The Blade Itself
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Pages: 432 pages
Publisher: McArthur & Co / Orion Con Trad
Release Date: April 20 2006
Itâ€™s a year that has come up a lot since the creation of A Dribble of Ink and the main reason for this is all the fantastic debut novels that found their way into the hands of readers that year.
I proudly named Scott Lynchâ€™s The Lies of Locke Lamora as not only the Fantasy debut of the year, but also my Fantasy novel of the year. So, it was with much surprise and trepidation that I entered into Joe Abercrombieâ€™s The Blade Itself the first novel of a trilogy entitled The First Law. How could it be that a novel, which many hail as the debut of the year (even over Lynchâ€™s effort) could be released and I was completely unaware of it for almost an entire year?
Thereâ€™s no easy answer to that question, but to remedy it, I hastened to pick up both The Blade Itself and its sequel, Before They Are Hanged. My first response was to say, â€œHey those are pretty nifty covers!â€ and then my second was to knock myself atop the head for being so foolish to have missed this novel when it was first released.
Joe Abercrombieâ€™s debut novel really was as good as everyone had claimed, perhaps it would not have topped The Lies of Locke Lamora, but it would have come darn close. The Blade Itself is an impressive debut novel that quickly and comfortably carves itself a niche in the fantasy genre.
Abercrombie has written a wickedly clever novel, with a biting sense of humour rarely found in the over-serious Fantasy genre, but does so with a subtle hand and a flair for the macabre that canâ€™t be ignored.
The single most definable and praise-able facet of Abercrombieâ€™s work are his characters, a motley collection of characters in the vein of Tim Powers: larger than life characters that, despite their flaws and despicableness, you canâ€™t help but love and root for. Chief among these is Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta, a former hero of the Union, who is now a crippled victim of torture. The rub? Heâ€™s now an experienced and brutal torturer himself, using the techniques that shattered his own body and spirit against those he used to call friend.
The complexity that Abercrombie weaves into his characters is comendable and the fact that heâ€™s able to create such resounding characters in a relatively short space (The Blade Itself clocks in at only 400 or so pages) is a testament to his abilities as a writer. Abercrombie is not a world-builder, instead he lets his characters define the story and itâ€™s on their strong shoulders that his reputation as a writer lies. Luckily they are strong shoulders indeed.
Some criticism Iâ€™ve seen towards The Blade Itself is that it suffers from slow pacing. This is only partly true. The pacing is slow, but it does not suffer for it, instead Abercrombie takes his time drawing his characters and setting up his story, The Blade Itself is essentially one large prologue that is setting up the final two novels of the trilogy, where the real action will happen. Abercrombie uses this first novel to let us get to the know the characters, their ambitions and their failures. By the end of the novel the reader grows attached to not only the three main protagonist, but also the array of secondary characters such as Army Corporal Collem West and his sister Ardee. In fact, I felt closer to some of the secondary characters in this novel than I do towards some main protagonists in other novels.
One element curiously lacking from the novel is a map. Iâ€™m not sure if this is a conscious decision on the part of Abercrombie or not, but I found itâ€™s omission to be rather glaring and would have liked to be able to have one to help me visualize the many different countries and factions that fill Abercrombieâ€™s world. Itâ€™s a small complaint, though, and something that could be remedied in future volumes in the series.
Had I read The Blade Itself upon its release, I would have easily ranked it near the top of my favourite books of the year. If Scott Lynch was the King of debuts in 2006 then Abercrombie was surely the next in line for the throne. Abercrombie is just the type of author I love to find: full of character, funny and able to string together an incredibly charming and wickedly clever novel. Now, off to read the sequel!