So I will make this first review about one of the best works of fantasy writing I have ever read, the first work of Mr Joe Abercrombie. I have no thought of spoiling it for my friends however, so will steer clear of disclosing the story itself. Besides, while it is pleasurable in the extreme, Abercrombies' story is almost secondary to his inventiveness with the genre conventions.
His first published book, "The Blade Itself" was the start of the triology "The First Law". On the bald bones of the plot, it might be just another Sword and Sourcery story, with heros and villians and contending armies and clashing magics. The writing has a freshness and markedly engaging style right from word go, and slowly you become aware that you can not predict anything about the events at hand.
All through the book I was amused to find that my first guess, or second guess even, was astray, because Mr Abercrombies intent with the book is not to over turn or avoid the genre conventions , so much as to take them to their logical conclusions. To take a long cold look at the inescapable truths inherent in a world that has Fire-mages, Necromancers, Swordsmen and even Demons running about contending with one another. In the course of doing this, he pretty thoroughly demotes 80% of the genre writers to "hack" status.
His "hero" Logan Ninefingers is a famous swordsman of a Northern nation of barbarians. Swordsmen heroes in other books are Heroes first and their sword is merely a prop. The books hero Logan has a sword that not a prop, it is a sharp strip of steel he carries about to murder people with. In a world full of other people carrying the same. Just by ruthlessly facing up to this thought, Abercrombie has produced one of the most memorable characters in any Sword and Sourcery book I have read. In fact, two memorable characters, because Logans fighting reputation as "The Bloody Nine", famous across the whole North of the world as the greatest fighting man of all, actually takes on its own life, both in the way men see him and also in his own mind. The Bloody Nine is no hero. ( if they make a movie of the books, I guess they ought to have two different actors play Logan and The Bloody Nine, they are that different. The Bloody Nine is just simply a scary scary dude. You will see what I mean. :D )
The stories "wizard" character is also a sort of "Gandalf", but again, one who is looked at soberly. He can speak A Word and summon fire, and if you push him he will, but he much prefers to speak normal words like "Lackey, go down there with three men and stab those fellas good and properly". Magic study takes more than a mortal lifetime, and using it has its hidden costs, and in his long long long life he has noticed that actually?, mortals don't need much encouragement to be a-stabbing at one another, and so he keeps the fireworks for emergencies. Which tend to make the use of them in the books far more memorable, exciting, and genuinely frightening. And what would a man like that be like?. Not someone you invite to your eleventy-first birthday party.
And so it goes with every normally met "genre" character, occasion and situation, each one a chance for Mr Abercrombie to take a long and usually chilling look at what such things would really mean in a world, and he has made a five course meal of doing so. From the genre idea of there having to be a "Big Bad" opponent, to the idea of history being rather long and so its probably coming down to the present day slightly garbled, to the non-trivial problems of travel in the wilderness, every smallest thing that other writers dismiss without thinking through, Abercrombie has looked at and thought out. Torture is consigned to dungeons for a reason, normally, and Mr Abercrombie takes a look why.
Happily however, the element of humour is also one that threads the book through and through, not in a stand-up routine way, but in a very human "You have to laugh or you might cry" fashion. It has true friendships and enmities, not story-book ones. Also, in the three books there are one or two very true, real, noble acts of heroism to admire and think about, and they are not of the storming castle or rescuing maidens variety, far more meaningfully heroic for their every day aspects. One of them might for you redefine the mental concept you will carry of Heroism, as it surely did for me.
It is impossible to review books these days without considering at least, gender politics. I include my thoughts here merely to be complete in my review of it, not because I personally think the books are at blameworthy fault on the issue. If we were to be particularly concerned about scrupulous even-handedness in the number of major characters assigned to each sex, the first book fails markedly. It is set in warlike patriarchal states and to be blunt, female characters are restricted to certain roles. If he had been meaning to write a Utopia he badly missed his aim. Of course that wasn't his aim.
Eventually more female characters come into the story, and there is at least one cracker of a cool female character, but none of them would really suit being put to the Bechdel test. The only thing I can offer on the subject is not one of any of the characters in the books fair markedly differently to any of the female ones. ( imho anyway )
I couldn't advise people who really don't like violence to read the books. However, anyone else who loves a Fantastic Adventure, you get reading, you lucky thing!. :D