Saturday, 9 June 2012
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
As the first in a trilogy we are given the introductions to the main (and not so main) characters: Logen the barbaric Northmen who actually has a good head on his shoulders and has quite a few pacifist moments, Inquistor Glokta the crippled soldier turned torturer who has a dry, slightly twisted sense of humour (he made me laugh!), Captain Jezal dan Luthar the epitome of careless selfish officer/playboy/man about town who is only taking part in a tournament for the glory it'll bring him and then we have the Magus Bayaz who remains mysterious and aloof from the moment we meet him to the end of this book.
This book is split between different character's viewpoints (which I'm rather enjoying recently) and each point of view gets something worthwhile or significant before moving on, thus making sure we don't feel the need to start skipping over any particular character's section.
The book begins with Logen Ninefingers (go on, guess how many fingers he has :P) being chased/attacked in a forest by Shankas - what appear to be a ruthless race of creatures that are trying to take over the North lands. From there it moves south to the main city, Adua, where we find most of the Union's army, including Captain Luthar - the current golden-boy, practising or getting excited for the upcoming competition. Deep in the dungeons of the castle we find the crippled Inquisitor Glokta and his dry sense of humour, working away to get prisoners to confess by any means necessary - and he has some rather effective means. We learn that he had once been the golden boy and competition winner before being captured and held by enemies for two years, returning as just a shadow of his former self. This past doesn't exactly make him enamoured with Captain Luthar (though Luthar's attitude alone would turn most people off, I'm sure).
Unfortunately events are unfolding that will make the competition seem like child's play, if events weren't happening in a fantasy book I'd probably be rather disappointed to be honest, and Logen finds himself brought down from the North Lands to Adua in fairly intriguing circumstances that he has absolutely no interest in. Where most heroes/anti-heroes would want to know the ins and outs of what's going on Logen just needs to look out for himself, have a small bit of revenge on an old foe and make sure not to die. Outside of this he doesn't want to get involved in the politics.
The set up of the 'Union' kingdom itself reminded me slightly of the Roman Empire with the main, more civilised city in the centre of things but it's more outlying settlements facing threats. The first book is more concerned with Angland's threat from the Northern ruler Bethod, who brought together the warring tribes of the north under him in order to all focus on taking on the Union. We do, however, get hints of trouble down south from an empire that surrounds their most southern settlement.
In all I found this book to be rather a good read and much different from a lot of your average fantasies, even some of the ones that are trying to be different. Joe Abercrombie has given us a different insight into your typical fantasy characters and has done it well. The descriptions he gives and lack of reader's hand holding that he doesn't do helps you get into the story more without having to worry about stopping mid-flow for a quick run-down of why someone is doing something.
If you enjoy fantasy but find that most of the books on offer are becoming a bit too predictable then I suggets this as a way of getting out of that slump. Funny at times, dark and confusing at others this was definitely a good choice on my part - but might I suggest getting the second book on hand before starting - these first in a series books do leave you hanging!