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357 of 370 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2006
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I read the blurb from the back and nearly turned away after reading only half of the summary. But something made me open it up and try the first few pages--and I was hooked. It starts with an action scene--like most fantasy novels--and it is described so well. It is realistic without splattering gore in your face. I can't think of any other author who treads that line so well as Joe Abercrombie does in The Blade Itself.

I didn't find this a funny book, overall. It's not a comedy at all. But there are several moments where I did laugh out loud as I read some clever description or a reaction of one of the characters. In fact I think I found more to smile at in this book than most other novels that are specifically tagged as being funny or humourous. The humour here isn't forced. I didn't feel like the author was trying to be funny. It was more like the humour you might find in casual conversation with a friend.

This book moves along at a good pace. It is one of those books where you want to keep reading to find out what happens, but, unlike many other page-turners, things actually happen in this one! I hate books that promise action or resolution just over the next page, just another page, one more page, and before you know it you've read half the book and still nothing's happened. This is definitely not a one-trick pony of a book. Each character is well developed and the plots intertwine naturally.

What this book doesn't contain are tired old writing techniques. Well, it's not perfect, but it's as close as I've come across in 15 years. Anyway, there are no stereotypical cliched fantasy characters. The author doesn't end each chapter on a contrived cliff-hanger and then talk about another character's life for ten chapters before returning to the cliff-hanger. He doesn't especially dwell on the gruesome details of battle, but he writes it as realistically as you'd want. Perhaps not super-realistic--this is a fantasy, after all--but it's not nearly as predictable as many.

Something else I noticed about the writing style is that Joe will change his writing a little to suit each character. So each time he changes the perspective to a new character, the way he describes the scenes changes, too. It's like he's letting us look through each of their eyes, rather than just giving us a homogenous narration throughout. They're not jarring transitions by any means, though. For me they really added to the story and made it all the more absorbing.

This is by far the most absorbing novel I have read for many years. And this is the most glowing review I have given any book on Amazon!
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127 of 136 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2007
Long on intrigue, stark and direct, from a quality standpoint Abercrombie's debut fits well within the upper reaches of the fantasy genre and produces a number of decent mysteries for books two and three of the trilogy. Abercrombie has put a new spin on the typical medieval fantasy fare.

First, his main characters are both archetypal, and not. There are six primary ones: Collem West, the low-born, capable, hardworking warrior who has accomplished a great deal in the caste-bound military system of the main setting for the novel, the empire known as the Union; Ferro Maljinn, a warrior woman from the south who has seen war, death, and an existential threat to all mankind but knows only hate; Jezal Luthar the gifted swordsman who typifies the courtier-set until his mindset is changed by a no-nonsense love interest; the Dogman, a Norse-type warrior from the North who fights with a perpetually feuding band of brothers that wishes to save the world from two horrible dangers; Logen Ninefingers, a barbarian warrior who has far more human frailties than Conan; and Sand dan Glokta, the Inquisitor.

Glokta is Abercrombie's best character -- a hero of the Union, champion swordsman, he was captured during a previous war and physically shattered such that as a 35-year old man, his appearance and motor skills are closer to someone three times his age. But his mind works well -- he is sharp, biting, cruel, courteous, and bitter by turns.

This volume has some action (fights, duels, small battles, some magic), and hints at the overall plot (the plot points are really a bunch of dots on paper, without a lot of connecting lines yes), but primarily sustains its momentum with intrigue and detail to set up the remaining books. Abercrombie's writing is direct, coarse (lots of epithets), frequently funny, and often dark.

All told, a fine beginning.
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89 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2010
Every year one of my old college buddies sends me one or two sci-fi/fantasy novels for my birthday. Knowing my disdain for pop-fiction writers like John Grisham (What, a lawyer at the heart of a conspiracy? Amazing!)or self-important fantasy blowhards like George RR Martin (it's 2011 and ADWD is STILL nearly finished... or maybe that was his career? Oh well, let's watch some Jets and Giants and forget about it), my friend always tries to show me authors that care more about characters and story than making money, movies and miniseries. Sometimes he has succeeded (John Scalzi, and yes, A Game of Thrones too) and sometimes his suggestions were a little too far off the beaten path (Accelerando, Perdido Street Station).

