The Geomancer


A Realistic Assessment of The Blade Itself

Grasping for the Wind chimes in on Joe Abercrombie's debut fantasy epic, The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One).They key off barbarian warrior Logen Ninefinger's catch phrase, “You have to be realistic about these things," noting the various elements of our own history woven into Abercrombie's fantasy setting. (For my money, the novel also weaves aspects of Tolkien and Arthurian mythos together quite expertly.)

They say that Abercrombie is "a skilled writer whose clever turns of phrase are darkly funny... Each character’s motivations are different but compelling, and the fight scenes are impressively described." Finally, they conclude, "The story is wickedly funny, the fight scenes memorable, and the characters fascinating. Nothing in this novel is as it seems, and Abercrombie’s contribution to the genre is sure to endure."


  1. Lou- Thanks for the link-up. I enjoyed The Blade Itself a great deal, and look forward to the release of the sequels in the US.

  2. Hi John:
    Thank you.
    I think Joe is amazing and I certainly hope you are right about the First Law series being an enduring fantasy work.
    I'm curious - by no means taking issue with your wonderful review - I'm genuinely curious. A number of reviewers have been thrown by the "set up" nature of book one. But I think in at least one part, what Joe is doing is an ironic (and "realistic" in terms of utilizing flawed characters) take on the classic fantasy trope of the three book, post-Tolkien trilogy. So this is very much "the gathering of the fellowship", only the fellowship are deeply flawed and you're not sure that the Gandalf figure is entirely trustworthy. This carries through in book two, where - though I haven't asked Joe if this is what he's doing in this intance - there is a sequence that I see as a deliberate inversion of a key scene in The Two Towers. In fact, you key on the historical parallels in his work, but it's the mythological ones I keyed off of. In a very real way, Bayaz is Merlin returned to a large, albeit still medieval, British Empire, 1000 years after having established King Arthur, and looking to aid Britain again whether it wants help or not. In another aspect, he's Gandalf, assembling the fellowship to go out on his quest to defeat the dark power in the south (not east), but he's a flawed Gandalf whose motivations are hardly so pure (or are they?). So when I grok what he's doing, it doesn't bother me that book one of an obvious trilogy is, well, book one. Again, I am not taking issue of a favorable review I am very happy to read, just looking for learning.

  3. Oh, I agree with your assessment of the fact that Abercrombie is satirizing common fantasy tropes.

    However, the expectation is that there will be more than character development in the first book of the series, especially in fantasy. So first of all, you are dealing with a certain expectation.

    Secondly, many of the people I know who disliked or stopped reading Lord of the Rings was because the book wandered aimlessy for quite a while until Tokien figured out what story he wanted to tell.

    I don't think that is the case with Abercrombie, but you can see how the similarities would be a turn off to some people.

    Tolkien and Auhturian mythos are there, but I think Abercrombie takes more from various cultural period in Britian's history than from an existing fantasy work.

    However, I now see what you are saying, now that you have explained it.

    And again, the amjority of fantasy readers - wether they admit it or not- are looking for an escape, and a story whose point is in only vaguley understood can lessen that. I mean only that we understand that people are being gathered together, but we don't really know why or for what purpose.

    This might work as irony or for someone who knows or thinks deeply about fantasy, but the average reader will be bored, unless the characterization (like Blade Itself) is so good that the reader becomes invested.

    Abercrombie played a dangerous game (or Pyr did) by splitting the story up into a trilogy since he may lose readers looking for more action and less character development.

    These are just a few thoughts on the subject as to why some might take issue with the "set up" nature of book 1. I could be wrong, but these are kind of my reasons.

  4. John,
    Thank you.
    You know, when you mention historical parallels, I am surprised no one has remarked on how the seat on the city council left for Bayaz is reminiscent of Elijah's Chair at a Seder.

  5. Not being Jewish, I didn't now about the Seder thing. That is an interesting parallel. Are there other "empty chairs" in history I wonder? I seem to think there are, but can't remember where I heard about that.

  6. Well, there are various traditions among soldiers and veterans to leave an empty chair for fallen comrades, and of course there is the empty chair the ghost occupies in MacBeth... but I don't know of other rituals where a chair is set for someone not fallen (or at least not expected to return as Elijah is).