The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie
TL;DR:

Love the characters; very complex, intriguing and there's already character progression. I hate when characters, especially main characters, stay the same or take 6 books to learn a simple lesson. It's a nice change. No Knight in Shining Armor here. Everyone had many layers and are grey, instead of black/white. Flawed with few redeeming qualities with their own humor. The action scenes are indeed well written like everyone's said. They are not flat and contain things often seen in real fights but are not often included in fantasy books. The book contains "dark" subjects but I don't see it as a dark book. It feels more realistic and authentic to me. It's tone is often light or flippant, with much gallows humor and bitter sarcasm. It's a character driven story. This first book is a build up to the next book. I think plenty of things happen is this book, but then again I'm all about the characters in books anyways.

People have complained about the lack of world building in this book. I disagree with this assessment. We know what the characters know and with the addition of the Navigator we'll find more in the next books. It's not necessary in this book to need detailed maps and long repeating descriptions of the landscape to understand this world. There's no reason for us to know more about the world yet. There's plenty of information here. It's character driven, we only know what the characters know and that's part of the story. The reason I want to continue reading is because I want to find out more about this place and its people. I love that the author didn't do the very detailed out of place convenient flash backs to tell the story, build the world or inform about the characters.

It was disconcerting and disorientating when the passages on a character switch places and times without notice. The passage goes on fine about Jezel's match at the Contest and then the next paragraph he's talking with someone drunk at the celebration. With no notice or indication until several paragraphs later where you can make heads or tails where/when the character is. I see the image the words create in my mind and everything this switch happens, it stops the story. "Wait, What?" Then after another few paragraphs usually it tells me where/when the characters are and the story gets on tract.

Other authors switch up characters point of view and skip ahead in time with their characters yet I've never been this off kilter by those switches. I'm not sure what it is about the authors style but it takes some getting used to. It took me awhile to get into this book and become hooked. In the beginning it was easily put down, at the end not so much. It helped that the story started to come together and the ties between the character became more apparent. Some still remain to be revealed, which is all part of the fun.



The characters are fully fledged people. They don't seem static, there is already progression and more understanding. Their backgrounds aren't well known but what we do know makes sense as reason for how they act and motivations. I have no doubt that in the continuing books the characters will continue to grow, change, stay the same and more layers of grey added as we learn more about their history.They have faults and flaws with a few redeeming qualities, their own senses of humor and quirks. It really feels like the author got into the head of the characters. It reads like this is actually how people think instead of in other books where character's thoughts are lofty, complete and never random. Even the good guys have flaws in this book, beyond the "too good, their goodness is their only weakness" too often found in fantasy. The Good guys have issues and aren't a flat trope, as seen by West with the reveal of the relationship with his sister Ardee. The Bad guys aren't fully bad or just evil to be evil as seen with Glotka.


There are obviously a few people that just seem to be bad to be bad, like Arch Lector and Goyle. But is that just because we haven't had their point of view or any background information on them? Or maybe there are some secondary characters not given the attention the main characters have received. There are also other secondary characters that are given the full people treatment such as Ardee and Bethod, of course that might just be because it was relevant to the story. I do know we will continue to see the main characters grow, change, constrict and become more grey. The are other secondary characters I have a feeling we'll be getting to know much better like Practical Vitari.


The author does indeed do a great job of the fight scenes in the book just like everyone has said. The fights feel right. They contain the luck, fear, and mistakes in actual fights. The characters POV of the fight is very well done as well, with all the tunnel vision, pain, guessing, emptiness and randomness that goes on in one's mind.

So we have realistically grey characters in a violent setting with graphic detailed fights, pretty dark right? I actually don't think so. The content might often be dark but the tone isn't and characters do shine from time to time. Like Logan treatment of Quai when they meet, Luthar beginning to understand he's an asshole, and Glokta's interaction with West at the end. It's not written darkly, meaning the author keeps the tone light. Like with Glotka's sarcasm , Luthar's fumbling, Logan's description of civility and running into someone holding papers while running for his life. It's not so graphic to focus on the details of battle down to the last blood drop and doesn't relish in the gore. The characters all have their own sense of humor and their descriptions, and action are often comical as well. Like the switching between Luthor's actual performance and then when Bayaz was working his magic on him was very funny in its description. It runs more gallows humor and bitter sarcasm but within this world, it lightens the tone up quite a bit.

