My Other Realms book group met this month to discuss Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, the first in the First Law trilogy and his debut fantasy novel.
For many this was an introduction to Abercrombie, who has been hailed king of “grimdark fantasy.” For those who want more information about this emerging genre, Abercrombie’s essay “The Value of Grit” explains why he writes dark, violent fantasy and why he thinks grimdark is becoming popular. We talked about the term grimdark and whether this book qualified. Most felt that The Blade Itself felt pre-medieval, and therefore the grittiness was deserved but it wasn’t as bleak and violent as, say, George R. R. Martin’s fantasy.
We spent time talking about the motivations and backstories of the three main characters—Logen Ninefingers, Captain Jezal and Inquisitor Glokta. There was a consensus that the main female character, Ardee, could have used more dimensionality and strength. But overall in our discussion, each reader remarked that the whole book felt like a prologue to a longer story as opposed to the first in a trilogy—it felt so unsatisfactory since it seemed to be focused solely on setting up what is to come in subsequent books.
We compared The Blade Itself to other fantasy novels we have discussed, also firsts in their respective series—Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle. These were self-contained enough to lend some amount of understanding to the author’s aims—they both had made for much better discussion.
While most readers admitted that The Blade Itself was a fast read, a pot-boiler despite its five hundred plus pages, they felt the end didn’t make them want to pick up other books in the trilogy.
Having read Abercrobie’s most recent novel, Half A King, which manages to condense your average quest-fantasy tropes into one, short, lean story, The Blade Itself did lack a clear narrative drive which did not lend itself to book group scrutiny. We’ll see how we fare with John Scalzi’s Redshirts next month.