Saturday, 21 June 2008

The First Law Trilogy - Joe Abercrombie

The First Law trilogy is the debut SFF series from Joe Abercrombie. I'd read a lot about the books and how well it's been received and it was very hard to maintain the willpower required to to apply my "wait until they're all published" rule to this one but I managed it. Just. Although I am still slightly niggled that my set does not match as the last one is a large format paperback but I shall live. If you want more, there are some interviews with Joe, as I shall call him, here and here and an article he's written about his influences here.

I'm absolutely delighted that the buzz (note that I've not used the word hype) was accurate. This is a really enjoyable, solid, character-driven debut trilogy and I'm looking forward to his next book already! The series is dark, bloody and full of deliciously twisted humour. It's packed with vivid characters that you shouldn't like or cheer on but somehow end up rooting for. Nothing is black and white - the world is generally painted in dark shades of grey and as for happy endings... To keep the plot moving along, there's loads of warfare, battles, violence, blood and gore. There's swearing and double crossing and triple crossing and murder and lies and torture and yet more blood and warfare. There's even a little bit of I-hesitate-to-call-it-this romance but don't worry - there'll be more fighting, blood and dark humour along again soon.

What really makes the trilogy for me are the morally ambigious, wonderfully portratyed main characters. The hero, I think, is the notorious Logan Ninefingers who is a proper, old school barbarian with a very loose grasp of morals or manners. Logan's never lost a fight, due to his unfortunate habit of going berserk when in battle, and his gang is an oddly likable and diverse collection of nutters that he's bested in single combat.

Other main characters include the severely crippled Inquisitor Glotka who was an admired Union war hero before being captured and tortured in the last war. He now uses those techniques, at the direction of the Council, to torture others for the sake of stability in the Union. There's also the spoilt aristocratic army captain, Jezal dan Luther, who spends his days drinking, flirting and gambling with his friends in between being trained for a prestigious fencing competition. Add to the mix a mysterious magi and an unpredictable part-demon and you have the traditional ingredients for a fantasy book.

Except, I don't this this really is traditional fantasy in the normal sense - more a series of bloody battles involving great characters with a slight whiff of magic. To quote Joe, this is "a fantasy with all the grit, and cruelty, and humour of real life. Where good and evil are a matter of where you stand, just like in the real world."

To quote Pa Larkin, "Perfick".

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