The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself by Joe AbercrombieThe Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Narrator: Steven Pacey
Series: First Law #1
Published by Orion Publishing Group Limited on 6/3/10
Genres: Fantasy

Story: B-
Narration: A-

It’s been quite a while since I have read what is probably best categorized as Epic Fantasy. I caught a review or recommendation for a later book in The First Law series/world but since I am incapable of starting mid-way through a series, I decided to pick up the first book.  I re-discovered both why I like this kind of multi-tome saga (so much room for character and story development) and why I don’t (so much world and character building needed and not always enough resolution in one book for me). Overall, I enjoyed this book and found the narration to be outstanding. I’ll pick up the second book but I may not rush out and do it right away.

We are initially introduced to Logen Ninefingers. He is a mercenary from the North who, with his companions, has been set upon by Shanka and finds himself alone, on the run, and “…just lucky enough to be alive.” Heeding a summons from a mysterious magus named Bayaz, Logen agrees to accompany him. This begins a journey that takes him from the far North to the kingdom of Angland – a seething mass of people and politics.

Angland is home to Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta. Glokta is a character who engenders quite a bit of ambivalence. A torturer who has himself been a victim of torture by his kingdom’s enemies in his youth, he is a man with a broken body and little in the way of personal power. He is caught up in the political schemes of his superiors and when the magus Bayaz arrives in the city of Adua to claim his place on the council as the long lost First of the Magi, Inquisitor Glokta is assigned to prove him a fraud.

Also in Adua is soldier and fencer Captain Jezal dan Luthar. Jezal is highborn, lazy, and completely self-centered. His regiment commander has placed him in the care of Major West – a lowborn soldier who has been assigned the task of training Jezal for an upcoming fencing tournament. Jezal, however, is primarily focused on gambling, drinking, and (after meeting Captain West’s sister) more amorous pursuits.

As these characters’ paths cross, it soon becomes clear they will be the only hope the Union has of surviving the coming unrest and rest assured, war is coming. Bethod, the new King of the Northmen, is determined to conquer the kingdom of Angland and the whole of the greater Union.

While not bringing anything new and unique to the Fantasy genre, I enjoyed the world Abercrombie has built and I liked getting to know the characters. There was a lot of foundation laid for later books in the series and while there was enough action and intrigue to carry the reader along, the build-up of the characters and the world was extensive and comprised most of the book. That detracted from my overall enjoyment. Glokta is the only character in whom we see any real growth although the potential is there in the other primary characters. His character suffers from an excess of internal monologuing but that does seem to help balance his character in the reader’s eye since the “show” part of his story contains a lot of off-putting torture and general disagreeableness. Bayaz’s history is left under-developed and we just start to get a sense of who Logen is. Luthar is a typical spoiled nobleman and I would have liked to see him lose a bit more of his self-centeredness. I don’t doubt there is a lot in store for these characters but without a bit more development and growth to motivate me to follow their stories, I’m not rushing out to get the second audiobook although I will pick it up eventually.

The standout for me was really the narration. I found Steven Pacey’s delivery to be excellent. He fully-voiced the characters with what was close to a radio-drama style. He paced the dramatic moments well and the emotional tenor of each character came through clearly. With a vast array of accents and nicely varied pitch and tone, I was never in doubt as to which character was speaking. I could even tell when the story switched between characters located in the North and those in other regions as the accent and cadence changed just slightly even during the narrative sections.  Characters’ internal musings were effectively separated from speech by the use of a slightly softer and more confidential tone. Glokta was voiced with a bit of a lisp which never made the dialogue unclear, was accurate for a man missing his four front teeth, and also had the beneficial effect on me of making a not always admirable character more sympathetic. Despite a slight “drag-queen” aspect to the female voices, I found myself nothing but pleased with the narration.

A good story, an intriguing political storyline, and interesting characters who have a lot of potential to develop in future books combined with top-notch narration make this a good listen.