The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Posted September 21, 2010on:
I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Joe Abercrombie for a while now. And when I finally got a copy of the first book of his First Law series, The Blade Itself, I’ll admit, the blurb on the back did nothing for me. It looked like an ordinary fantasy flick, the warrior, the wizard, the torturer, the swordsman, the quest. Ehhh. . . really? Hasn’t that kind of story been done before? Like a hundred times?
Three days of rabid reading later, if there is one word that should unequivocally never, ever be used to describe The Blade Itself, that word would be ordinary. This is the type of book that spoils you, the kind of book that makes nearly everything else on your bookshelf look mediocre, the kind of thing that could forever wreck “ordinary” fantasy for you. This is the kind of fantasy that I LIKE. Characters? I typed (and then edited out) pages upon pages of their awesomeness. Worldbuilding? even better than the characters. Mythology? Oh how I loves me some mythology, and the mythology that Abercrombie gives us just a taste of is better than the characters and the worldbuilding put together. I would never in a million years describe The Blade Itself as a comedy, but it’s really got some laugh out loud moments as well. Put blunty, this is some epic shit.
And oh, the mythology! Did I tell you I loves me some good mythology to build a world on? Once upon a time was the Maker, Kanedius. He built the city, and his House. His Brother Juvens was the Magician, and they fought to the death for control of the world. Kanedius killed Juvens, and after his apprentices vowed revenge, they attacked Kanedius at his House. Juven’s lead apprentice, Bayaz destroyed Kanedius, did something to his daughter, and the seed was lost. The House of the Maker has stood sealed at the center of the city of Adua ever since, and The Maker and Juvens fell into mythology, never to be heard from again.
In the metropolis of Adua, no one cares about the old ways , and trouble is brewing. But when is trouble ever not brewing in a place like this? The trade guilds are fighting (again) and buying politicians to their cause, the King’s open and closed councils are too busy bickering, and the populace is too distracted to notice Northern Warlord and a Southern Emperor who both have their sights set on the city and its riches. When a visitor claimes to be a messenger of the returning Great Magi Bayaz, the high chamberlain isn’t sure if he should laugh, or cry, or simply have the man arrested.
I could on and on and on about the characters and how much I adore them. but for today, I’ll spare you my fangirlness and say just say I always thought Severian was the only torturer I could love until I met Glokta, and if you are still insist on comparing The Blade Itself to the classics, Bayaz makes Gandalf look like a kindergardener.
Be warned, in fact be very warned, this is one of the darker and grittier fantasy worlds you may ever find yourself in. It is dark and dangerous world, even more so if you stop to think about what’s going on. No one wants to go to war, because you’ll die, or worse. No one is stupid enough to say the wrong thing about the wrong person, because you’ll end up in Glokta’s office, or worse. For most folks, it’s just easier to pretend the looming wars and the Inquisition just don’t exist.
The one fantasy trope that Abercrombie does subscribe to is that everyone ends up together at the end. But you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.
Maybe my inner geek is showing, but reading The Blade Itself put me a little in the mind of watching the original Star Wars movie. That would be episode IV, not episode I. In A New Hope, people are aware of the Jedi, but even though it’s only been one generation they are practically considered the creatures of myth. The existing Jedi do nothing to advertise their existence, but they know they hold the keys to freedom. I was about five years old the first time I heard Ben say “know him? he’s me!”, and suddenly mythology came to life for me. Anything was possible, because everything was possibly. the lines between history and mythology would forever be blurred for me. Hard to tell because I’m a crappy writer, but that was a pivotal moment for me. And The Blade Itself brought me right back to those feelings.