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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie

When it comes to an epic tale with moral clarity set in a supremely realised fantasy world, he (Tolkien) pretty much knocked it out of the park. But that means there’s not much point in my writing it again, is there? Forgive me for saying so, but it feels as if folk have been writing Lord of the Rings again for a while now, and I think we could probably, you know, stop.

- Joe Abercrombie, "Bankrupt Nihilism" blog

The above quote is the author's response to a columnist's criticism that his work is morally bankrupt and an insult to the classic fantasy tradition laid down by J.R.R. Tolkien. You tell 'em Joe. This blog alone spurred me to read The Blade Itself, a character centric fantasy, low on magic, high on horrific dentistry and body parts extractions. This book is clearly not for the faint of heart, there is a lot of violence and "plain speaking" language within, but no more so than GRRM's now legendary A Song of Ice and Fire series.

If you read the negative reviews of this book, some of them will mention that the main characters are unlikable. I disagree with this criticism, I find the characters development to be the best aspect of this book. Perhaps some of the protagonists are supposed to be unlikable, but I like them any way, some of the most interesting people are unlikable. Besides, I find them vivid and believable.

As the book is comprised of multiple non-intertwining plot strands and the focus is more on characters than events, I would like to highlight the four major characters:

Glokta - The crippled inquisitor was a handsome soldier before he was tortured and mutilated for years under enemy captivity.
Logen Ninefingers - a Conan-esque barbarian with more flaws and less fingers
Captain Jezal dan Luthar - the Bertie Wooster of fantasy
Bayaz - a mysterious and obnoxious wizard who is fond of baths

There are several more characters of note but a long list of unfamiliar characters would probably lose your interest (typing them all out would lose mine). Like a lot of fantasy novels this is a multiple perspectives points set up. Part epic journeys, part political maneuvering, lots of fighting, occasional bits of wizardry and a smidgen of romance (surprisingly charming if not exactly sweet). The story does nor drag at any point. The combat scenes are very skillfully written, you can almost feel the weight of the heavy swords being wielded. The prose style is witty and often humorous. As mentioned earlier, many of the negative reviewers seem to seem to be under the impression that the book, the characters, perhaps even the author himself are morally bankrupt. I disagree completely, there is definitely a moral compass here, some of the characters strive to do the right thing even if they go about it the wrong way. Doing the right thing is often hard and the characters in this book are just as fallible as we are.

I already bought the remaining volumes.