This year it was "Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson and "The Blade Itself" by Joe Abercrombie. This review covers The Blade Itself.

Fantasy novels are, quite frankly, extremely easy to do poorly. Barbarian. Wizard. Brave knight. Cowardly knave. Occasional she-devil, be she Nubian warrior or redhead with a big sword. All these characters are well-known to fans of the genre, as are their exploits. Quest to end of the earth to get/destroy magical item/treasure/water fowl, which will save the world from darkness/destruction/enslavement/Ryan Secrest. I've seen and enjoyed all this (except the RS-free world, but a man can dream), so a fantasy writer had better make it fun for me.

Joe Abercrombie succeeds for two reasons, the first being the characters he designed for this story. You have Logen Ninefingers (Lo-gen, of the NINE fingers...), aka the Bloody Nine, barbarian from the North who trades in Conan's utter lack of humanity for world-weariness and a palpable sense of impending damnation for his many sins. You have arrogant Jezal Luthar, who you want to hate so much that by the end of the book you are actually angry that he's part of the quest and not a stain on the rug. You have Ferro the aforementioned she-devil, who comes across as a female Kratos - not very deep, but oh so awesome. Finally, you have my favorite fantasy character of the last decade, Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta, the torturer with a heart of gold.

Second, since every chapter is entirely from one character's point-of-view (at least until the forming of the quest)you get to see each character first from their inner thoughts, until another POV character actually "sees" what they look like. The first time you "meet" Logen from another character's POV is one of the great moments of the book, and the multiple POVs make the dynamics of the quest interesting enough to wonder what they will be doing when they leave on the quest.

Unfortunately, this event happens at the end of the novel, leaving us with very little in the way of actual events. War is brewing but not yet started. Glokta finds out a conspiracy just in time to be sent on his next one. And the quest leaves for... somewhere, to find... something. I forgive this abrupt end because 1) it's a trilogy, and 2) Abercrombie actually finished said trilogy, probably because he spent his time writing books instead of writing about how he has no time to write books. Just sayin'.

I finished this 530-pager in a few nights and immediately got my hands on Before They Are Hanged. Fantastic book that entertained me and left me wanting more. Highly recommended.
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292 of 364 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2007
Logen Ninefingers is a homeless, battle-scarred barbarian, hoping to live one more day. Jezal dan Luthar is a conceited rake with the vague ambition of winning an annual fencing contest. Sand dan Glotka, who won such a contest years ago, is a torture-crippled torturer in the Union's Inquisition, rooting out whatever truths or half-truths will please his superiors (if not the Union's senile king). Ferro Maljinn is an escaped slave, lean and feral, seeking vengeance against the empire that destroyed her people.

Against the backdrop of the mysterious agenda of the wizard Bayaz and an invasion by a new barbarian king, first-time author Joe Abercrombie slowly weaves together the violent lives of these four to open his First Law trilogy. It's difficult to elaborate further without providing spoilers, but suffice it to say that so much of the story remains in the shadows that readers seeking closure may wish to wait until the trilogy is completed.

The Blade Itself--its title taken from a quotation attributed to Homer--is reminiscent of two other recent debuts by young authors: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. All three are lengthy, unfinished tales with competent writing and world-building, as well as displays of intelligence by the authors in striving to avoid, or at least execute freshly, fantasy cliches. That said, even taking into account Mr. Abercrombie's hard-boiling of his prose to evoke the grit of his characters and their surroundings, TBI is distinctly the least well-written and -imagined of the three. (With regard to world-building, a map would have helped.) Mr. Abercrombie shows a knack for portraying hard-edged, brutally realistic characters scarred by their pasts--Logen, Glotka, Ferro--but his portrayal of the naive Jezal pales by comparison. On the other hand, a few displays of humanity throughout the tale are surprising and well-executed, as are some instances of dialogue and the repetition of certain phrases. As a final note, this reader found the liberal use of real-world profanities and grammatical errors distracting.

