Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

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Once upon a time, I read Half a King by Joe Abercrombie and was quite fond of it.

Half a King was a wonderful entry into the unique brand of subversive storytelling Abercrombie is famed for. It was a thrill to go through but now that I’ve read four of the six First Law books (the First Law Trilogy and ‘Best Served Cold,’ which introduced me to one of my all-time favourite female protagonists)  I can safely say, the First Law is what  food is to the prisoners of a Siberian penal colony!

You’re impressed by my uncanny ability to make up weird and frighteningly specific similes, I know.

Just before I begin the review in earnest, allow me to say…I finally read it! I’ve had this trilogy for a shamefully long period of time, without ever touching it for reasons that elude me and defy reason! With this out of the way…

What’s the Blade Itself all about? Ask our old friend, Homer, and he’ll give you an excellent answer: ‘The blade itself incites to deeds of violence*.’ See? Even Homer read The First Law trilogy. It’s that good! It incites even the temporal laws of the universe to violate themselves!

The world of the First Law will, at first glance, seem no more or less alien than any other epic fantasy world you might’ve explored. A great and wise Magi is to be found, a bloodthirsty barbarian fights for his survival, a cruel Inquisitor tortures both the guilty and the innocent for his own advancement, and a young nobleman and soldier prepares for a test of skill, which can see him become champion of the Union.

Dig deeper, and you’ll discover few things are as they first appear — Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta is a man deliciously cynical but to whom there is more than is readily obvious; Logen Ninefingers, a blood-thirsty barbarian by reputation wants nothing more than to leave that reputation behind; our young, dashing officer Lothar is as cowardly as he is pleasant to look at–and oh, how handsome he is. Even our wizard hides within layer upon layer, every one stranger than the one before it. The only character who doesn’t seem to go against my first impression of her was Ferro, the fugitive slave from Gurkhul, the Union’s Southern neighbour and favourite country to go to war with due to reasons way too complex and spoiler-y to explain here; and I quite understand a former slave wanting nothing more than to murder her former slavers.

Dozens of other characters, both likeable ones and absolute bastards are to be found within the pages of The First Law.  None lack in character, none come off as anything less than real human beings with their own motivations and goals, and those come off starkly in conflict with what our protagonists are attempting to accomplish. The conflicts can be very clear-cut, with impressive battle and chase scenes; other times, they’re much more discrete, happening during spectacularly written pieces of dialogue which may leave goosebumps all over your body.

Abercrombie’s battles deserve mention, both for the excellent description and the cost they exact upon the characters who take part in them. War is not without cost, regardless whether you come out on top and the author makes a wonderful job of illustrating what a toil war bears.

Possible problems you might have with The Blade Itself:

  • The plot moves slowly. I never once had an issue with that, because it didn’t feel like pointless build-up to me; exciting and interesting events happened throughout, but we did spend a lot of time in a single city, setting things up; totally worth it in my opinion, but some people are less patient and might not find it as enjoyable as I did, or at all.
  • You might not like the characters. But then again, that’s the risk with every book ever, so why am I drawing this out?!

The Blade Itself is a book about a few different things, and those work really, really well. It’s a character-driven story, a tale about a monarchy besieged on all sides by enemies just as all those enemies move to attack it; it’s a book that sets up one of the most subversive and genre-flipping stories I’ve read in recent memories; and it’s a treat of excellent worldbuilding that never once threatened to overwhelm or bore me.

Perhaps I was wrong to review it only after reading the entire trilogy and appreciating, in retrospect, just how well a number of mind-blowing events are set-up. If that is so — that’s my cross to bear, innit?

One last mention — the city of Adua, where a large portion of this book takes place, makes for a really awesome set piece. It’s majestic and beautiful, but deeply corrupt–three things I want in any city worth visiting! #visitAduanow

PS Yes, the cover above is from the audiobook version. I haven’t listened to it, so I can’t speak to the level of narration; the image was the most high-quality one I could find on the Interwebz.  Feel free to check the audiobook out, if that’s your thing, or if you spend three hours a day in a car, public transport or by train. Go trains!

Thank you for reading! I’ll be back soon with reviews of Before They Were Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings. If you enjoyed this review, please click that ‘Like’ button, and don’t be afraid to Follow me! Have you read the Blade Itself? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments below!  Go grimdark fantasy! Whooo!

