Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself
How did I get it: The library.

Why did I get it: I have been wanting to read the First Law trilogy for a long time before and after I read that somewhat irritating article by Leo Green. (This title will also count towards my Speculative Fiction Challenge for 2011.)

How I would rate it: 5 out of 5 stars.


Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.

Review: I’m not really sure what I went into this book expecting, but I had some doubts that it would live up to its hype and I figured I’d probably end up somewhat dissatisfied. I was, of course, horribly, foolishly wrong. The Blade Itself was a witty, hilarious, dark, and engaging start for an Epic Fantasy series. And I am fairly certain that I will be reading every book Joe Abercrombie has ever written.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a fan of Robert B. Parker who as not only prolific Mystery and Western writer, but also very straightforward in terms to his approach to dialogue and character development. Joe Abercrombie does something similar with Epic Fantasy. He doesn’t bother over dramatizing or complicating his story. A castle is a castle, a bad king is a bad king, and a kickass barbarian is just that.

However, that isn’t to say that the world Abercrombie writes about isn’t unique or awesome because it was both of those things. Instead of over embellishing, he relied on characterization, plot, and a lot of interesting conversations. Words cannot express how much I enjoyed this book compared to a lot of the ones I’ve been abandoning lately but the truth is I am not a big fan of romance, love triangles, dystopias, and tough characters being overbearing for no apparent reason. And honestly it can be frustrating to feel that way and still want to read. Happily, The Blade Itself doesn’t bother with any of that nonsense. Instead of a love triangle, I got action. Instead of one or two people being tough, everyone was tough. Instead of overly complicated relationships based on attraction, everyone was fairly messed up and dealing with a lot of fascinating issues that had nothing or very little to do with romance.

I don’t know where to even begin in terms of which character to gush about because by the end of the book I loved nearly every point of view character. I guess my favorites would be Logen, Glokta, Malacus Quai, West, and Bayuz. But even then I hate leaving out Jezal because he is so incredibly awful and shallow that he is somehow endearing. And Ferro is growing on me. Everyone had their own distinctive voice, and I loved following all of them around during various chapters and sections. There was also a lot of humor in this book from the character’s thoughts to their actions to their opinions of one another. I absolutely cannot wait to see what happens to everyone in the next two books!

In conclusion, I really regret not reading this series sooner, but I’m glad I finally got around to it. I think this would be a great book for Epic Fantasy fans and for readers who aren’t sure that this genre can be as edgy or compelling as Urban. And if you enjoy George R. R. Martin, but want something more fun and less depressing while you wait for A Dance of Dragons, check this book out.

About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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10 Responses to Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Brian Springer says:

    Glad to see a good review of Abercrombie’s work. I’ve been thinking about diving in to his world for a while now and this will hopefully serve to finally get me off my ass and pick it up. Thanks.


  2. Redhead says:

    Great review! I read this last year, and had a similar experience you did: wasn’t all that sure about it, thought it might be too violent or too fantasy for me. . . and half way through the first book I’d already arranged to get the others. I can compare Abercrombie to Rothfuss and Gene Wolfe: He takes the “rulebook” of epic fantasy and rolls it up and smokes it. good thing too, or we’d never have Jezal (who only gets more endearing), Bayaz (who makes every other wizard type character, ever, look like total pussies), and Glotka (who is turning into my favorite fantasy character, ever).

    how messed up is it that i can easily name a cripple torturer as one of my favorite characters? all I gotta say if you like these guys (and girl) by the end of the first book, you will love them even more by the end of the 3rd. I’m so happy you read this!!!

    • I have to admit that if I’d known about the swearing and violence, I’d have picked this book up a lot sooner. Or if I’d known just how funny this book was. But I totally agree about the fantasy aspects and that was a concern I had too because I didn’t want to read a series that confirmed my suspicions that the genre has gotten sort of tired and old. Rothfuss is another one I need to get around to. I don’t know if I’ll ever manage Wolfe, but I should give him a try sometime.

      I’m so excited to hear the characters just get better and better! And I know what you mean about favorite character shame. Jaime Lannister is already near the top of my list and being able to put Glokta on it is only going to make me question my sanity that much more. 😉

  3. Sandy M. says:

    Your connection between Abercrombie and Parker stopped me dead in my tracks. From what I remember, I think you’re being quite flattering to Robert Parker there. I read all the Spenser mysteries available, about 20 years ago, though I have not re-read many of them since. They seemed to get too formulaic, IMO. So, maybe my memory is biased because I left off with the later books when things seemed staler.

    On the other hand, I think I can see a similarity, especially between Logen’s narrative and Spenser’s. Tough guy, self-deprecating, funny, but not nearly as hard as “he” looks from the outside. I get that: I can picture Logen hanging out with Hawk, from that point of view. 😉

    Where Abercrombie goes far beyond Parker is that he also shows Logen from others’ points of view, so you can see Logen as terrifying, or barbaric, or… or whatever. Plus, there are all those other stereotype-busting, genre-defying characters telling the story.

    Definitely keep going with the series. I like to think of this trilogy as being the Belgariad re-told by Hannibal Lechter, edited by . No stereotype or genre convention is safe!

    Nifty review, thanks for sharing.

    • I see what you mean. I’m more familiar with Parker’s Westerns and Jesse Stone series, but I was making more of a comparison to Parker’s use of dialogue and his way of saying a lot without flooding the page with words in order to just tell a story in a straightforward way. Abercrombie does something similar in that respect because The Blade Itself has a lot of forward momentum, great dialogue, and a lot less description than most other fantasy titles.

      You’re right that they’re both not the same or even attempting to accomplish the same overall goal with their writing outside of possibly the desire to entertain. Abercrombie and Parker don’t –or didn’t in Parker’s case– even write in the same genre. That’s why in the end I compared the book more to George R. R. Martin. And even then there’s still plenty of differences because Abercrombie isn’t copying anyone or trying to mimic other authors in his genre. He’s very refreshingly unique and like you said he has produced a cast of awesome, unforgettable characters.

      I’m glad to hear the books continue to get better and better. I’m also looking forward to getting around to Best Served Cold and Heroes. Thanks for reading my review and for the great comment! 🙂

  4. Oh so glad you enjoyed this! 🙂 It is a great series. And as I enjoyed this one, I loved the second one too. 🙂 They just keep getting better. Now, I need to get to the third book which I have sitting here waiting for me. Thanks!

  5. Pingback: Best Reads of 2011 (So Far) | CSI: Librarian

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