I took a little break from posting on this blog over the past few weeks, due to a vacation in the lands of Midderland, Angland, and Gurkhul—three of the nations in Joe Abercrombie’s wonderful First Law trilogy. I had been hungry for a good fantasy series for a while, but I find most books in this genre a bit difficult to penetrate. Abercrombie starts off the first book, The Blade Itself, with a bang. A barbarian from the north, Logen Ninefingers, is on the run from a tribe of Shanka (savage natives with a mysterious background), in a terrific action scene that leaves him stranded from his countrymen. Logen, aka the Bloody Nine, a visceral warrior who survives on skill and wit, is forced into proceeding alone to the south, where he eventually encounters Bayaz, the self-proclaimed First of the Magi. The dialogue in this book is realistic, with the characters using modern curse words, while that is off-putting to some, I found it engaging. The rotating viewpoint characters are extremely interesting and colorful.
Glotka is an Inquisitor for the central government in the capital city Adua, a former war hero who suffered immense torture in the last great war, is now a torturer himself. I had a bit of a problem getting into Glotka at first, until someone on the forum suggested an actor for him: Michael Emerson from Lost. Ever since then, Glotka as a character made perfect sense, someone twisted by fate and circumstance into doing vile things for his country. Glotka is used as a weapon against the Guild of Mercers, who have grown too rich and powerful for the sake of many in the government.
Captain Jezal dan Luthar is a man born of wealth and privilege, but pressed into a sword-fighting competition which could make or break his career. Jezal is a bit lazy, prone to drinking and gambling rather than practicing, so this challenge is a bit above him. Jezal seems destined to lose this match until he meets Ardee, the sister of his friend Captain West. The three of them have an intense relationship which form an interesting sub-plot for the entire trilogy.
There are some other interesting players that emerge to become viewpoint characters. Ferro Maljinn is a former slave from Gurkhul with unworldly skills at combat, possessed with a vengeful bloodlust against her former masters. Ferro’s fierce attitude and rebellious nature won me over immediately, especially when she utters lines like “Stupid Fucking Pink!” at her allies. Logen’s former allies, a band of Northmen with names like Dogman, Black Dow, and Threetrees are tremendous fighters, but also with some of the greatest comedic banter. Did I mention that Abercrombie has a great sense of humor? Many scenes made me laugh out loud.
Like any good sprawling novel, The Blade Itself has Logen, Glotka, and Jezal in their own chapters, eventually colliding as events progress. Magic is used sparingly in this series, with Bayaz and a handful of others capable of wielding it. Bayaz is far from a Gandalf clone. He’s a master manipulator who has been making plans for decades, if not centuries, playing with all these characters like pieces on a chessboard. Two wars are threatening Midderland: one from Logen’s own Northmen, a cunning and savage band of barbarians that resemble Vikings in some ways. The other faction is in the south, the nation of Gurkhul, looking to avenge themselves from the losses of the last great war. The first novel ends with a terrific action sequence, with Ferro and Logen on the run by a band of Inquisitors through the city of Adua. You discover why Logen has the nickname the Bloody Nine, and if you’re a fan of the Incredible Hulk, you can see some similarities in both heroes.
The second novel, Before They Are Hanged, has the characters dispatched on various quests. Logen, Jezal, Bayaz and Ferro travel to the Old Empire in the East, in search of a mystical MacGuffin, but the quest itself seems like an excuse to explore the fascinating history of the world that Abercrombie created. Glotka is sent to a northern city in Gurkhul to prepare it for a siege of enemy forces, a near hopeless task that will probably end in his death. And Colonel West is dispatched to Angland to fight the Northmen army, where he eventually meets Dogman’s crew of rebels. It is difficult for me to recap any more without spoilers, suffice to say that there is plenty of action, mystery, humor, political intrigue and mythology as the trilogy progresses. There is also a very funny sex scene in this book, among the most strikingly honest scenes that I’ve read in any genre.
I inhaled this book and the third one, Last Argument of Kings, as quickly as I could! The characters in this series were vibrant and colorful, each with their own selfish desires and motivations that kept me turning the pages. There were quite a few surprises in the story, specifically the mystery around the bank of Valint and Balk, that I didn't see coming at all. While the novel ends and most plot points are concluded, some of these characters live on. Presumably they will appear in the later novels set on this world. I’m currently reading Best Served Cold, a standalone novel set in the same world, featuring a couple of supporting characters in a much different situation. Abercrombie has definitely created a rich tapestry and I can understand why he’s gained so many readers in the past few years. I highly recommend this series! Nuff Said.