There's another review that brought up Terry Goodkind and I'm glad I'm not the only one that thought of it. This book definitely seems like an anti-goodkind book. I loved Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series but honestly the lecturing and political view of the author got in the way in the end. Droning on and on about libertarianism views and ideals really drew away from the story. This book, as dark and gritty as people say, pays attention to classim, sexism and tribalism. It's not lecturing or being direct about it. However, the author draws attention to it naturally as character deal with these things and says "well doesn't this shit suck!" It shows real suffering and inequality. I don't know what the author's political views or anything. But I'd expect people to feel sympathetic and not be okay with those things. It shouldn't be comfortable, life is full of terribly unfair shit (mostly human made admittedly) and why wouldn't someone want to change it to make the world better? There are some pretty awesome quotes on the subjects.

Classim:

Bayaz explaining Adua and the Union to Logan when they first arrive and Logan wants to help a poor beggar woman with an infant pg. 247

"Haven't you noticed? They're everywhere! The King needs money, so he squeezes the nobles. The nobles squeeze their tenants, the tenants squeeze the peasants. Some of them, the old, the weak, the extra sons and daughters, they get squeezed right out the bottom. Too many mouths to feed. The lucky ones make thieves or whores, the rest end up begging."


Pointing out Tribalism by Ferro, former Gurkish slave pg 271
"The Gurkish could take all the pinks in the world for slaves as far as she was concerned. If that meant they left the real people alone."


Privilege:

Ardee to Luthar when he's whining about having to work at fencing training pg 178
"Dead? Lucky her, at least she doesn't have to listen to your damn whining! You spoiled little rich boys are all the same. You get everything you could possibly want, then throw a tantrum because you have to pick it up yourself! You're pathetic! You make me fucking sick!"



Pointing out the sexist double standard for women in society, Glokta, the tortured disabled torturer, talking to Ardee pg. 495

"As far as I'm concerned you can fuck whomever you please, though my general observation has been that, as far as the reputations of young women are concerned, the less fucking the better. The reverse is true for young men of course. Hardly fair, but then life is unfair in so many ways, this one hardly seems worth commenting on."




For the majority of the book there was one woman that was brought out as a real character. All other women were background noise simply to illustrate their societal norms. Which is rather fitting if you think about it since that's all women are thought of in this world. Notice any parallels to our society? People have complained about this lack of strong female leads and how both women are abused. Is it really that surprising that most (if not all women) are abused? Is it really hard to believe that a lot of women's personality, lives and struggles are dominated by the fact society oppresses them? I think Ardee and Ferro had plenty of personality. I like how they break societal norms and I'm sure we will learn more of them in other books. There was a glimpse of Terez of Talins personality at the celebration feast of Jezel Luthar and of the Practical Vitari. I don't think Terez of Talins is or has been abused and I have a feeling we'll get more of what's its like to be forced to fit the gender role on the highest rung of society through her.

The only real hole I could find in the story is after Bayaz takes them into the House of the Maker, why isn't any of the witness to this event questioned? I know there were look outs but wouldn't the Arch Lector want to know the details from the inside? None of the questioning is brought up though at all. Like everyone conveniently let it go and moves on. Then the Arch Lector is pissed about their plan to discredit Bayaz failed since if he was authentic he'd have the key to the House of the Maker, proved he had it and got in, yet they still don't believe that Bayaz is who he says he is. This makes no sense to me. Why is nobody talking about finally opening up of the House of the Maker after it being closed for thousands of years? Bayaz keeps saying he can't do magic like he used to so I don't buy that Bayaz put a spell on every single person that was told there was going to be the opening of the House of the Maker the next day. If it's a spell from the House of the Maker itself, how did it reach and effect all those people? So there's no plausible explanation for why the questioning of the witness that went inside of the House of the Maker didn't happen, WTF? If the questioning had gone on it would have changed the story. Big hole right there and it annoyed the hell out of me for the remainder of the book.

But the other books will determine the trilogies fate. The first book is the lead in and I'm impressed so far. Often people complain about the first book dragging on and nothing happening (the Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb comes to mind) but I don't understand that critique. What's the point of jumping into the middle of the action when you don't give a damn about the people or places? I think this book jumps into the action as the latest point it could have started. Start the book any later on or move it any quicker and the reader has no sense of background, no history with characters to understand things. I care and am intrigued by the characters and story so I'm going to happily continue to the next book.