Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy often features on lists of the best current fantasy you really absolutely should be reading, but thus far I’ve given it a miss. When stranded in Derby with an hour to wait for my train and no book to read, it was the only thing I could find on the Kindle store that appealed, so I decided to give it a shot. It didn’t take long for me to get absolutely hooked. Apart from having to get onto the train, and then to hand over my ticket to the conductor, I don’t think I looked up from the book until the train arrived in Edinburgh. I then didn’t move off the sofa the next morning until I’d finished it.
There are a number of sub plots within the book, each following specific characters, all of which collide into a glorious mess right at the end setting up a cliffhanger for the next novel. As fantasy worlds go, it’s quite typical, but also quite enjoyable. It has a mysterious history, a not entirely explained magic system, a foppish nobility, barbaric frozen north and a desert-like south, a corrupt political establishment, and a threat to the very safety of the world that nobody is paying attention to because they’re all too concerned with their politics.
But all’s well, because the Night’s Watch are poised to protect Westeros from the Trollocs coming out of the Blight.
So we come to the main problem with The Blade Itself, which is that no matter how enjoyable it is to read, or how well written the prose is, the plot and characterisation feels much more like a collection of all the most common tropes of modern fantasy, rather than anything particularly new. I’m not saying this ruins the book; as I say, I loved reading it, and at the end there are hints that things are going to take a different direction in the next book. I just wish that this had come a bit earlier in the book.