The Blade Itself has all the ingredients of a book that I should adore. Rich worldbuilding? Check. Interesting characters? For the most part, check. Murderous intrigue and hints at greater things to come from the series? Double check. And yet, I find myself really struggling to love ‘The Blade Itself’. Why, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but there are several minor reasons that all ball together to hamper the novel from being truly great.
You see, usually I like to give a quick synopsis, a brief overview of the book. And yet here I struggle. There is no one central character to the book. Instead, we have three: Glokta, a crippled inquisitor (which is part-detective part-torturer) who digs a little too deep into a conspiracy in the big city of Adua. Logen, a lone man in the mountains with a price on his head, takes shelter with a magician. Jezal is a foppish noble-type who is training up to a big fencing dual, also in Adua. This all takes place before a backdrop of brewing war in the far North.
Each of the stories carry their own charms and page-turning moments. Glokta in particular is a blast, who is at turns vicious and tender, followed by Logen who has a gruff pragmatism to him but feels too much of a cliché lone-ranger type in comparison. I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes when we get to a Jezal part. The guy is irritating to a fault, and blatantly exists purely to observe other notable events (such as the council meetings) so the reader can keep up.
Multiple-character stories are nothing new and can be done extremely well (see Game of Thrones or my personal favourite The Amulet of Samarkand), but unfortunately I can’t say that The Blade Itself follows suit. Two reasons: first, while multiple-character stories will never be perfectly equal in level of interest and pure favouritism for the reader, they all contribute something to the overall narrative. Game Of Thrones has fourteen major POV characters but in their own way they all build on the narrative. The Blade Itself doesn’t have anywhere near that amount and yet I’m struggling to understand exactly why I am following this character. This leads on to the second reason: if you are following one or perhaps two characters, you are following their story. Follow any more than that and your story becomes less about the individual stories of those characters and more about the world they collectively occupy. Game of Thrones succeeds here because Westeros itself is a character, possibly the most important character of all: the history, geography and current plight of the land are important enough to make up the spine of the story, regardless of whose eyes we are seeing it through.
In The Blade Itself, however, this isn’t so. In what way are the stories of Glokta, Logen and Jezal linked, apart from living in the same world? What is the shared plot they are all serving? The answer presents itself far too late. And unfortunately, Mr. Abercrombie decides to add yet more viewpoints before then, making matters only worse, not better.
It also doesn’t help that, especially in the case of Jezal and Glokta who both live in Adua, there is a massive glut of other supporting characters with names, titles and indistinct personalities. I had to frequently remind myself whether it was Frost of Severard who was the albino with a lisp. It made it especially hard to follow Glokta’s storyline, which hinges on keeping up with who’s who.
Am I saying that The Blade Itself is a bad book? No, not really. There’s plenty to like here: the humor is razor-sharp, the mixture of high-fantasy and realistic grit is well blended, and when it takes the time to really zoom in on one particular character and let us live with them through a major event that is not just for the sake of keeping the plot ticking over, it really shines. But compared to the hype and positivity I’d heard surround the First Law series, I was left sorely disappointed. And just like the Robin Hobb title I reviewed, my conclusion is the same: perhaps the subsequent books in the series do improve, and do go on to achieve the full potential of this series. I just wish that The Blade Itself did more to convince me to read on in the first place.
Off the Shelf
Here I share my ideas, musings and advice on the writing process. I also analyse some of my own writing for examples to show how I work.
Here I will show off of some of my favorite good and great stories, gushing lovingly over why I adore them and why you should too. I will also show you the other side of the spectrum: bad examples of stories and what we can learn from them.