BOOK REVIEW: The Blade Itself (4 stars) by Joe Abercrombie

uk-orig-the-blade-itselfVerdict: A different kind of fantasy book. Knowing, earthy and home to one of the best anti-heroes I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

I will first be honest and say that this is the second time I’ve read this book. The first time was seven years ago and, although I enjoyed it, I was enamored with Robin Hobb at the time, so I didn’t complete the trilogy it comes from – The First Law. This year, I vowed I would read the whole thing, because I figured I was doing Abercrombie an injustice by not finishing such a well written story. I was well rewarded.

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian and murderer of everything that moves, has just lost his friends – the group of rejected Northerners who fled for their life from the new King Bethod. He finds himself alone, until an apprentice called Malacus Quai comes to him and says his master, Bayaz, First of the Magi, wants to talk to him. Cue adventure.

In far off Adua, the preening Jezal dan Luthar drinks and gambles his way through life, seducing women and squandering money whilst he trains for the fencing contest that will decide and define his future. He is empty-headed, vain, and looking forward to an easy life of wine, women and wanton behaviour.

Inquisitor Glokta, on the other hand, has a mind as sharp as his instruments. A glorified torturer, he cuts his way to the truth of matters, never flinching away from his duty, repeating the atrocities that were done to him long ago in the bowels of the Emperor’s palace. Yet his latest discovery might pay unexpected dividends, leading to a conspiracy right at the heart of Adua’s government.

Okay, this book is fantastic. Gritty, unapologetic and coarse, it’s fantasy for the people who like plenty of blood with their morning coffee. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but it’s fast-paced and enjoyable, without ever detracting from the quality of the characters. And the characters are great. My favourite?

Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta.

Oh, be still my heart. He’s a violent and loathsome cripple, as amoral as they come as long as his actions get results. Yet, throughout every atrocity he commits, he asks himself ‘Why? Why do I do this?’. His violent dislike of stairs is a spectacular and realistic quirk of a man in his position, and I wanted someone – anyone – to invent false teeth before the book was finished, just so he could have the happiness of steak in his life.

Glokta has to be one of my favourite fictional characters, ever. Now, I read a lot of books. I love a lot of characters, so trust me when I say that it’s really quite something that he shot to the top end of the list within a couple of chapters of meeting him.

Logen, too, was a breath of fresh air. Swinging from violent madman to lovable lummox, he keeps you guessing about which is his true nature. Does he have a split personality disorder? Is he demonically possessed by Mountain spirits? Will he accidentally kill his friends when The Bloody-Nine rears his ugly head? No one knows.

Half the time, I wanted to give him a cuddle. The other half of the time, I wanted everyone to flee from him in order to save their lives. It’s a wonderful skill to be able to create two opposite emotions in a single character. Abercrombie knows his craft, which is all the more impressive considering this is his debut novel.

The Blade Itself is a book to try and love. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, because such books rarely are. But it is definitely worth the time and effort to give it a go. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Go on, let me know what you think!

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