Joe Abercrombie, ‘The Blade Itself’

I’ve been saving this one up for a while. Looked at it in Waterstones, saw it had good cover reviews, had a bit of a read and liked what I found, then thought ‘No, wait till he finishes the series‘. I would have done, too, except that I found a copy for 99p in the local charity shop. (Joe Abercrombie or other interested parties, if by some chance you’re reading this, I promise I’ll buy the other volumes new. Honest.)

The thing which charmed me, very early on, is that the ‘survivors’ of one chapter heading turn out to be a man and his cooking pot. Brilliant. Why? Well, it says something about the character and the situation he’s in, as well as entertaining the reader. It’s original. It’s an unexpected, perfect little moment.

I also loved the introduction of one of the major characters: again originality was the key. You begin by hearing the thoughts of a crippled man attempting to go down a flight of stairs, and a few pages later you’re surprisingly enlightened about who he is and how he thinks. I’m also a sucker for morally dubious characters with whom you can sympathise, which is fiendishly hard to do. By making him enter the book when he’s at one of his weakest moments, and by letting us straight inside his head, Abercrombie jumps us over several hurdles, so that when we then find out his occupation we already rather like him and it’s too late for him to be a plain and simple villain.

(Yes, that’s intended to be tantalising. Read the book.)

The rest of the book is never dull, though perhaps the virtuoso beginning was a bit much to live up to. Unlike ‘The Adamantine Palace‘ (which apparently Joe Abercrombie enjoyed: wonder why?) ‘The Blade Itself’ manages to show a world which is corrupt, dark and violent, but still compelling because of the life breathed into every detail of character and surroundings. The story-telling is brisk, often humorous and never predictable.

The only problem with this book comes from the nature of trilogies. This is in no sense a stand-alone novel: it only makes sense as the first part of a larger story. It’s more common for fantasy writers to construct the overall work so that each published volume has its own internal shape of beginning, middle and end. This felt more like one long beginning, setting up both the war and the journey, the stories of which will presumably be told in the next book. It might not matter in the context of the trilogy as a whole, but it does mean the experience of reading this first volume is a little frustrating. I’ll wait till the whole work’s out before going back. Hopefully shouldn’t be too long now, as we seem to be at the large paperback stage for vol. 3.

Oh, one more thing: it needs a map. Any story which involves international relations and strategic military manoevuring needs to show us where all these places are in relation to each other. Fingers crossed. 

(PC: A)


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