book notes: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
The Blade Itself is the first novel of Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy.
If I would have had the second book, I would have dove right into it, and that would have made me like the first book much more. As it is, The Blade Itself is very well written with excellent characters and an interesting world, with politics, self-absorbed civilizations, barbarians and magicians. But it is a setup book with a lot of world and character building and background, some exciting and tense plot lines, but with little resolution. Setup books are okay if you intend to read the whole series; they are basically a portion (in this case 1/3) of a much larger book.
Kinda reminds me of Tolkein’s The Fellowship of the Ring, which is another setup book (and 1/3 of a much larger book). Both have to build their world, reveal their characters, and set the conflict. Like Fellowship, The Blade Itself has multiple plot lines, with some groups preparing for war, some working the politics and a group going on a quest. Like Fellowship, the “quest group” doesn’t get everyone together until quite a ways in the book (and doesn’t intro a couple of the major characters until Part II (page 217 of a 527 page book)), similar to intro-ing members of the Fellowship late in the game.
The barbarians are represented by Logen Ninefingers (you can figure out why). Logen was the champion of the King of the North barbarians (who are invading part of the “civilized” world) but they had a falling out. Logen is a brawling fighter, can talk to the spirits, and sometimes seems to get possessed by them which enhances his fighting. He has a clan of “Named Men” sworn to him because he has bested them in combat; but they think Logen dead and wander south.
Logen is summoned by Bayaz, First of the Magi, who is leaving exile on a quest of some importance. Logen doesn’t ask, just knows he needs to go with the Magi. Bayaz demonstrates his skills during several battles (as does Logen).
The pompous, self-centered and -absorbed civilized folk are represented by Capitan Jezal dan Luthar. aristocratic, good swordsman, but mostly clueless about the world around him.
Inquisitor Glotka used to be a swordsman, but he was captured by the civilized world’s enemy to the south, and tortured. Now as a cripple he ferrets out information, somewhat blindly but he does remember honor, friendship and courage.
Glotka’s friend, Major West, seems to be the only character who understands that the barbarians of the North are invading. His sister arrives, and he is preoccupied with the war, worrying only about her when she gets her eyes on Luthar.
Ferro Maljinn, a barbarian female fighter from the south, escapes from there with the help of Yulwei, another Magi, who takes her North.
And this is the setup. A well-written setup, with excellent fighting sequences and the characters laid bare, the kingdom beset by enemies north and south and the citizens of the kingdom not truly aware of it…and the First of the Magi working on some other problem as yet to be revealed.
I’m looking forward to tracking down Before They Are Hanged, the second in the First Law series.