The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
The Blade Itself was one of a handful of books that I’d been really looking forward to reading for a while now – an author I’ve not yet tried, recommendations from around the internet and characters (or at least one) that people seemed to rave about. Perhaps then my expectations were just a little too high, as I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the book.
The (literal) cliffhanger at the start of The Blade Itself got me right into things, meeting the legendary Logan Ninefingers, the Bloody Nine. It started off right in the action and left me with high hopes for the rest of the book, but after that a good 80 per cent of the book totally failed to deliver. For the most part, things seemed to move pretty slowly until about 50 pages from the end. There, it almost felt like Abercrombie suddenly realised that he was nearing the upper end of his expected word count for the book and decided he’d best give it some direction.
Up to that point, I really felt like the characters were just ambling along filling page space, the only one seeming to have any real defined direction being Jezal. To be fair, his part mostly consisted of repetition as he battled his way through the rigours of training for the great fencing contest – hardly a thrill ride for me as a reader.
Despite this, I want to say the characters were largely likeable, though perhaps amiable would be a more suitable word. The one I felt fared the best being Inquisitor Glokta, with his battered and crippled form leading to an almost constant stream of complaints in his inner monologue. He, and his two Practicals, could easily have survived as main stars of their own story rather than Glokta being but a third of this one, and Frost and Severard as minor characters.
The others I’d have liked to see a lot more of were those left behind from Logan’s band of men. These Named Men were a million times more interesting than Bayaz and most (all?) of Jezal’s entourage. I think the better story for me would have involved two main story arcs – one with Logan and his men and the other with Glokta and his Practicals. Jezal and the Wests could could then have been the minor characters filling the pages.
When things eventually started moving along, towards the end of the book, we finally got to see some of the legendary Bloody Nine. By the time of The Blade Itself, Logan Ninefingers seems to be coming towards the end of his bloody career, and there’s definitely a story there to be told. From where we see things, there’s a lot of pained running around and wanting to just stop and rest which gives a decent level of reality even if the “demon inside” does then come out to undo all of that and present us with a seemingly invincible Bloody Nine. Some sort of background explanation here would not have gone amiss, likewise with Logan suddenly talking to spirits and holding fire under his tongue.
Admittedly, I almost wondered if I’d forgotten these explanations, so long did it take me to finish the book – I found that I was only reading a few pages at a time as the story failed to suck me in. The beginning was good, the ending was pretty good, if a bit abrupt, but the middle was a bit of a ball-ache. The end of this first instalment leaves it pretty clearly set up for book two of the series, but rather than playing to its own merits, I was left feeling that The Blade Itself was there just to set up the next book. I’ll happily read the later instalments, but I’m not in any rush to do so immediately, and will be trying some other books before coming back to these.
Overall: Good, but by no means great, hopefully the next one in the series will fare better.
Dominish rating: 67%