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An Unforgiving Dance of Swords: Dissecting ‘The Blade Itself’

book review

Joe Abercrombie’s “The Blade Itself” is a brutally immersive jump into the thick of high fantasy that deviates from the genre’s trodden path. Straying away from sugar-coated heroism and convenient prophecies, Abercrombie thrusts readers into a raw, unforgiving, and deeply riveting tale of survival and intrigue.

Summary

“The Blade Itself” is a gruesome entanglement of diverse characters and their interconnected fates in an unforgiving world. Be it the tortured warrior Logen Ninefingers, infamous for his battle prowess and reluctant leadership, or Inquisitor Glokta, a bitter and disfigured war veteran turned ruthless torturer, or Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a self-absorbed noble with unmatched fencing skills, Abercrombie creates a magic-less world gripped with grim realities. As these characters battle their own demons against the menacing backdrop of war and politics, the boundary between heroes and villains blurs, unleashing a rollercoaster of emotions, surprising interactions, and sinister plots.

Notable Quotes:

“You can never have too many knives. Unless they’re pointed at you, and by people who don’t like you much.”

“Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

Review

Abercrombie’s “The Blade Itself” is an antithesis to traditional high fantasy. It’s dark, cynical, and unashamedly ruthless. But it’s this very raw realism laced within the fantastical narrative that sets the book apart. Rather than painting a rosy picture of valor and heroism, Abercrombie drills into the cracks of ‘heroic fantasies’ exposing their plain grim interior. His characters are not heroes born out of nobility, but survivalists navigating through a brutal world.

Despite the grim and bloody stage, Abercrombie’s astute sense of humor peeking through the pages lends a surprisingly refreshing charm. His combat scenes are meticulously written, almost cinematic in scope. If there’s a bone to pick, some readers may find the pacing a bit slow at the onset. However, the multilayered plot and strong character development more than make up for it.

The First Law Series Order

  1. “The Blade Itself”
    Kickstart your journey into the cruel and cynical world sculpted by Joe Abercrombie with this stellar opener. Logen Ninefingers, your new favourite barbarian with attitude, somehow manages to be sardonic even when he’s falling off a cliff. This one’s also got Glokta, a crippled torturer who’s seen better days but hey, every hero needs a hobby, right? Tossed in too is Jezal, a pompous nobleman who discovers fencing isn’t just an afternoon activity with stinging slaps on wrists. While “world on the brink of war” isn’t groundbreaking, Abercrombie tells it like a drunken bard with a sharp tongue and a sharper knife.
  2. “Before They Are Hanged”
    If you thought war was the worst that could happen, Abercrombie’s ready to prove you wrong with a quest in the deadly wilderness and political conspiracies. Our hapless heroes discover camping isn’t fun, especially when there are murderous cannibals and lethal magic involved. Glokta’s running in circles trying to defend a city with countless enemies and exactly zero friends. Meanwhile, Jezal discovers dating a sorceress isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. It’s brutal, it’s bloody, but nobody said saving the world was easy, or particularly rewarding.
  3. “Last Argument of Kings”
    Ready for more blood and sarcasm? Good. The final instalment of the trilogy ups the ante as war descends, the king is on his final breath, and guess who’s conveniently placed to seize power? Plus, they still have the slight issue of a potentially world-ending weapon. Ninefingers is spilling more blood than ever, while Jezal is rapidly learning that being king is a lot tougher than he anticipated (who knew?). Glokta, meanwhile, continues his reign as the most begrudgingly lovable torturer in fantasy fiction. Conspiracies? Check. Bloody battles? Double check. Abercrombie’s dark humour? In spades. Bracing for a happy ending? You’re probably in the wrong series.
  4. “Best Served Cold”
    Abercrombie ain’t done torturing his characters, just yet. Welcome Monza Murcatto, the most badass female mercenary you’ve ever seen. She’s out for revenge, and she’s not picky about who gets caught in the fallout. Characters you didn’t quite fully hate from the trilogy return – but whether it’s to live another day or meet a gruesome end is up to Monza’s mood. Abercrombie’s signature grim-dark world takes a distinct Tarantino turn, epic and deeply satisfying in a “serve them their own kidneys” kind of way.
  5. “The Heroes”
    Who needs heroes when you’ve got gritty reality? This one represents a clash of kingdoms, a three-day battle that’ll have you second-guessing your knowledge of swords and sorcery. Abercrombie picks up some side characters from the original trilogy, breathing new life into them (before he probably kills them off). There’s plenty of prime Abercrombie wit flowing through this tale of war where your favourite character may not even survive the next page turn (I’m not crying, you are!).
  6. “Red Country”
    The wild west meets fantasy in this hard-boiled frontier tale. Shy South is on a revenge quest to save her kidnapped siblings, and there’s nothing like a little family drama to get your gears grinding. Buckle up for surprising returns, harsh justice and Abercrombie’s uncanny ability to make you root for people you should probably testify against. It’s a journey to the brutal edge of the world you thought you knew, filled with blood, sand, more blood, and Abercrombie’s cruel laugh in the background.
  7. “A Little Hatred”
    Welcome to a new generation of brooding, sarcasm-laden heroes, a few decades farther into the industrial revolution and a whole lot grimmer. This one’s chock full of disgruntled workers, conniving capitalists, and Abercrombie’s signature cynicism with a bloody, sooty cherry on top.
  8. “The Trouble with Peace”
    Just when you thought peace would be a relief, Abercrombie’s characters are finding it oddly… disconcerting. Does peace mean rusting swords and a lack of bloodshed? Heck no! Featuring a ceasefire that ends in disguise, a feast that doubles as a massacre, and an aftermath that gives a new spin to ‘ruins after a party’ metaphor, Abercrombie’s masterful cynicism will make you dread dinner invitations.
  9. “The Wisdom of Crowds”
    Crowds may hold wisdom, but Abercrombie’s favorite pastime still is pushing them off cliffs. A full-blown revolution is served rare and bloody, and it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. Betrayals, unlikely alliances, showdowns you’ve been waiting ten books for, and sarcasm that could cut glass, it’s got all the spice. It makes for a fitting end to the trilogy and leaves you begging for mercy, but remember – Abercrombie never lets his characters (or readers) off that easy.

