Thursday, October 20, 2011

Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself: The First Law, Book One (First Law #01)
Abercrombie can really write. I have read gritty takes on epic fantasy, but rarely do they offer much humor. Likewise most comic takes offer little seriousness and go for broad satire. Abercrombie manages to be consistently humorous without losing a moment of seriousness or brutality. This isn’t innovative in most of its elements, barbarians invading from the north, fading magic, a grumpy wizard, a grotesque character that is oddly lovable, a group of misfits pulled together to go on a quest, and many more are all present. He just decided to write the hell out it with the dark edge of a crime novel or a spaghetti western, characters that never seem false, clean writing that moves those characters in interesting ways, a realistic view of politics (no white legions fighting the dark lord here), a taste for brutality that makes this book just a black hearted delight. His use of repetition and multiple viewpoints is used in such a satisfying way that I’m little shocked that this is a debut. Recommend like it’s a good HBO series or Kurosawa film rather than an epic fantasy trilogy.

Before They Are Hanged: The First Law, Book Two (First Law #02)
I am tempted to throw all intellectual rigor aside and just write “kick ass! for a review of this book. But, really this accomplishes what a middle volume in trilogy does and more. The bleak humor, the brutality, the realpolitik, the skewering of tropes of the fantasy epic present is the first volume is all accomplished and the tension, intensity, and stakes are raised. By twisting European history and the elements of a fantasy epic into blood stained ominous volumes with likeable characters(I down right love some of them) Abercrombie is producing the most irresistibly reading I have encountered in a while.
Best Served Cold
Almost too much of a good thing in this blistering novel from Abercrombie. He has always tempered the inherent darkness in his stories with humor and a well-rounded approach to character and irresistible narrative pull. The narrative energy and character strength are not lacking, but this book is just so beastly bleak that the humor may seem almost ill placed. The only resistance to reading that this book gave me was in absolutely dreading what would come next for the characters that I had become attached to. For an author who has made a career of rendering unlikeable characters not just likeable but enthralling this cast is his toughest sell, shades of gray doesn’t begin to cover their individualities. But he gets me to care and in the web of deceit, murder, plots and counter plots, revenge, and bloody war I wondered whether a caper flick or Shakespeare tragedy was going to be the ending reached. I won’t give spoilers but to say it was somewhere in between. The believability of the setting is strength with the war torn kingdom of Styria resembling 16th century Italy or central Europe during the Thirty years war with marauding mercenaries, warring city states, intruding foreign powers, and unfortunate commoners. Abercrombie hasn’t even begun to hint that his energy and invention is ever going wear out
First Law #03: Last Argument of Kings
That someone has taken the tired form of the fantasy trilogy and turned it into the gnarliest, fully realized, and readable fiction in recent memory is a wonder of the ages. That the author has mentioned influences such as James Ellroy, The TV show The Wire, Shelby Foote, Kurosawa, spaghetti westerns and film noir alongside Moorcock and Tolkein speaks volumes. This is pop fiction that lives and breathes, feels like real history, can rarely be outguessed (one big twist I did see fairly early on), and is quotable, funny, furious and brutal. Suffocating darkness nearly snuffs out the humor but still manages to redeem it from being po-faced grit. I might have some more textured commentary for this book later, but in the weeks after reading it I’m still pretty giddy with excitement at reading it.

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