My best discovery of the year in the fantasy genre is Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law. It’s a trilogy, and currently, I’m in the middle of the second book, so now I’ll be talking only about the very first part “The Blade Itself” (no spoilers).
Approaching the book I knew just one thing: that it was among the favourites of certain bloggers whose opinions I trust. I was rapt to enjoy it, and what hooked me first were the similarities with GOT: a medieval imaginary country surrounded by enemies preparing to wage war, with magic smouldering in the distant corners of the land.
I’d probably not have minded if it had continued to resemble GOT, but it didn’t, proving Abercrombie to be an author of his own standing. Despite all the complexity and moral greyness of multiple characters in GR Martin’s story, there still were “heroes” whose principles always dictated that they do the right thing, as well as absolute villains inspiring nothing but the desire to see them die an excruciatingly painful death. None of The first law’s characters, however, is that clear cut. Indeed, all of them are unmistakably flawed.
A torturer Inquisitor Glokta, physically maimed and repulsive, blindly obeying his superior’s orders, with no mercy in his heart. A northern “barbarian”, Logen Ninefingers, a ruthless warrior and killer, who’s known nothing but war. Captain Jezel Luther, a vain peacock, spoiled and self-obsessed, whining and giving up at the smallest obstacles. On the surface, these protagonists may put you off reading it at all, however, they are imbued with a humanity that makes them likeable despite themselves. All of them have their own distinctive voice, varying in grammar and the choice of words. Throughout the novel, the narrative perspective subtly shifts from one person to another, allowing us to hear the characters’ views both about each other and the goings-on. Each of them is so fully fleshed out, it seems they are going to jump off the pages and stand in front of you.
The first book doesn’t have much by way of plot. It’s all about character- and world-building. But such a leisurely pace is far from being dull; you never get mired in detail. Abercrombie’s prose is highly readable, vivid and always moving forward.
And the icing on the cake is humour! The grim and dark story bursts with funny quips, witty comments, irony and sarcasm. The deeper into the story I got, the more frequently I went around listening to it with a smile on my face.
It’s pure joy for visual readers like me and a real treat for the imagination.