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The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie Based on what I've been reading lately, some folks recommended this book to me, since it followed some of the same tropes as the other books. It looked and sounded interesting, and I was on a buying kick, so it wound up in my to-read pile. I might have been expecting too much out of it, but I was disappointed with the story.

Some of the writing was just ... bad. I hate to say that, but it's true. The first chapter was peppered with sentence fragments that I believe were intended to convey a sense of urgency to the action, but instead I kept tripping over them. They actually had the opposite effect, since every time I read one, I slowed down. There was also an egregious comma splice that may as well have jumped up and slapped me, as much as it pulled me out of the story. Later in the novel, the writing either improved, or I just managed to get used to the style, because it became less noticeable. But one thing that couldn't improve was the overall juvenile feel of the narrative. It seemed to lack theme or meaning beyond what was happening on the page, and sometimes it just felt like it was written by a fourteen year-old. There was a lot of use of a character saying "Shit" as a means of showing frustration at the end of a chapter or section, and there were a handful of strangely random moments where the author was trying to be humorous by pointing out the awkwardness between characters. It was like he was drawing on episodes of "Seinfeld" instead of trying to find genuine moments in the story to lighten the mood.

The mix of characters seemed odd to me, as none of them were particularly sympathetic. Logen Ninefingers, the Northerner (called "the Barbarian" by the city folks) is probably meant to be the protagonist, or possibly Bayaz, the First of the Magi, but a good deal of the book focuses on Jezal dan Luthar, a swordsman with no real ambition and an ego that's inversely proportional to said ambition, and Inquisitor Glokta, a paranoid torturer whose internal monologues are about as tiresome as Anna's from Fifty Shades of Grey. In fact, Glokta's probably the biggest issue I have with the book. He's supposed to be a political figure past his prime, and that might be an important part for a story like this, but he's so mistrusting and so paranoid that he has to have his snide comments running through his head all the time. It got old fast, and I think that’s a major part of why this novel slowed me down so much.

There's a startlingly prescient moment about a quarter of the way where one of the characters is talking about one of her history books:

Lots of boring rubbish.... Full of wise Magi, stern knights with mighty swords and ladies with mightier bosoms. Magic, violence and romance, in equal measure. Utter shit.

The Blade Itself isn't quite that bad — it at least tries to avoid the usual fantasy cliches by making the Magi aloof and/or similar to everyday people, and the knights are a bit more seat-of-their-pants than one would expect from high fantasy — but it's still a pretty good summary of this novel. I get the feeling that Abercrombie is writing a serious parody, but in the end, it winds up not being quite the pastiche of fantasy that I think the author is going for.

Let's put it this way: the last few books I read found me snatching moments here and there throughout my day to see what was going to happen next; with The Blade Itself, I more or less had to force myself to keep reading. It wasn't compelling, and it wasn't all that interesting. For much of it, I was just struggling to figure out the point of it all. The story leads you from one point to another without any real motivation of clear direction, and I just couldn't care about any of it, least of all the characters. By the time some semblance of a plot started to show, I was thirty pages from the end of the book. I don't mind reading a series at all, but if you want to keep me interested in them, you have to have a discernible plot, a reason to keep reading, if you will, in each book. Don’t patronize me by making the first book a ridiculous amount of exposition and character development and then ending it with a cliffhanger that’s supposed to make me read the next one.

I kept expecting the book to get better the more I read it. Surely, I thought, some point will come from all of this. Won’t it? But it didn't. I honestly don’t get why this book is so popular.