by Joe Abercrombie
“I’ve settled a few scores in my time, but it only led to more.”
The fantasy world of blood and decay on display here, populated by the downtrodden and the corrupt, could possibly be called Anti-Fantasy. You don’t look to this world like you might many others in the genre, with faces raised to the sun and to bask in the glory of battlefield honor, of beautiful elven folk, fairies and wondrous sprites sparkling glitter everywhere. You look to this world for injury and dirt, grim determination, fatalistic pessimism and no small portion of truth. In this type of fantasy our worst is written on every page, and our best gets only the slimmest chance to survive.
A master fighter of old, a crippled interrogator from the Inquisition, a haughty young noble learning to fence, a mysteriously fierce young foreigner and The First of the Magi are centered at the core of this tale as their paths weave together and eventually collide. Violence takes center stage, though the book is not a constant fight. But when characters aren’t fighting they’re talking about violence, reeling from the impact of it or scheming to perpetrate or (sometimes) avoid it. Mr. Abercrombie’s twitter name is LordGrimdark, and it’s perfectly fitting. There’s no summery warmth in the story.
What it lacks in natural warmth it makes up for in friction. Trust is a rarity. The initial companions of our main character, ‘The Bloody-Nine,’ or Logan, are pretty much the only characters capable of trust and unity, and this group would probably be considered the bad guys in any other fantasy tale. The camaraderie we’re used to in fantasy as a band works together to accomplish a task isn’t present here. There are small groups of companions, but most of the time they’re at each others’ throats and only working together out of necessity or in order to open up opportunities for future back-stabbing.
This is a long book and has very little of the feel good elements of fantasy. It is, however, an excellent read and full of promise for the sequels in a very interesting storyline. You don’t read this and see your characters live happily ever after; you follow them to their fates.