly why I believe in second chances. When I first read this book four years ago, I had very little adult fantasy under my belt. I had read Elantris, Mistborn, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Kingkiller Chronicle. That’s pretty much it. I think I just wasn’t mentally prepared for something like The Blade Itself. Even ASoIaF, by far the darkest of the fantasy novels I had read up to that point, had a number of characters who were mostly moral. Even if I wasn’t sure how long said characters would live, I knew that there was good even in this dark world. Then Abercrombie entered. While even on my first reading I appreciated how fleshed out and unique his characters were, there was a part of me that was horrified to find a core of darkness within those I had thought were basically good. My little brain didn’t cope well with that.
“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?”
Fast forward to 2019. With much more of the fantasy genre under my belt, I decided to give The First Law another shot. My co-blogger, Petrik, considers this one of his favorite series of all time, so I wanted to give the series at least one more try before writing it off as too dark for me. I’m so glad I did. If I could travel back in time and smack past me on the back of the head, I would. I don’t know what my problem was, because The Blade Itself is absolutely fantastic. Now that I’m not clutching my pearls in horror over a cast of completely morally gray characters, I have so much respect for Abercrombie and the world he created.
“History is littered with dead good men.”
What really makes this book shine is the very element that turned me off during my first reading: the characters. They’re all insanely lifelike and fleshed out, and I love them intensely. Rarely have I come across characters so vibrantly alive. Glotka is one of the funniest, foulest, cleverest, most pitiable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I honestly wouldn’t have been too surprised had he limped right off the pages. I know he limped his way into my heart, ugly smile and all. He’s one of the most determined characters I’ve come across, and I really respect his tenacity, because even when he wonders why he doesn’t just give up, he somehow finds the strength to take the next step, and the next.
“Everything frightens me, and it’s well that it does. Fear is a good friend to the hunted, it’s kept me alive this long. The dead are fearless, and I don’t care to join them.”
And Jezal! This noble son turned soldier is shallow and lazy and breathtakingly self-absorbed. There’s a whole little section of him just admiring his jawline in a mirror, mediating on how superior it is to other jaws. I laughed out loud so many times during scenes from his point of view. I especially loved how mercurial his moods were, changing radically mid-paragraph. Bayaz, though not a perspective character, also deserves special mention. He reminded me of Merlin as presented in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, but far surlier and with a much fouler vocabulary. And I mean that in the best way. There were other side characters who I eventually found fascinating, as well, as they reveals hidden depths and darknesses and motivations. Every fictional person in the world Abercrombie crafted felt believable to me, full of hopes and dreams and quirks and failings.
“I’m trying to put things in the best light, but a turd’s a turd, whatever light it’s in!”
Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he knows how to write a compellingly reluctant action hero. The star of the book for me, despite how much I enjoy Glotka and Jezal, is without a doubt Logen Ninefingers. The Bloody Nine has a fearsome reputation, but Logen would honestly like nothing more than to leave it behind. But he is who he is, and will never back down from doing what needs doing. Despite his body count, Logen is perhaps the kindest character in the entire novel. He’s far more conflicted and selfless than others around him, though he is by no means perfect. You can’t help but root for him.
“The best steel doesn’t always shine the brightest.”
I also want to take a moment to praise Abercrombie’s writing. The man really has a way with words. His prose is captivating in a way that doesn’t distract you from the story. And I love how his writing style shifts subtly for each perspective, adding an extra layer of distinction for each voice. Despite the darkness of the world and the plot, Abercrombie was able to seamlessly pack in a ton of humor. The only other novel I’ve read that was able to achieve this balance so deftly is The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, with is one of my very books.
“Some things have to be done. It’s better to do them, than to live with the fear of them.”
Coming back to this book was a wonderful decision. I can see now, having read so much fantasy over the past three years, how much Abercrombie has inspired other authors in the genre. I can’t wait to continue reading and see what he has in store for Logen and Glotka and all the rest. You know, maybe grimdark isn’t too much for me after all. It’s amazing how tastes change.
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