With The First Law Trilogy Joe Abercrombie drags epic fantasy into a dark alley and kicks it in the nuts.
The trilogy is composed of three novels, The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings, but they are really all pieces of a bigger work—Abercrombie makes no effort to bring the reader up to speed with what has happened in the earlier novels, just dives right in to the action, so you have to start from the beginning.
The trilogy contains enough epic fantasy tropes to feel comfortable—we have the mysterious mage, the barbarian warrior, the epic quest, etc., but they are all twisted around enough to feel fresh and new.
Like Glen Cook’s marvelous Black Company series, Abercrombie’s world is full of flawed, human characters who are doing their best to muddle through the difficult situations in which they find themselves, but where Cook writes in an almost offhand manner, Abercrombie’s writing is cinematic and energetic, especially in the battle scenes which leap off the page and grab the reader by the throat.
And the characters! Wow, what an assortment Abercrombie’s created. The one that stuck with me the most was Sand Dan Glokta, former dashing hero of the Union who after two years of unspeakable torture as a POW is a ruined shell of a man and has taken a position as a torturer for the Inquisition himself.
To sum it up, The First Law has a complex plot, interesting characters, a lived-in world, and is fueled by strong, graphic writing.
Note though, that it is a very graphic series, both in terms of stomach-churning violence and sex.
Can’t recommend it highly enough.
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