If it were a restaurant, TBI would never be mistaken for a fine-dining establishment, but it stands up well as a bar and grill welcoming to guys and gals with the time to overlook slow service and who enjoy peanut shells on the worn, wooden floor and plenty of red meat. Recommended as a library loan for everyone else. 3-1/2 blood-and-mud-crusted stars.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2008
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie is the first book in the First Law trilogy. The second book being Before They Are Hanged (The First Law: Book Two) which is scheduled for release in the United States in late March, 2008. This novel represents Mr. Abercrombie's first novel. I originally came across this book based on a recommendation from a fellow fan of the fantasy genre. I looked into it and it sounded some what interesting, so I made the decision to go ahead and try it.

The plot of this book, at least in my experience with the novel, was hard to discern. I was literally halfway through the novel before the actual plot of the novel began to emerge. This is mainly due to the fact that Mr. Abercrombie tried so hard to introduce new characters and set the stage for future scenes. Once I completed reading the novel, I believe the plot of this volume is merely a set up for the second and third books in the trilogy. There is a large political underpinning as well as a few personality conflicts. One aspect of the plot I found distracting was the sub-plot of the `Contest'. It is mentioned several times early in the book and centers around one character in particular. However, when taken into context of the overall story and concept, it seems misplaced and unwarranted. It really serves no real purpose and it was an aspect I could have cared less about. This seems to be a book that is large on characters and character development and flat on the actual story.

The characters in this novel are, for the most part, interesting and diverse. Characters such as Logen, Glokta, Bayaz, and Ferro are all complex and interesting. They all have their unique voices and act in decidedly different manners. They all have their individual flaws and strength which is nice to see. However, there are several characters, such as Jezal that come across, at least to me, as really forced and almost as an added afterthought. Which seems odd, because the grittiness and realism involved in the first list of characters is so well done. Additionally, while I have read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and have seen, and read, cursing and swearing in a novel it almost seemed like a distraction in this novel. The majority of the character dialogue is well constructed and thoughtfully done. Yet, much like the characters, some of it seems contrived and involves too much `showing' to the reader.

I understand that this is Mr. Abercrombie's first novel and as such there is some inherent growing pains associated with that. Here are a couple criticisms I have about this novel.

First is the lack of a solid, central, plot line. As a reader, I should not be expected to expend copious amounts of energy trying to determine just what the book is about. There seemed to be little initial structure in regards to the plot and I think that hurts the overall enjoyment of this novel.

Secondly, inconsistent characters. Mr. Abercrombie is very good at writing the gritty, tough, characters. However, when the character shifts to a less sure, more naïve character it becomes quite clear this is an area for improvement.

Lastly, there are times when it is quite easy to breeze through fifty plus pages. However, there are times when this book becomes severely bogged down and almost seems like a chore to read. I believe this is a combination of the lack of plot and inconsistent characters.

There are some positives with this novel.

Mr. Abercrombie does show a knack for writing a solid tale. I think once he hones his craft and is able to correct some of this deficiencies he will truly be a name to watch in the fantasy genre.

He ahs created a very good world. It's interesting, has variety, and flows well. I would have liked a map to be included to give reference points, but that is a minor thing in comparison.

The majority of Mr. Abercrombie's prose and pace is well done and held my interest. The few bumps that were present can easily be corrected with more practice.

