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The Blade Itself: Book One of The First Law

by Joe Abercrombie

(Gollancz, £9.99, 422 pages, trade paperback, also available in hardback priced £18.99, published 18 May 2006.)

Review by Martin Owton

cover scanThe Blade Itself is the first novel by young British writer Joe Abercrombie and is the opening book of a series, The First Law. The setting, the Union, is reasonably standard pre-gunpowder generic fantasy. The story initially follows three point of view characters (though others turn up later): Logen Ninefingers, a barbarian separates from the rest of his band fleeing from both human and non-human enemies; Inquisitor Glokta, once a swordsman hero, now a cynical torturer crippled by his war injuries; and Jezal dan Luthar, a young nobly-born army officer with no more ambition than winning the next hand of cards.

The plot, in a leisurely way, brings these characters together in Adua, the capital of The Union (nicely realised as gloriously corrupt) along with Bayaz, first of the Magi, who is clearly a powerful magician and claims to be of incredible age. Trouble is brewing from several sources, the bloody King of the Northmen, the new Emperor of Gurkhul, but the corrupt and decadent rulers of The Union dismiss the reports and go back to plotting against each other. Clearly a major conflict is just around the corner with our characters right in the middle of it.

Classic set up for an epic fantasy adventure then. Well yes, but most of the book is taken up with getting the characters though their own personal trials before they get together to go off on what appears to be a major quest so, in effect, this is a 500 page prologue. Given that it is quite entertaining. The characters are well-drawn and realistic, the dialogue is sharp, particularly that featuring Glokta. The whole, while well-written, suffers from a lack of real tension to give it that page-turning quality. It's a promising debut, but I'm holding back from advising you to buy it right now because I think it will work much better when the second book appears and you can see where this is all going. Then, I hope, the big adventure will get rolling and the wheels really turn.

Oh and it needed a map.

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