The Darkness That Comes After

Believe in me and I will give you eternal Salvation, said the Lord. “Can I have Might or Kings instead?” asked the tank.

Review – The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Posted by senseichow on March 12, 2007

The good – Well written, multiple plots interweaving fantasy, in the vein of Martin, Erikson and Bakker. A few novel characters and good twists on the old archetypes.

The bad – …. in the vein of Erikson, Martin and Bakker. But doesn’t quite manage to reach their level.

I have to say I enjoyed this book a good deal more than I expected to. I read it together with Brian Ruckley’s Winterbirth, both in a single weekend, and while I thought Winterbirth was going to be the better of the two, turns out I was wrong.

Go figure.

The story starts out simple enough, a barbarian warrior and his loyal party are ambushed and the warrior left for dead. From there things quickly move on to the heart of The Union, the kingdom/empire where most of the action in this first novel takes place. We are introduced to Inquisitor Glokta, a man once destined for great things until two years in a torturer’s dungeon changed it all. Now he’s a torturer too, punishing treason and corruption in the name of his King.

The story continues at a brisk pace and we meet a host of other characters; Captain Jezal dan Luthar, the traditional young hero swordsman; Bayaz, First of the Magi, the typical wize wizard; Major West, the experienced military man.

Together these characters move to deal with various threats to the Union, from within and without. Its a well written story which uses the first volume to set the stage – but it avoids the, “first book to introduce everything, second book is where the action is,” cliche of most fantasy epics. There’s plenty of action in this book, and the combat scenes are well written and realistic. The heroes aren’t gonna be walking away without any scars from these fights.

And as far as the characters go, we’ve seen them all before (well, maybe not Glokta), in numerous different guises in numerous other fantasy works, but Joe Abercrombie infuses his characters with a certain cynicism and world weariness. You won’t find the darkness of Glen Cook’s heroes here, but you will find a moral ambiguity similar to Steven Erikson. You won’t find the outright comedy of Pratchett, but you will find the occasional touch of perfectly placed humor. You won’t find the worldbuilding of Martin or Jordan, but you will see plenty to suggest a rich, complex world whose surface has only just been scratched in this first volume.

In short, The Blade Itself is a good strong start to a series and one I’d recommend for fantasy fans everywhere.

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