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Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

944073There are books that leave you in awe and books that leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, similar to having licked a particularly dusty boot.

In the middle of that scale, there are books that make you shrug your shoulders and utter a few vague, non-committal words like “It was decent” or “It was a pretty good story.” This is one of those stories. If we were to talk of this story in the sense of steak doneness, I would consider this medium-well. (Note: we’re not considering flavor here, but rather the actual cooked status of the steak, saying that well-done is as cooked as it can be and is therefore best.)

Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself is a journey through a fairly generic high fantasy world, where you meet several characters whose lives begin to intertwine as the story progresses. An important point to consider before reading is that Abercrombie writes using British English and style, meaning that single quotation marks are used for speech, and certain words are spelled differently. I have no issue with this, but it can be a bit awkward to get used to at first.

In general, I found the story to be entertaining. The first 50 percent of the book seemed a bit slow and almost unnecessary, though I can see the value in learning many of the things you do in that time. I was much more interested in reading the second half of the book. There are some issues with a failure to execute a “show, don’t tell” writing style (meaning that we experience the characters emotions and actions rather than being told what they feel or think). An example of this would be when we encounter Jezal at the card game he plays with his friends:

“He had a faint, mysterious smile which seemed to say, ‘I am not a nobleman, and may be your social inferior, but I won a Contest and the King’s favour on the battlefield and that makes me the better man, so you children will damn well do as I say.’”

I also felt some words and descriptors were oddly used. The men often giggle at times when it seems like a better word might have been found to describe the laughter in the sense of the scene.

The first chapter of the story was difficult for me. The halting style of writing and odd sentence structure might have been an attempt to depict the rough, hurried nature of the action throughout that chapter, but for me it just became annoying to read. In my opinion, you can convey a rushed, panicked tone without hacking away at sentence structure and using periods a bit too frequently. Some might call this creative license.

Each character can stand in his or her own right as a person of interest, and the plot and people are well-balanced. The characters mirrored many races and peoples from our own history, but vaguely enough that they stood on their own in Abercrombie’s world. I actually find it interesting to see the cultures of our own world re-worked into a fantasy tale’s world building, so I have no problems on that front. It’s fairly easy to classify Logen as someone of Norse descent, Jezal as European, and Ferro as African.

The characters are really the shining triumph of this story. I developed complex feelings toward all of them. You never truly know if they are good, bad, or just trying to blunder through life as best they can.

The story has no real closure, unfortunately. It just seems as though you’ve read a minor resolution to some things, then the pages just stop. I didn’t feel especially inclined to pursue the next book in the series. Overall, many of the issues with the story were stylistic; however, as a reader that is my prerogative. It may work for some, but to my mind the story and characters weren’t a good enough trade off for my dislike of the style.

✪✪✪ = The book was decent, but could have been better.

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