Overall, this is a decent debut novel. While I do not hold it in high of praise as some others, I still think it's a solid novel. While I would hesitate to recommend this book to the casual fantasy fan. I think seasoned veterans of the fantasy genre would find many things to enjoy within the pages of this one. This is a very hard book for me to rate overall. In the end I will give it a 3 out of 5, because I truly believe Mr. Abercrombie can do better and has a bright future. I will surely check out the second book when it is published.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2011
Just to be clear, this review is specifically for the Kindle edition. Thus, while I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I'm going to concentrate in this review on how it was adapted to the Kindle format.

This is one of the first books I bought for my Kindle, several months ago, and thus it took some time for me to compare it with other Kindle editions and realize how poorly it was adapted to the Kindle format. Every paragraph skips several lines between them, something entirely unnecessary when the first line of each paragraph is indented. Since the chapters are split into sub-chapters by skipping an extra line between paragraphs, it is quite difficult to tell when a new sub-chapter begins, as adding a single line more is nearly impossible to notice when each paragraph already has such wide gaps between them. Sometimes there is an asterisk in these gaps to indicate a new sub-chapter; usually there isn't. The first line of the new sub-chapter isn't indented, but this often evades notice, and thus the reader is left confused by a sudden shift in scene or point-of-view.

In addition, there are numerous typos in the Kindle edition, usually in the form of random characters inserted in the middle of sentences or even words, such as a > mark from out of nowhere, or a capital T in the middle of a word. I doubt very much that these are present in the print editions.

The good news is that the publisher could fix these problems and reissue the Kindle file, allowing those of us who purchased the book to redownload it. I hope they will do so. The second book in the series, Before They Are Hanged, suffers from the same problems. This is too good a series to be adapted to Kindle in such a slipshod manner. Publishers, you can't just take a file, run it through a converter, and send it to Amazon. Adapting a book to the Kindle takes some attention and proofreading at the very least.

So, to sum up:
Story: 5 stars
Kindle adaptation: 2 stars
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2008
The biggest fault I had with this book was that it took almost the entire 500+ pages to truly (I think) start the story. The rest is about the meanderings (well ok, battle filled meanderings) of characters from a wide variety of areas. Probably the best comparison I can make is with "Fellowship of the Ring" by Tolkien. Both books involve a quest that is a major turning point in the characters' lives and the world (I assume so anyhow for "The First Law" series, not having read the latter two books). But whereas "The Fellowship of the Ring" places the start of the quest relatively early but after a buildup which makes the necessity and gravity of the quest apparent, "The Blade Itself" waits til the end and the quest appears to come out of nowhere with no indication as to why it's important.

The rest of the book comes across as a weak "Song of Fire and Ice" clone, with sections focusing on different characters from different political entities but none of these sections really grabbed me or made me care about what might happen to the characters. One is a bitter, crippled torturer. One is a pampered, spoiled, lovesick noble. One is a barbarian well known for his abilities in battle (I'll admit, this character did provide a rather well done plot twist at one point). One is a wizard who has an ulterior motive. Etc... The different political factions fight against each other, but I rarely got a sense as to why certain things were done. Battle scenes were thrown in pretty much at any opportunity. One of the characters is training for a contest, and those scenes seem nothing more than some medieval version of "Rocky".

The upshot is that for me, this novel was a slow read, punctuated by somewhat random (if reasonably well written) battle sequences, peopled by characters I couldn't empathize with, in a world with somewhat simplistic connections between the different factions, and left me just as confused as to where things were going at the end than at the beginning.

To be clear, I don't need to be hand-held when reading. I don't mind a bit of mystery, or surprising changes of direction. But for a change of direction to be surprising, there has to have been another solid seeming direction beforehand, and I never got this impression when reading.

I also didn't feel like I'd wasted my time after reading it, but it failed at its task of getting me interested enough to buy the next novel.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2007
Described by many as "noir fantasy," I was at a loss as to what The Blade Itself could be - but my curiosity was piqued. Although, the answer couldn't be more simple - it's a fantasy novel with strong noir elements, in a combination as refreshing as it is entertaining.

Admittedly, it's not for everyone: there are no damsels in distress or knights in shining armor. Yet that's what grants Abercrombie's story its appeal - the characters are painstakingly real, even if they're not "heroes" by strict definition.

The very fact that one of the main characters is crippled demonstrates something that much fantasy seems to lack: this is a world with consequences - a wave of a magic wand won't heal every body and soul. The characters aren't questing to save the world or defeat evil; they're struggling to live their own lives amidst fascinating plot and conflict.

Above all, though, Abercrombie's characterization is his strength. The reader feels the pain and sees the world through the jaded eyes of Glokta, or is right alongside Ninefingers in his struggle for survival. While the characters may have unlikable moments, the reader can always sympathize and can identify with them as real people.

I, for one, can't wait to get ahold of the next installment.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2008
I would normally not judge a book from series harshly, but this one simply did not work for me. I read the whole thing and would not buy the next installment simple based on this one.

-A ton of completely random battle encounters with bandits, soldiers, assassins, that are simply there for the author to put in some action.
-Pointless swearing. Does not add to the book's themes at all.
-"Huh" "Ugh", etc, are only funny the first few times. Totally overdone.
-Little to no conflict. Some empire and some barbarians are doing stuff, while the good guys prepare for the defense. Who the empire people, or the barbarians are, we have little to no insight. Your generic conquer without much reason plot device.
-No likeable characters. Glokta is interesting/original but annoying. Overall, the worst problem here is that none of the main characters are driving the story. They are pawns, while non-POV characters are the players. Not a good choice there.
-Your basic superpower magic is also present. Thankfully none of the POVs wield it.

What did I like about the book? I could not really say. 2 stars because I am nice.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2009
I absolutely loved this book. I devoured it and the next two books in the trilogy in around two weeks (fast reading for me, since I don't have a ton of spare time). Since I read them all in such quick succession, I won't even make an attempt to rate this book as a single piece of work; in any event, you should either buy the whole trilogy or pass on them all, based on your personal tastes. There's not much point in just buying one.

I have to second what a previous reviewer said, that the author skillfully takes fantasy archetypes and breathes new life into them. It sounds impossible, but by the end of the series you actually find these characters' personalities believable. Often, we are guilty of showing characters who have waded through years of unrelenting slaughter and violence without growing dark or disillusioned. You absolutely will not find that in Abercrobmie's books. By the end of the third book, all of his characters have gone through significant and plausible developments, both physically and emotionally. It is admittedly heartbreaking, and part of me was sad to see my beloved characters getting beaten down and changed (often for the worse) by life and its many troubles, but I can't think of a series that I have read recently that made me FEEL so much! I can't say enough good things about it.

I find it interesting that most people found Glokta, the inquisitor, the most fascinating character. Personally I found them all interesting in their own way, but my favorite had to be Logen Ninefingers. I've always wondered why in fantasy novels these warriors with totally wicked reputations always turn out to be nice guys. If you've ever wondered that, then Logen is your man. This guy is simultaneously one of the most likeable characters I've ever read about, and the baddest mothertrucker on the planet. He so desperately wants to be a good man, but events sometimes conspire against him - or it could be that, despite his wishes, he is at heart evil. Like I said, pretty complex. And keep in mind, this is just ONE character out of several that the author tries very hard to describe as completely as possible.

I just can't recommend this series enough. If you are a fan of dark, gritty fantasy told from multiple POVs, you will more than likely enjoy The First Law.

***ONE CAVEAT*** If you have a hard time stomaching realistic violence, foul language, or semi-graphic sexuality, you will probably be turned off by this series. If that is you, I completely understand your squeamishness, but you should probably pass. A lot of people appreciate what is generally termed high fantasy, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It doesn't make them a less mature reader or anything. For some it is perfectly satisfying for the author to write, "He rushed into battle and slew his enemies with a terrible fury," and leave it at that, without going into all the gory and gratuitous details. Me, I'm a little more bloodthirsty. >:)
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