The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
This is a multi-POV novel following various characters.
Bayas, First among the Magi, is a wizard from story books, the ancient kind. He also happens to be a baker, living in his northern library. Political forces are moving, and Bayas leaves his sanctuary on an adventure.
Logan Ninefingers, the Bloody Nine, is a northman and prior champion of Bethod, the king. When Bethod unsuccessfully kills Logan, Logan is collected into Bayas’s group of adventurers.
Jezal van Luthar trains for his chance to be the city champion at fencing. A title once held by Sand dan Glokta and Collen West. In the interim, he falls in love with a commoner and is recruited into Bayas’s adventure.
Ferro Maljinn is a slave on the run from the Empire. She feels no pain and is driven by the need for vengence. She’s exactly what Bayas needs for his adventure.
Sand dan Glokta, a POW surviver and cripple, is an inquisitor of some skill. Under the command of Arch Lectur Sult, Glokta tears apart the mercer guild, opening trade routes in the south, and begins his own investigation into the corruption of the government.
Collem West worked for years to win his fencing championship and became one of the few commoners to be given rank in the Union army. Skill and strategy leads him into the high chain of command, and his next big assignment is to win a war against the north.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I knew this was the first novel in a trilogy, but I heard it was a stand-alone novel. It is not. If you plan to read it, plan to read the remaining books. This book starts with a couple big plots. First character on scene is Logan Ninefingers after being nearly killed by Bethod. Classic novel structure suggests that this would be the event which should close the novel, making it a stand alone. Nope. Logan finds Bayas early in the book and becomes his traveling companion. He has a few early chances to face Bethod, but he does not. That chance doesn’t come around again in this novel. Actually, at the end, Logan chooses to sail to the End of the World with Bayas when full ships of armed men are going north to fight Bethod, thus losing him the “”opportunity” to directly fight his foe.
There is a major trend of plots not ending or ending very early in the story, leading to this novel feeling like it does not stand alone. Examples other than Logan Ninefingers: Sand dan Glokta, who never finds what he is looking for and cannot answer the question of why he still struggles even though pain and his crippled status leave him wanting to give up; Bayas, who sets out to collect a group of men for an adventure to collect the seed (in defense of the book, Bayas is able to collect his group, only to be left with the big open story issue of the entire adventure he gathered the group for); Collem West and his sister, who appear throughout the book and advance in character while never having a clear goal and resolution; Ferro, who wants revenge but is steadily carried away from it then redirected without the chance to get her revenge; and the fencer Luthar, who wins the contest that he never really cared about and is subsequently drug into Bayas’ adventures.
Worse than not being a stand alone novel, it started to become predictable. What! The dashing swords man who disdains anyone of a station lower than himself will fall for the common girl? What! Logan Ninefingers, who is constantly called the Bloody Nine, a figure so scary the northmen, Anglanders and even people in the center of the Union tell horror stories about him, has an internal blood-loving beast that is ready to kill but must be suppressed by Logan’s human side? What! The cripple is being used by the Arch Lektor? What! The closed council is corrupt? What! The wizard has been helping the Union in disguise for years? What! Their future mission (should they choose to accept it) is to finish the adventure from centuries before that was never achieved? I had heard so much before reading this book about how unique it was and the interesting twists. I was disappointed.
These two issues were enough for me to make this 3.5 stars.
However, the story is well written, and I enjoyed some of the characters. Sand dan Glokta is, by far, my favorite character. He has hit his low point (years of torture which has lost him half his teeth and the use of his leg). He’s scary looking, has come to accept that, and uses it as a weapon. He laments his lost life, is bitter about to the point of being incensed when one of his prisoners does not recognize him, yet still steps in to encourage Jezal to continue fencing, agrees to watch over West’s sister, and is honestly interested in fighting corruption. More than any of the other characters, his action show a sense of hope and stubborn defiance. I finished the book, hoping West’s sister would give up the idea of Jezal and fall in love with Glokta.
Yulwei is another character I grew to enjoy. Yulwei is the magus who finds Ferro. He is wise, kind, and makes an excellent cat burglar. If he wants to be unseen, he is. If he wants a band of traveling slavers to think his traveling companion is a boy, they do. If he wants to walk through enemy lines, he does. He does not choose violence, yet when faced with flesh eaters (breakers of the second law), he destroys one with water and the other with fire. Very practical. He made me smile.
I’m unsure at this point if I will read book two. I’m curious about what will happen with Glokta, but I don’t foresee anything amazingly exciting happening with the plot. If I read book two, I assume it will also not be a stand-alone, so if I read book 2 I need to be in it for book 3. Honestly, I’m not sure if the characters alone are enough to keep me reading the next two novels. I’ll give it some time before I decide.