Sometimes I’ll pick up a book on the basis of some good reviews. Other times, I’ll pick up a book on the recommendation of a friend or fan. Still other times, I’ll pick up a book because the write-up on the jacket has piqued my interest. And, finally, there are those rare instances when I’ll pick up a book simply because its cover catches my eye. Such was the case with The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, the first book in his First Law trilogy. Damn, what a gorgeous book! It looked great sitting up on my bookshelf for those first few months and, to be honest, I was somewhat loathe to sully its pristine beauty by daring to crack its spine. But after reading a flurry of hard scifi novels, I desperately needed a change of pace. Unfortunately, at the time, my library was almost exclusively science fiction, so it was either The Blade Itself or my old Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Guide. I chose the former.
Well, to my surprise, The Blade Itself was even better than its cover (and, did I mention what a splendid cover it is). In fact, it turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year. The second book in the trilogy, Before They Are Hanged (with its far more striking silver cover) proved even more enjoyable. So when I was given the opportunity to score an advance copy of the third and final book in the trilogy, Last Argument of Kings, I jumped at the chance.
I tend to approach fantasy literature with a certain amount of trepidation, borne of far too many Lord of the Rings derivatives with their noble heroes, curmudgeony dwarves, beautiful elves, and wizened warriors. Throw in a dragon here, a quest there, and you have the high fantasy cliché template that has served many an uninspired author – and all-but ruined the genre for me. However there are, of course, exceptions to the rule, diamonds in the rough that that take those antiquated fantasy tropes and set them on their ear. George R. R. Martin’s brilliant Song of Ice and Fire series comes to mind. So does Scott Lynch’s tales of Locke Lamorra. And now, I’d like to add Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy to that growing list. Although Martin and Lynch and Abercrombie are very different story-tellers, they share a few things in common: their refusal to follow convention, their wickedly dark senses of humor, and the richly-drawn characters that people the worlds they‘ve created.
Jezal Dan Luther – a foppish, opportunistic rake. Inquisitor Glokta – a crippled and embittered torturer. Logen Ninefingers – an infamously brutal barbarian. These, ladies and gentlemen, are your heroes. Well, if not exactly heroes, then the characters you’ll root for over the course the series. Readers who have appreciated the likes of Lynch’s roguish Locke Lamorra and Martin’s amoral Jaime Lancaster and wily Tyrion are sure to connect with Abercrombie’s characters who, while certainly unsavory in some respects, are at heart human, vulnerable and, yes, despite surface impressions, very likable. Besides the three aforementioned players, the series is full of colorful characters, from thieves and mercenaries to stalwart soldiers and enigmatic wizards, including two positively kick-ass female protagonists (the lovely, sharp-witted Ardee West and the ruthlessly vengeful Ferro). You grow to love ’em over the course of Abercrombie‘s vast and accomplished narrative as they face tragedies, triumphs, and more than a few surprises along the way. And the biggest of those surprises are saved for the third book, Last Argument of Kings, in which traitors are revealed, unlikely alliances struck, and a secret plot comes to shocking fruition, all amidst the backdrop of one of the most epic battles ever chronicled.
A superior book in a superior series.
Also, the cover is even better than the last one.
FYI – Although this will remain my main blog home, I will attempt to keep my old blogger site (more or less) current as a back-up for those who prefer the old look. However, please limit your comments to this site, especially if you want a timely response (unless you don’t mind waiting anywhere from a couple weeks to forever).
Finally, no mailbag today as I’m off to watch the Giants hopefully pull the upset. Failing that, nothing would be sweeter than seeing the Patriots cap a perfect season with a dispiriting play-off loss. GO ANYONEELSEBUTTHEPATRIOTS!