The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blurb On The Back:

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck.  Caught up in one feud too many he’s about to become a dead barbarian, leaving nothing behind but bad songs and dead friends.

Jezal dan Luthar, paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than winning glory in the fencing circle.  But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glotka, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box.. But then he hates everyone.  Cutting treason out of the heart of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendships – and his latest trail of corpses could lead straight to the rotten heart of government … if he can just stay alive long enough to follow it …  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Logen Ninefingers is a barbarian mercenary plying his trade in the frozen north with his gang.  But when their camp is ambushed by Flatheads, he’s separated from his friends and only just escapes with his life.  The spirits of the dead advise him to travel south where a Magus wishes to meet him, which is how he meets Malacus Quai, apprentice to Bayaz the First of the Magi.  Bayaz has a plan for Logen, which necessitates all three travelling to Adua, the centre of the world and heart of the Union.

Adua is home to Inquisitor Glotka, once a dashing army hero who was taken prisoner of war and subject to dreadful torture that left him crippled and maimed.  Embittered by his experience, he now serves the Union by hunting down traitors and torturing the truth – or what passes for it – out of them.  Adua is also home to Jezal dan Luthar, a dashing army officer and aristocrat whose selfish dreams of glory are dependent on winning a prestigious fencing competition.

The fates of all three will intertwine because plans are afoot and conspiracies have been formed and all will have their part to play in what enfolds …

Joe Abercrombie’s debut fantasy novel (the first in a trilogy) cleverly twists the genre’s conventions (the quest, wizards, dashing swordsmen and berserker barbarians) and makes them his own, Glotka is an excellent anti-hero with a lot of promise and the world building is strong but the wide cast and multiple plot strands gave this book a set-up feel and, regrettably, the female characters lack the nuance of their male counterparts.

I really enjoyed the intertwining plot lines and how Abercrombie develops his characters and their individual stories before slowly bringing them together.  The world building is great – I believed in Adua, the North and the deserts south and the characters work well with Abercrombie giving his main trio nuance to flesh them out – Glotka was my favourite (partly because his story is tied to a wider political conspiracy) but the vain and self-serving Jezal also interested me, particularly his growing romance with the low-born Ardee (who has potential but isn’t given room to develop beyond a love interest).

I completely see why this book was such a success and although it’s a little too busy at times and the female characters are disappointing, I will definitely check out the sequel.

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