Review – The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

“Gah!” squawked Logen…

If the entire First Law trilogy hadn’t been sent to me by a friend, I never would have read past the line above. Less than two pages into book one, Joe Abercrombie had already indulged in two unforgivable sins. But I persevered, gritting my teeth through the unnecessary dialogue, the overly casual tone, and the baffling lack of context only to discover at the end of the book that the plot had yet to start. The three main narrative threads halted as all the characters decided to go someplace else.

In the case of our heroes, they chose to go to the edge of the world because a wizard told them to. If you guessed that this wizard was singularly tight-lipped about the purpose of their journey, you’re familiar enough with fantasy clichés to understand my frustration. It certainly doesn’t help matters that the villains of the story are the most obviously evil Inquisition this side of the Mordor, yet they still manage to get away with wholesale murder. For a book that clearly wants to be something different, the elements introduced in The Blade Itself are terribly familiar.

The world Abercrombie’s created ostensibly has a long history, but the characters are completely unaware of it. They come across less morally ambivalent than like they just woke up yesterday. And when the writing style isn’t annoyingly insecure, it’s frustratingly overconfident. Lest we forget them, singular character traits are harped on endlessly, while other important details, like whether the monstrous Shanka are barbaric humans or actual monsters, are ignored for most of the book.

It’s rare for me to find a novel this maddening. The Blade Itself is the first in a trilogy, but has all the tedious piece-moving usually reserved for a second installment. I understand that the author’s intent was to tell the story in media res, but the plot lacks urgency. It reads more like a first draft than a first book.

“Ugh,” I harrumphed.

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