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In Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself (2006), swords, knives, axes, maces, spears, staves, bows, crossbows, tongs, chisels, lumber, fists, feet, arms, legs, teeth, and magical force all are put to bloody use during scenes of cinematic graphic violence ranging in scale from arrests and interrogations to ambushes and skirmishes (full scale battles are sure to come in the second or third novels in Abercrombie's epic fantasy noir First Law trilogy). But good as Abercrombie is with a blade, he really excels at character development, irony, and humor.
The Blade Itself focuses on the troubles of the Union: the king is senile, his callow sons are unfit to lead after him, squabbling factions weaken the government, the over-taxed peasants are restive, the Northmen have invaded from the north, and the Gurkhul Empire is preparing to attack from the south. Into this situation Joe Abercrombie introduces three main point of view characters, each of whom is darkly delightful to follow.
--Logen Ninefingers, the most feared warrior of the North, is a killer who has come to regret his bloodthirsty youthful exploits. Surprisingly for a "barbarian," he is philosophical and open-minded--but look out if his Mr. Hyde berserker alter-ego the Bloody Nine surfaces! Acting on advice from spirits, Logen heads south to meet a mage who's seeking him. What will he make of civilization and it of him?
--Sand dan Glokta sourly remembers his glory days as the champion swordsman and star noble of the Union, which ended during the last war against the Gurkhul Empire when he was captured and tortured for two years. Now thirty-five, he is an ostracized, cynical cripple, limping around in constant pain as an Inquisitor for the Inquisition. Glokta regularly asks himself why he's doing what he does, even as he tortures confessions out of small fry "traitors" like plump merchants. Will he ever uncover the true enemies of the state?
--And Captain Jezal dan Luthar is a vain, snobbish, and lazily ambitious nobleman, expert in winning his fellow officers' money in cards and leading them in drunken debauchery. Does he have the desire required to train seriously enough to win the Union's annual swordsmanship competition? Will he ever fall in love or mature?
Abercrombie writes interesting supporting characters, too, among them Major Callem West, a farmer's son who rose through the ranks by dint of hard work and courage; Ardee West, Callem's intelligent and frustrated sister, who chafes at being limited to a woman's role; the Dogman, the scout for a band of Northern outlaws who believe their chief, Logen, is dead; Ferro, a black-skinned, yellow-eyed, snarling female ex-slave criminal warrior who lives for revenge; and Bayaz, the centuries-old, legendary First of the Magi who thinks that world affairs could use a little wizardly aid again. The Blade Itself is great fun when its characters--each with different cultures, backgrounds, personalities, prejudices, and agendas--spend time together.
With rich irony, Luthar and Glokta see the powerful mage Bayaz as an "old lunatic" or an "old fraud." The caustic thoughts of Luthar and Glokta often hilariously contradict what they say, especially when kowtowing to superiors. Logen has some great lines, too, as when Bayaz explains to him that civilized people enjoy the theater, and he says, "Stories? Some people have too much time on their hands." There are plenty of funny similes, as when Bayaz sends an obnoxious Northern prince packing with "a face as red as a slapped arse." There are plenty of pointedly comical situations, too, as when Bayaz leads his gormless apprentice and Logen into a theatrical supply shop to buy gaudy costumes with which to convincingly play their real roles. Even the action scenes have funny touches, as when Ferro and Logen are being chased over city roof tops by persistent Inquisition "Practicals," and they crash through a roof and land in a bed in a room and Logen thinks, "In bed with a woman again, at last."
Stephen Pacey reads the novel masterfully, turning a four star work into a five star one through his use of different voices and accents for the characters from different cultures and backgrounds. He gives Glokta a gap-toothed lisp, Bayaz a John Geilgud-esque sly grandeur, Logen a Northern England accent, Ferro a feral attitude, and so on, each choice entertainingly enhancing Abercrombie's characterizations.
The Blade Itself does have plenty of typical features of the epic fantasy genre, such as the identity-less, Orc-like Shanka overrunning the far north, the evil Prophet sending evil cannibal mages on evil missions, and the varied group of people preparing to go on a vital and dangerous quest led by an old wizard. But Abercrombie gives the genre a fresh spin with his anti-hero heroes, unpredictable plot developments, irony, and entertaining imagination.
35 of 37 people found this review helpful
I've listened to many audio books and in my opinion Steven Pacey is in a league of his own. The characters come to life in his voice. But even a good narrator must have something with which to work. The Blade Itself lends a wonderful story to a magnificient voice. If one loves fantasy one must own this title.
31 of 33 people found this review helpful
I very much enjoyed this book.
I dont read such Mediaeval fantasy series as a rule. I would guess that the fantasy backdrop, the structure of the plot and the nature of the characters are not that original.
But this book has three splendid things going for it. First it is very well written - sharp, pacy prose, very well drawn characters, and clever and interesting dialogue, all spiced with plenty of sardonic humour; second, although there is some pretty good action the narrative is very much plot and character driven, - lots of threads to a satisfyingly complicated plot, and you want to know what happens to the people in the story, both goodies and baddies; and third and most important is the narrator Stephen Pacey. I listened to the (free) Audible podcast where he explained that he liked reading audiobooks as he got to play all the characters! Well, he certainly earns his money on this book; expertly paced and varied narration and the huge range of characters is brilliantly drawn and brought to convincing life. He turns what is already a very good book into a great one. If there was an Oscar for narrators he should definitely be on the short list.
This is part 1 of a trilogy and I am looking forward to parts 2 and 3 - also narrated by Stephen Pacey.
A five star listen without a doubt.
74 of 75 people found this review helpful
After "Name of the Wind" and "Wise Man's Fear" I thought I'd possibly heard the best I could in the Fantasy genre (so towards the end of WMF I started to get a little sad about what would come next.)
Having since listened to a lot of other good audiobooks - this trilogy (I am nearly at the end of the third book) is brilliant. The story (stories really) are involved and detailed, the characters flawed but engaging - and often very funny. It's such a pleasure to read (listen) to books where I don't find myself questioning the things that happen ("how would he manage that?" "she'd never say that" "how could that work") - the story just unfolds, the characters stay true to their short comings - even as they grow in places. Events are portrayed effortlessly.
All of this is made twice as good by a fantastic performance from Steven Pacey. His reading is such a pleasure to listen to. A large cast, each with distinctive (and similar where appropriate) voices that completely bring the characters to life.
As I come towards the end of the third book (Last Argument of Kings) I am starting to wonder what comes next in my "audiobook life"...
51 of 52 people found this review helpful
First of all, I have read all of Joe Abercrombie's books, and im obsessed. His style of writing is definitely my cup of tea. It can be violent... Very violent, but also honest and the least cliche fantasy you will find today. He turns lots of fantasy themes and ideas on their head, and does so with such wit, that you will find yourself grinning throughout :) . However, dont be fooled, it quite deep in its multi dimensional characters, and it's cleverly woven plot. This was my first audio book, and Steven Pacey was up to the task. He drew me into the book even further, because how well he acted out the books many memorable characters, such as Gloria and Logan.
Highly recommended. Have fun!
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Steven Pacey is phenomenal. His character voices are truly so different from one another that at times i swear it was another person. Heat sorry too, but not completely to my taste.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful