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Writing reviews can be difficult at times all because of Bell Curves! What you may ask is a Bell Curve? This graph that plots the law of averages - most things are by definition average therefore sit on the centre of a graph. It is rarer to have an awful 1 star review, or a brilliant 5 star review - therefore the edges of the graph flatten out. This means that the graph is shaped like a Bell! Being such a rare occurrence for me writing a 5 star review is a joy as it allows me to show a bit of passion and perhaps ignore some minor faults. When I was offered a Fantasy book by a friend to read I was not expecting to be writing a positive review, in fact my experiences of the genre had been the opposite. Imagine then my surprise when I read 'The Blade Itself' a fantastic book that showed me the wonders of modern Fantasy fiction.
Logen Ninefingers is presumes dead. You would be to if you had just fallen into a river after a fierce battle with the enemy. However, much to his annoyance he is not dead, but cold and hungry. Split up from his disloyal band of friends Ninefingers sets out on a journey that will become a quest. After meeting an enigmatic wizard they set out to claim the magician's rightful place on the capital city's place of power. Meanwhile in the city two other very different stories are unravelling. Inquisitor Glokta is a man who tortures people for information. He is a fiercely intelligent man left crippled after being taken prisoner during a war and left to die for two years. This contrasts with the talented and vain Captain Jezal dan Luthar who is training to win a tournament that will make his name. All these men are different, all have separate stories, but over time their paths will cross and a bigger quest will be revealed.
'The Blade Itself' was nothing short of a revelation for me. As a youth I read a lot of this genre and finally got bored of all the same concepts arising; orks, talking trees and naked women being spied on as they wash in a river. Fantasy trilogies are a difficult thing to pull off. You have to set up the character, introduce a whole new world, make it compelling - all in the shadow of Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings'. This is why I was so impressed with Abercrombie's work; he has taken the traditional setting of a fantasy novel and given the entire thing a dark modern feel. There are no heroes in this book, just different people with their own selfish needs. Whenever you see someone rising above their status Abercrombie shocks the readers with a taste of what real life is. There are no fairy tales and forbidden loves - there is torture and lust. I feel that this is a novel that will appeal to everyone, including those who have already tried and discarded the Fantasy genre.
As a narrative very little actually happens in 'The Blade Itself'. It is more of a character study and deep introduction into a set of people who will set out on a more extreme adventure in the next two books. As a rule I hate procrastinating and like a pacy novel - but here it just works. You never feel that you are being force fed knowledge about characters you do not care about, because you want to know more.
This is because Abercrombie is a master at developing sympathetic and realistic characters in a Fantasy setting. There are limited amounts of magic on offer and very few non-human entities; therefore you do not feel alienated from the human interactions. The main three characters are all sublime. Ninefingers, Glokta and dan Luthar are all at first glance stereotypes of the genre; the gruff Northern Barbarian, the evil torturer and the vain Knight. However, over the course of the book you learn about them so you come to understand them and like them. No one character is all light or dark, but shades of darkest grey.
I do not think I can recommend this book enough, especially to fans of the genre. However, unlike the works of Gemmell, Eddings, or other noticeable proponents of Fantasy, I could see anyone enjoying this, especially lovers of crime noir. This book is beautifully written at a sedate pace that is never boring. The action sequences are not too abundant, but when they are they are exhilarating and heart rendering. There is nothing quite like the experience of a good book that reveals a character to you piece by piece. 'The Blade Itself' could easily be the best novel that I read this year and that makes it a must read in my eyes.
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Price: amazon uk - £4.99
play.com - £5.99