Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie

Barbarians, torture, bloodshed, treason and brawling.

And that is just in the first bit of the book. Throw in mages, monks, cannibal monsters, wastrel swordsmen and more.

Right from the start with the presumed protagonist of the piece nearly falling and doing himself in with his own weapon it seems that this book will be entertaining, and it doesn't disappoint.

It would seem that on this end of the fantasy spectrum A comes between B and C, not before, as somewhere between Brust and Cook's Black Company is where you could say the tone of this book lies.

It actually made me laugh more than once, which is always a good sign.

No brainless bland farmboys or peasant girls who will be sorcerers to be found here.

I suspect the author is greatly entertaining himself with jokes and character references, and if he is, I am sure there are plenty I will not get, having not read tons of this stuff.

However, he has a 'Barbarian from the North' as a major character, which Conan is, of course. This guy is named Logen, and is the 'best he is at what he does' to quote the First of the Magi in the novel, more of less. This, of course, is Wolverine's signature line (real name Logan) and he is also from the cold North and goes berserk much as the 'Bloody-Nine' does, and also cannot have too many knives, being built in.

There are several major characters followed here, or threads of the novel. One of the others is Glokta, an Inquisitor, or torturer, who has an apprentice torturer named Severard. Not that this is a name that is remotely differenced from Gene Wolfe's Severian. There is a Lector, not a Lictor.

Old wizards with Jedi mind tricks, annoying monks with lots of tricks a la Feist, and others, if this is deliberate. Lots of fun, anyway.

The basic situation is that a strong leader and ex-employer of Logen's has united the Northern barbarian type tribes and fancies a spot of invasion. The target of said invasion is mostly too busy with decadent plotting, and also has other enemies sensing weakness.

It does seem that the First of the Magi has some sort of vague plan, at least, and he gathers a few people, including Logen and Jezal Luthar the wastrel but now fine swordsman (who wouldn't be the first to go the Earl of Bronze type route, either) together by the end to try and do something about it, as the Union shores up defenses elsewhere.

Written in a pleasing, no nonsense style with people that basically talk like real people as opposed to rejects from a bad Shakespeare play this is a very refreshing book, indeed.

No generic heroes to be found, but picking this up you will find one hell of an excellent fantasy novel.

Oh, and the cover is cool, so if you need a pirate treasure map/ancient tome for a Halloween or other costume prop, it will stand in nicely in that role, too.

The other sign that this is excellent? It makes me want to read the next one right now.

Don't remember the last 550 page fantasy book of this sort that did that.

The only real criticism I can think of is that it does take a little bit of time to pull together perhaps with all the disparate character groups. The various different parties were all interesting though.

If you roll your eyes at elves and dragons and princesses and would prefer to spend time with Skillgannon, Croaker, Vlad Taltos or even the Raven then give this book a shot, as quite likely to be more up your alley.

4.5 out of 5

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