Sunday, April 13, 2008

50 Book Challenge #21: The Blade Itself

Because I trust databases more than human clerks, I sometimes follow the recommendations of Amazon for new books. It has been telling me to check out Joe Abercrombie for a few months now, but his stuff wasn't available from the library and I finally had to suck it up and buy a book: The Blade Itself, the first volume in his debut series.

Abercrombie completed his trilogy in a timely fashion, so you can go in with the knowledge that you won't have to reread thousands of pages two years from now when the rest of the story comes out. This is more important than it might otherwise appear, because The Blade Itself pulls you along at a good clip and you may end up gulping it down. Like Martin, Abercrombie switches points of view from chapter to chapter, but the characters are mostly in close geographical proximity, which prevents this from fragmenting the narrative to a bothersome degree. The story itself is firmly in the hard fantasy vein and has plenty of brutal, kinetic fight sequences and relatively little magic. Abercrombie's cast of characters is taken straight from central casting, but each is given dimension, moral greyness, and a sour twist: Our noble swordsman is a rank and repellent elitist, the torturing Inquisition agent is surprisingly sympathetic, and the mysterious northern warrior has a complex past that he continues to process.

At first I was put off by the prevalence of cliches in the writing, but these are mostly concentrated within the POVs of certain characters, which makes it seems as though the author intends to highlight the unoriginality of the individuals' thoughts. There's also a twist at the end with regard to one character which would fit better in a soap opera than a fantasy novel--split personality disorder is so tired. I'm also a bit bored with the scary-invaders-from-the-far-north trope. Overall, though, this is a strong first genre novel that respects conventions while slightly subverting them. Recommended.
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