Great quotes from each book

The Blade Itself:

  • “You can never have too many knives. Unless they’re pointed at you, then you might have just one too many.” – Logen Ninefingers

Before They Are Hanged:

  • “Some people are just broken and no amount of glue, or love, or prayers, or staplers and duct tape can put them back together.” – Sand dan Glokta

Last Argument of Kings:

  • “I have learned all kinds of things from my many mistakes. The one thing I never learn is to stop making them.” – Logen Ninefingers

Best Served Cold:

  • “What’s the point in two swords if you don’t know how to use them?” – Monza Murcatto

The Heroes:

  • “No man can have enough of what he does not need.” – Craw

Red Country:

  • “People change, is the law of life. They change jobs, they change places, they change beliefs, they change husbands and wives. If they stop changing, they’re done, like.” – Shy South

A Little Hatred:

  • “The world isn’t fair. There is no pattern. People die at random. Something happens, or it doesn’t, and that’s all there is.” – Leo dan Brock

The Trouble with Peace:

  • “Pray they don’t take too long dying. Feels like I’ve been killing people in small rooms for an eternity.” – Vick dan Teufel

The Wisdom of Crowds:

  • “You have to be realistic about these things. Maybe you get exactly what you want, but you barely recognize it. Maybe you get exactly what you deserve, but you’re too senseless to see it. Or maybe you get nothing but punishment, punishment, punishment.” – Logen Ninefingers

Rating

4.4/5

Author Bio

Joe Abercrombie, a British novelist, and film editor, is recognized for his stark and vibrant contributions to dark fantasy. The author’s “First Law Trilogy” has been translated into 26 languages worldwide and has sold over two million copies.

FAQ

Q1. Discuss Abercrombie’s understanding and portrayal of violence in “The Blade Itself”.
Q2. How does the absence of magic in the narrative influence the overall tone of the book?
Q3. Explore the complexity of the characters in the book. Are they purely good or evil?

Where to Buy

Ready to step into Abercrombie’s merciless realm? Get your copy of ‘The Blade Itself’ on Amazon.

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