 


*Quote in the Odyssey is from the beginning of book XIX , and is, depending on the translation, either For iron by itself can draw a man to use it’ or ‘Iron has powers to draw a man to ruin,’ both of which aren’t too far off from the quote presented above andat the beginning of The Blade Itself. It’s likely that Abercrombie mixed and blended the two translations, adding a bit of his own magic, which I’m all for.

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: The Time of The Dark

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Some time ago, I wrote about an appreciation thread on reddit; it was about author Barbara Hambly and her many works, which include but are not limited to vampiric noir, dark fantasy, world-jumping fun with wizards and much more!

The Time of the Dark was the first amongst these recommendations, and the favourite of the thread’s author. Now that I’ve read it,I can certainly see why.

The novel, which tells us the tale of an ancient foe, long dormant but recently awakened, is a lot darker than its cover might have you think, at first. It’s a wonderful cover, by the way — a wizard wearing his rugged robe and sitting amidst an all too normal 20-century kitchen. I love the spilled chips, the empty can of beer and just about everything in that cover; if posters were sold of the drawing alone, I would be hanging it left and right.

You have to appreciate a wizard drinking beer from a can for the first time, is all I’m saying.

There is humor in this book, even though its themes, if you think about them, are downright terrifying, and could traumatize without too much difficulty. Let’s unpack, shall we?

The Dark are horrifying antagonists; they are not individuals as humans are; rather, they have something akin to a hive mind, allowing them to transfer information instantaneously. They have no form–the Dark are like globs of darkness, capable of changing their form at will, growing from five to twenty five feet nearly as quickly as one could blink. The Dark come at night, but they come; their numbers are enough to overrun any city.

But not the Keeps. The Keeps, these ancient constructs of magic and technology of a by-gone age, allowed humanity to survive the Dark’s last incursion, over three thousand years ago. Now, they will have to aid The Realm’s stragglers and survivors, as these attempt to traverse the road’s dangers, and the attacks by the Dark, all to find safe haven.

Amidst all this, we follow the stories of Ingold Inglorion-the elder wizard on the cover, and a wizard who will remind you of the best traditions in the fantasy genre; and that of his two friends from our Earth, Rudy and Gil. Rudy is a biker and an artist; Gil is a woman after my own heart, a medievalist historian with a very cold streak, and a colder heart, still.

These three main characters of ours are absolute gemstones, and they’re not the only ones. The entire cast of support characters are written in a superb way, as is the rest of the book. Descriptions can be both beautiful and haunting, and my pulse quickened as I read through tense moments that absorbed with such impressive ease as to leave me impressed.

Few books have had one character dominate every scene they’re in as Ingold does it. He might often remind you of Gandalf, as he did to me, but at those times, he’s more of a self-aware Gandalf than anything else. Indeed, lines such as the one below speak of self-awareness that is entertaining and feels like Hambly poking innocent fun at fantasy clichés that we’re all too familiar with.

“She barely hid a smile. “That’s a wizard’s answer if I ever heard one.” “Meaning that mages deal in double talk?” His grin was impish. “That’s one of our two occupational hazards.” “And what’s the other one?” He laughed. “A deplorable tendency to meddle.”

You see what I mean?

The Time of the Dark is another book that is well worth your time; I promise!

You might have some difficulty getting a hold of a physical copy, but the trilogy went digital some time ago and if the next two books are anything like this at all…they’ll be well-worth the read.

What’re you waiting for?!

For me to finish? Alright, alright! I’ll see you next week!

To my regular readers…Sorry for the tread-bare content during the last week; I had a birthday, and then had to travel. At one point, I was awake for about…36 weeks, with two short naps on a plane and bus to make up for it. Content should run more smoothly from here on out, thank you for your patience!

 

Quote of the Day (23/08/2017)

On days like these, when I read a couple of hundreds pages in order to take an exam I don’t much care about, in a university I find boring, at best, I think of futility. Thus, this quote:

‘Tell me, Tool, what dominates your thoughts?’

The Imass shrugged before replying. ‘I think of futility, Adjunct.’

‘Do all Imass think about futility?’

‘No. Few think at all.’

‘Why is that?

The Imass leaned the head to one side and regarded her. ‘Because, Adjunct, it is futile.’

– Steven Erikson, Gardens of the Moon

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain, Volume 10 — Tamara

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I find my Ex-Wife standing in the ruins of an ancient temple not far from the center of town. Mine Librarians have, by now, subjugated all local authorities, and have made their base unto the small library in town. ‘Tis a pitiful reliquary of knowledge but it shall feed their hunger for the arcane until my business is done.

