How can one describe their favorite series accurately, let alone the complete works of one of their favorite authors? Although reviews are generally subjective, saying that it’s great, excellent or a masterpiece seems a little too subjective. If I were to use those terms there would be little point in writing an entire review at all. To put some perspective to this collection of work there are 9 books in all, 3 trilogies. All of which are set in a similar fantasy world which play off and subvert the archetypes of barbarian or noble savage-style heroes and their relationships with a pompous civilization who are generally forced to work together to fight a greater evil. The highlights of these stories are the relationships and respects between the characters from different cultures and how they bridge the gaps to fight a common enemy only to break apart when that threat is out of the way. And the way Joe Abercrombie sets up and knocks down these plots is beyond satisfying.
The 1st trilogy starts with The Blade Itself which introduces the five main characters of The First Law Trilogy, two of which are among my favorite characters in all of fantasy. My favorite, Logan Ninefingers, is an infamous Northman and the very definition of a Berserker. He meets a manipulative Magi, Bayas, and together they travel to The Union where they start a war, set off to find a magical weapon of mass destruction and help Jezal, a young man of mysterious birth, to fight in a fencing competition. My second favorite, Colonel Collum West, a self-made man with a hellish temper covering a heart of gold, is sent to this war where he gains the respect of the Northmen, old friends of Logan, and becomes a named man. This trilogy also introduces the characters which gain spotlight for the 2nd Sequel Trilogy where both Logan and Jezal’s friends and enemies become main characters in even more compelling stories, The Heroes in particular being among my favorites of all of Abercrombie’s books. The 3rd trilogy, The Shattered Sea, is mostly separate from other two and starts with Half a King, a story which I see as only a prelude to the books that introduce my 3rd favorite character, Thorn Basu, being the strongest female lead in a fantasy series I have ever read.
Although one could argue that there are better authors for plot or the dark fantasy genre, Joe Abercrombie does one thing better than any fantasy authors I’ve read in the past and that’s characters. Each character is memorable in their own special ways, uniquely separate in both looks, motives and colorful dialogue. Making great usage of hyperbole, different point of views and perfectly setting up situations for these all to be smoothly shown, making them stand out in scenes that I remember clearly five years after my first read through. The majority of this satisfaction comes from one character completely underestimating, or being bluffed by another, these scenes allowing the characters to show what makes them great. Whether it is Logan kicking ass, or Inquisitor Glokta interrogating a prisoner or Shy South outsmarting a salesman or negotiating for someone’s life, their successes are hinted within previous clues that come to the reader just before they are executed brilliantly. When they exceed expectations you remember why you find reading fantasy fun in the first place.
Okay, now that I’m all fanboyed-out I’ll have to find some negatives about this saga. Honestly, it’s hard to find anything wrong with most of his stories but, if I were pressed, I would have to say that Joe Abercrombie suffers from being able to write a far better journey than either a beginning or ending. It is because of this that I’ve found that the 2nd books of each trilogy tend to always be the superior. With this in mind, it will make sense that the further you get into the 1st books the better the story will become with the quality peaking at the end of the first and then coming to a close halfway through book 3. However, the exception to this was the end of the sequel trilogy, Red Country, which ended two character’s stories far better than I could have hoped for. Another issue is that a character you come to love in a previous book of the trilogy might not get the same amount of attention in the next. For instance, I firmly believe that the Shattered Sea would have benefited from consisting of only book 2 and 3 and Thorn remaining as the main character throughout, but then, it’s not often you get a well written female lead.
In the end, although Sanderson’s Way of Kings and Words of Radiance are my favorite books, The First Law is my favorite series and this only goes to show how far great characters can take a series. I will remember these books better than any other and will look forward to Abercrombie’s new books being released more than most other authors. Until then, I am eager to recommend others to read The Blade Itself and see how good of a writer Joe Abercrombie has become. As one of many of Logan Ninefinger’s sayings goes; “It’s better to do it, than to live with the fear of it.”
Total Rank: 9/10
Favorite Fantasy Series