Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Blade Itself

by Joe Abercrombie


Of all the people you might expect to feel sympathy for, a torturer is probably far down the list, behind tax collectors and child killers. Sand dan Glokta has known torture from both sides of the dungeon. Crippled and disfigured, he now applies the lessons he learnt whilst at the mercy of the Emperor to rooting out treason in the Union. Although his every waking moment is painful he is determined to search for truth, in spite of the fact that he's not even sure himself why he's so driven.

Meanwhile Logen Ninefingers is fighting for his life in the north. His party were ambushed by creatures known as Shankas, and separated. He may be a big, battle-hardened warrior with a fearsome reputation, but when we meet him he's injured, hunted, and in danger of starving or freezing to death.

Logen could hardly be more of a contrast with Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a man who "would be damned if he would miss out on something fashionable just because he didn't like it." Luthar is lazy, snobbish, selfish and born extremely lucky. He delights in fleecing his friends at cards, something he finds easy thanks to a quick mind and a gift for reading people. Luthar's main worry is the Competition, a fencing event that he needs to win in order to gain social status.

Abercrombie's world is one of deep injustice, brutality, and yawning gaps between rich and poor. There is treachery in high places, and in the city of Adua almost everyone is trying to game the system in one way or another. War is brewing (as it so often is in epic fantasy), yet the people of the Union seem blissfully unaware of what is going on outside their borders, or of the forces that are massing against them.

Magic in The Blade Itself is quite subtle. The Union is a country that believes itself to have moved on from primitive superstitions, so when a man turns up claiming to be Bayaz, the First of the Magi, he's treated as a charlatan. Magic is rare, and becoming rarer, so when people who are able to use it turn up it has all the more impact.

This is the kind of book you can lose yourself in for hours and hours, and this brief review doesn't do justice to the intricacy or scope of its plot. It's an honest novel, never glossing over the nastier side of human nature and not turning away from the undignified or disgusting. The characters are vivid and unique, often irreverent and perceptive. Flashes of humour brighten up a fast-paced plot that steers well clear of fantasy clichés and remains compelling throughout. The Blade Itself deserves your attention, paying back the investment of your time with acid-sharp characters and bottomless intrigues. You'll want more.

Book Details

Year: 2006

Categories: Books


  Not For The Squeamish  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Joe Abercrombie