I have cast self-writing spells on this here feather, and am stepping unto the once-hollow grounds of cursed Linah, goddess of old. I can hear the thunder that the harp stole from me all the way from the entrance, curse her grabby claws.

I step on a tile and — of course — an apparition of the three-headed pet dog I had appears and attempts to bite my head off. Ungrateful sap! I summon a blade of pure darkness, and cut through its soul essence, unable to help myself as gleeful laughter escapes mine lips.

She poisoned my puppy, and stole its remains, for this?!

One simply must respect her attention to detail; few put in such grand effort into their malicious intent towards me. Take the Council of Darkness — for all their armies, that yonder group of mine colleagues hath proven woefully lacking in imagination. Soon will I turn the blade on them, and cut their traitorous tongues, and serve them with spicy goodness and mushrooms.

Mushrooms add a depth to traitorous tongues that few other ingredients manage to!

Ah, this wife of mine — her gauntlet tires on me. But the thunder is ever nearer, and so must I venture further. Tis maze of tunnels, built by ancients–Bah! I will have none of it!

My armored fingers twitch with utter disregard to all things living, and all things rocky that might be encountered against the underground wall in front of me. It melts away, clearing the way towards mine succubus of an ex! I do not see her, not y–what’s this? My spell is boun–!

I awaken to the sensation of molten armor all over my magnificent vessel. ‘Tis not a pleasant one, to my mild surprise; at least I can now scratch an item off of my Agony List.

Metal reforms and strengthens under mine force of indomitable will, and I get up and stomp towards the deafening sounds of mine thunder. There will be hells to pay. Perchance she will be the one to pay them all in the stead of mine suit of armor.

There she is, now. My, is she a fright to beholden!

Her hair is pale white, with a purple strand or two, and her eyes — a bloodshot red that makes artists squeal with joy untold. Her nails could decapitate a man with such ease as to leave any observer awed and drenched in cold sweat. Her legs are travelling towards my–ARGH– “Woman, what did you do that for?!”

“It’s my way of thanking you for the chase you’ve given, husband of mine.” She smiles at me. The nerve! “I have long hungered for a game of cat and mouse, darling man, and you were all too accommodating. Did you enjoy your — welcoming pup?”

As she speaks, I attempt to flicker her off with two fingers. Would silence her well enough. Mine is a lightning fast move; the harpy dodges it, blast her winged hide.

“Mine thunder, woman.”

She lets out a roaring laugh, then turns unto a wolf, three, four times the size of mine dark lupine pets, and lunges at mine throat. Barely do I react in time, slapping her fanged face away.

One thing I have never missed in this woman — her dog breath.

She transforms once again, this time to a younger visage of her true form; her face is bloodied but she pays no heed to it.

“It is not here, husband, surely you have noticed so already?”

I give no answer; curse the gods, she is right! The sounds of mine thunder do no longer provide ambiance in the massive underground arena whence we have our ex-marital bout of violent exchanges…

“Return it, witch!” I spit at her, as the earth trembles in response to mine terrible wrath, dirt and sandstone raining down on us. “Or else I shall bury us both, and watch as you wiggle your way up, under the guise of a worm — it will suit you so, Tamara!”

She pouts at me — she dares! — and puts a chest upon that device that pumps blood unto her ancient body. “I didn’t wish your anger to cause it harm, darling, and so I put it somewhere safe; it just so happened that my body was the safest vessel. Can you blame me?”

“Most cer–”

“Your spell of doom and gloom did try to disintegrate me so…I wanted to avoid any further unpleasantness, and so I did as I thought best.”

“Take it out then, witch, and hand it over. Do so now, and I will allow thine wings to carry you unharmed from here.”

She takes a step forward, and bows, a bit too deeply. Mockery, perhaps?

“Kiss me, and it will be yours to command once more,” she says, her eyes glinting with…whatever it is that witches’ eyes glint with, when they are plotting to steal a kiss from me.

“Must I, really?”

“Is it the breath that worries you?”

“It’s–oh, never you mind, witch. Let us be done and over with this.”

She nods, and I remove my helm.

“I love what you’ve done with your hair, it’s really quite captivating.”

I ignore her, as her face draws nearer. Gods, and I thought the stench was bad before.

