Hundreds of thousands. Logen struggled to understand it. Hundreds . . . of thousands. Could there be so many people in the world? He stared at the city, all around him, wondering, rubbing his aching eyes. What might a hundred thousand people look like?
– The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie (First Law #1)
I did not go into this book with high expectations, but to my surprise reading this book reminded me of why I love fantasy – it can be so exciting and utterly riveting when done right. This book turned out to be great fun. I devoured it in days – completely immersed and thoroughly entertained. There is a lot in this book that is fairly typical to the genre – this is a classic fantastical country at war story, with some classic characters – a great mage, a strong but weary warrior, a twisted cripple, a dashing swordsman, some fairly corrupt politicians etc. Yet there’s enough different here, and the writing is strong enough that it hardly matters by the end.
The pacing of this book was just right – its a fairly compact book, and a lot happens, so there’s no time to get bored, but you never feel overwhelmed by whats happening either. The writing pulls you along when neccesary, and slows down likewise. The world building was detailed enough to get a sense of place and culture but not indulgent: the writing is minimalistic but conveys everything it needs to. I really liked the world he created – it was nice and gritty. There was plenty of violence and gore, but not to the point where it felt gratuitous. And he does a good job of showing what comes after violence – the effect is has on a person in particular. There was magic, but too much of it – the focus was on human politics which I liked. I also really liked how you get a sense of different cultures in the book and of different languages.
What really drew me to this book though, and held me to it, were the characters. The intelligent, weary warrior Logen, the spoilt, repulsive Jezal who I wanted to slap sometimes (and literally laughed out loud when his lady interest gave him a much deserved dressing down) but provides a…different perspective. I could appreciate that twist on the classic dashing swordsman – this is not a righteous man, he’s vain and arrogant and only letting himself being dragged into things because he wants the prestige. And my favourite character – Inspector Glokta. A very cynical and nasty man – but his thought processes are fascinating in how they contrast with his actions and the way he portrays himself. He is a lot more vulnerable than he shows, but also sharper and more aware. He also provides the book with a lot of its humour, a lot of very dark humour. Which is my favourite kind. They each give a different perspective on the major aspects of what’s going on. I thought the author did an amazing job of giving his characters unique voices, and portraying their personalities consistently in words and action – they were not just whatever the plot wanted, and they weren’t always successful or heroic. They were flawed, imperfect and not just in the angsty ways. I in particular loved the scene quoted above – where Logen come to the city for the first time- after a lifetime of living a in a much more remote, more sparsely populated region, and this confident warrior is now overwhelmed, gawking at everything, feeling lost, and anxious. I thought that so imaginative – how the author could think of that – what it would be like for that character in that situation and how he conveyed it. I also loved that he wasn’t afraid to take his strong warrior and give him aspects where he is weak. He’s not gruff or particularly macho – he’s just trying to stay alive which in his world, required him to become a brutal fighter. Again, it’s these little twists on the classic setups – well, the classic characters mostly – that stop the book from becoming too typical. There are a lot of great side characters too – everyone, no matter how small their part, feels like they have a personality and a life within this world.
This book immerses you in its world and its way of thinking. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for with great writing and great characters. It’s just so very intelligent, and imaginative. And funny. I immediately bought the second and third in the series and am looking forward to them.