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The Blade Itself
Joe Abercrombie
Gollancz, 560 pages

The Blade Itself
Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie is a freelance film editor living in London. The Blade Itself is his first novel.

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A review by John Enzinas

The Blade Itself is the first book of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy. As with many trilogies, the first book of the series is used to introduce us to its variation of the typical fantasy cast. We have the Savage Barbarian with the dark past, the Nobleman with no sense of altruism, the Beautiful Feisty Commoner, the Inept Apprentice, the Cynical Intellectual and, as always, the Mysterious Magus to drive the plot forward.

Abercrombie, however, takes these conventions and filters them through the lens of Noir (dramas that set their protagonists in a world perceived as inherently corrupt and unsympathetic). Even though there is not a single character who remains entirely likeable by the end of the book, every one of them has become a real person whose fate is something you care about -- even if what you really want is to see them get some sense knocked into them.

The book focuses mostly on the tales of the three main protagonists, each told from their respective perspectives. Each of these three stories has its own style and they all interweave without fully joining. The first is the cynical intellectual, Inquisitor Glotka, who works for the secret police of the Union as a torturer. He is an angry bitter man, having lost his golden-boy status when he was captured and tortured himself in the Union's last war and was left a disfigured cripple. Glotka is put at odds with the Nobleman, Jezal den Luthar. Jezal is society's latest golden boy, with no plans for his future other than a cushy government post and all the wine, women and gambling he can stand. The third of the main characters is the barbarian Logen Ninefingers, who agrees to join the magus on his quest, partly as penance for past misdeeds and partly out of curiosity.

Unlike much of the fantasy I have read, Abercrombie keeps his focus tight on each of his characters. Logen cares mostly about keeping himself and his charges alive. He is able to watch much of the planning of the magus, but for the most part does not care. His battle cry is "I'm still alive." Glotka is probably the most politically active of the three. He becomes enmeshed in political machinations for control of the Union, but while he understands his role he cares more about maintaining his own position (and life) as well as complaining about his lost status. Jezal has no real concern for the world around him. Even the talk of the upcoming war only fuels his fantasies for promotion. He alternates between lamenting the hard work he must do to become a good enough fencer to win the regimental challenge and pining like a lovesick puppy over his friend's sister.

The only criticism I have is the utter lack of female characters with any sort of agenda of their own. Abercrombie can surely write female characters, as is aptly demonstrated by Ardee. Her dialogue and personality are crisp and clean. However, she, (like the only other female in the book with an actual part) exists only as a means of motivating the main (male) characters. Ardee is given no real motivation of her own, but seems rather to exist merely as a plot device. I hope this will change in future books.

In addition to excellent characterizations and fascinating world-building, Abercrombie also writes the best fight scenes I have read in ages. I'm glad the whole package is good, but I could happily recommend The Blade Itself for the fight scenes alone.

Copyright © 2006 John Enzinas

John Enzinas reads frequently and passionately. In his spare time he plays with swords.

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