“If this is trickery, witch, I will roast you for it. No memory of old will stop my hand this time, and no ma–”

She silences me. The force of my magnificent, wondrous thunder roars unto her body, as I stretch mine consciousness unto her body–and the trap springs.

 

Day #0176

I awoke unto darkness. It shouldn’t have worried me, of course — since I have excellent darkvision — but it did. Mine attempts to summon light were met with great lack of success; mine magics did not respond unto mine desperate calls and pleas.

I finally managed to start a fire with a flint that I discovered after hours upon hours of search in the darkness. A leather bag was not left not far from me but in the darkness…it took a long time to discover.

Light gave way to definitive proof of what I feared most — mine former wife has somehow stolen mine glorious body, and left my mind unto hers. She is doubtless far, by now, already plotting on the best ways to dismantle my growing Empire.

Tamara will fail. I will hunt her down, take back the vessel that is due to me, and banish her unto realms of such endless horror that she could not ever dream of.

And I…I will make sure that none are left to defy me, once she is taken care of.

 

 

Book Recommendation: The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson is one talented sunuvabiscuit.

It’s impossible for me to think of a title that has Sanderson’s name on it, and is also bad. There’s no higher accolade I could give an author.

Sure, there’s always something to get annoyed about, if you’re looking for reasons to do so — Sanderson’s near-constant avoidance of actually using curse words is my personal pet peeve; he instead elects to make world-specific cussing which sometimes works and sometimes…doesn’t.

I could write a dozen essays on Brandon Sanderson’s style and works, but that detracts from today’s recommendation. So, have at it!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or don’t follow the ‘epic fantasy’ scene at all, Sanderson’s most ambitious project yet goes by the name “Stormlight Archives.” It has been dubbed by some as the spiritual successor of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series — which Sanderson stepped up to complete after Jordan’s untimely death — and one could certainly make some parallels.

That said, where WoT seems to have aged in terms of characterization and theme, having drawn heavily from Tolkien in one aspect or another, the Way of Kings is its own beast — and a most impressive beast it is.

With multiple Point-of-View characters, the novel flashes out a beautiful — albeit hard to live in — world of stone and war. Roshar, as it’s called, is a world ravaged by highstorms, which are both blessing and a curse; destructive natural storms, which provide Stormlight — currency and magical resource, both.  Everything on the supercontinent on Roshar has developed protective shells of one sort or another in order to survive.

It’s an imaginative place, Roshar…even if it’s not the number one spot on my list of fictional worlds to visit during a storm.

If the worldbuilding alone doesn’t intrigue you enough to pick this title up, the characters most certainly will. There are many of them, and I found them all absolutely delightful to read about.

  • Kaladin, an ex-soldier made slave, is broken by the mistakes of the past. His journey to remaking his shattered self is fraught with pain and tragedy, and is absolutely brilliant.
  • Shallan Davar is desperate to save her family. So desperate that she would lie, cheat and risk making an enemy of one of the most powerful women of the land…
  • Dalinar Kholin, a High Prince of Alethkar, is going mad. Every time a highstorm comes, he is besieged by visions…or hallucinations. Do these have deeper meaning…or are they a sign of an old, once-mighty warrior slowly losing his mind?
  • Jasnah Kholin is a scholar of great renown, a brilliant thinker…and an atheist. One who does not compromise her beliefs, no matter what. She is also one of my absolute favorite characters in the world, which says something.

These are but a few of the main characters; rest easy, there are many more, all of them interesting in one way or another. There’s no shortage of action, political intrigue and mystery in this first chapter of Sanderson’s epic fantasy. I am currently listening to the second book and it’s fantastic. More’s to come about that over the next couple of weeks.

If you enjoy audiobooks,I would point you towards Graphic Audio’s version of the Way of Kings. It’s really good, with a full cast. It’s more expensive than the unabridged audiobook, but the production value more than makes up for it. (It’s not abridged either, for the record.)

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this piece, feel free to follow me for more! I love books and fiction, and I would love to discuss away!

And now, before I sign off for the day, a lightning round of awesome stuff in the Way of Kings:

  • Shardbearers!
  • Jasnah!
  • The Cosmere!
  • Betrayal!
  • Honor!
  • Flashbacks!
  • Interludes!
  • Crying assassins!
  • Wit!
  • Duplicitous people!
  • High Princes!
  • Bright-eyed people!
  • Dark-eyed people!
  • People whose eyes are bright even if they’re dark-eyed!
  • Bulletpoint lists!

Bye!