The Blade Itself: Book One of The First Law
(Gollancz, £9.99, 422 pages, trade paperback, also available
in hardback priced £18.99, published 18 May 2006.)
this is a breath of fresh air! A story told with wit, dash, and a keen
eye for character.
In Adua, capital city of The Union, Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta, crippled
ex-soldier, spends his days torturing confessions out of petty traitors.
His work is banal yet revolting, still, it's a living, in its way, and
Glokta isn't good for very much else since the servants of the Emperor
of Gurkhul got through torturing him!
Also in Adua, Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a pretty, spoiled, lazy young
nobleman, prances through the undemanding duties and amusements of a
garrison officer while half-heartedly training to win the annual fencing
contest which he hopes will set his feet on the path to greatness. Conceited
and blinkered, Luthar knows little about the greater world, and cares
less, which is unfortunate, as the greater world is about to come knocking,
with intentions malign!
Up in the Northlands Loren Ninefingers, ex-champion to the brutal
Bethod, King of the North, is on the run. He's on the run from Bethod,
and from the inhuman Shanka, and from a horrendously bloody past which
has given him a reputation on a par with Vlad the Impaler (and he almost
deserves it...) Surprisingly, Loren is actually a rather decent man.
His cruel life, his painful losses and disappointments, have mellowed
him. He's gained a strange wisdom from all the brutality he's lived
through, and an almost melancholy reserve. When Bayaz, First of the
Magi, sends Loren an invitation it seems only polite to accept, and
shortly thereafter to join Bayaz on a little trip he has planned to
(you guessed it) Adua...
There's a nicely nested set of conflicts at work in this story. As
the above should make clear, all the principle characters have their
own crises, trials and obsessions to work out. At the same time they
persistently get in each other's way. Then there's Bethod, King of the
North, who having spent half his life hammering the bloody-minded Northmen
into some sort of unity now finds he has to do something with them and
there's The Union, just to the South... For that matter, there's the
new Emperor of Gurkhul, Uthman the Merciless, who intends to take back
the territory The Union won in the last war... Of course this is all
froth on top of a tidal wave as Bayaz, First of the Magi, is desperately
trying to deal with Khalul the Prophet, who has raised himself up an
army of cannibalistic sorcerors with which to overwhelm the world...
The ideas, the themes, and even the plot devices in Abercrombie's
work aren't new, but they don't have to be. They are told with real
verve, a genuine ear for good language, a willingness to take time to
make the characters' thoughts, actions, and experiences real for the
reader. Also, as I've said, there's a dark, playful, at times genuinely
delightful wit here, which picks a grain of humour out of the most morbid
Of course, one can point to flaws. The book could have used a slightly
tighter edit, and very occasionally Abercrombie lets the darkness in
his characters mount just a little too high, but never mind. Finding
a writer like Abercrombie amidst the clutter of second-raters who crowd
the fantasy genre is like the sun breaking through dark clouds; he wakes
you up and reminds you why you took up reading in the first place.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: