I had no expectations. No personal recommendations (actually, this is debatable. A dear friend of mine may have also recommended this without knowing that I had already spotted it while researching my next read–we may never know!–but that is beside the point). Almost at pure chance, I picked up “The Blade Itself”. Right out of the gates, shortly after Logen Ninefingers mutters the word “shit”, I thought to myself, “what the hell am I reading?” Then I finished the trilogy of books and thought, “that was one of the best fantasy trilogies I’ve ever read.”
In 2005, after years of rejection, a freelance film editor, video game fanatic, and fantasy nut named Joe Abercrombie got his break, and his first fantasy novel about “a thinking man’s barbarian,” was picked up and released in 2006. This book, “The Blade Itself”, took the fantasy genre by storm and he quickly rose to the top of new and exciting authors.
Thou shant cometh upon any Old English verbiage or dialogue in this work. The First Law trilogy is unapologetic in its modern delivery of the beloved and so-called medieval fantasy setting and dialogue. At first this was a little jarring, but then it clicked, and I understood. Genius, really.
Since the release of “The Blade Itself”, Abercrombie has become known as Lord Grimdark (for those who know of Lord Awesome, this made me lol irl). And he’s embraced this, as you see by his Twitter handle: @LordGrimdark. This is a little glimpse of Abercrombie’s dark humor. The First Law Trilogy is gritty, dark, refreshingly realistic, and perfectly balanced with well-timed humor–literal moments of laughing out loud. I thoroughly enjoyed the injection of humor.
The First Law trilogy has a manageable ensemble of point-of-view characters (written in third person limited), but an impressive and entertaining roster of second-string characters. Each POV is written in a distinct voice. You’re not just following a different character’s story arc, you see the world completely differently through the words of that POV. It’s remarkably well done.
While there are high-fantasy elements, the action has a grounded and realistic feel to it, and it is brutal. Brutal. The fight scenes alone are reason enough to read this epic and awesome trilogy. Real, brutal, gritty, and meaningful fights, with real and meaningful injuries. Many fantasy genre tropes were left on the cutting board. The characters you run with in The First Law series are unique, motivated, conflicted, flawed … real.
If you enjoy the fantasy genre, it is safe to say that you will enjoy this series, but there are a few saves. Because of the gritty and realistic approach to the action, there are several moments of pure brutality. It never reaches horror, or anything overly gory, but … let us say … if a gigantic battle axes smashes into the top of someone’s head, Abercrombie does not shy from a gritty description. Because of this, combat feels like a chaotic mess of hell, luck, and death. And it’s done well.
Join the thinking man’s barbarian, Logen Ninfingers; the self-absorbed and high-born fencing master, Jezal dan Luthar; the commoner-risen-to-officer Collem West; the glory-days-hero turned tortuer, Glokta; and more in this epic series … oh …
… and don’t forget Bayaz. What fantasy epic would be complete without powerful wizards?