Friday, 26 January 2007

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

In 2006 Gollancz asserted themselves as Britain's premier SF publishing imprint. This year, mainly thanks to the efforts of Simon Spanton, it delivered three very high-profile debut novels: the much-applauded The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd, and the superb The Blade Itself by Joe Abercombie.

At first glance The Blade Itself is pretty old-school: it's book one of a trilogy (entitled The First Law; the second volume, Before They Are Hanged, is out in March), it features an old wizard mentor character and a barbarian hero as well as an untried youth, a feisty young woman and an army of nasty barbarians on the march in the north, whilst a resurgent desert empire threatens our heroes' homeland - the Midderland Union - from the south. There's also the threat of a non-human species gathering its forces beyond the northern-most reach of humankind's lands (isn't there always?).

Yet Abercrombie invests these storylines with vigour and energy. None of our heroes are quite what they first appear to be and the author expertly deconstructs them throughout the book, revealing their true motivations when you last expect it. Abercrombie is also a dab hand are writing excellent battle scenes and swordfights. There is also a hint of otherwordly alieness in this book, such as the scenes set in the House of the Maker which are quite memorable. The only major complaint I had about the book is the lack of a map. Most fantasy novels with a map don't really need them, but with military campaigns getting underway it would be nice to tell exactly where Adua is in relation to the Northlands, and where both are in relation to Dagoska, for example. But this is a minor complaint at best.

By the end of the book the pace has been ramped up to a compelling level, as our heroes depart in different directions to face their various destinies and full-scale war seems about to erupt on all sides. The Blade Itself is a tremendously enjoyable novel and I count myself fortunate to have read it late enough in the day to only have a brief wait for the second book.

The Blade Itself (****) is published by Gollancz in the United Kingdom in trade paperback and hardcover. The mass-market paperback will be available on 8 March. Pyr Books will publish an American edition in September 2007 (no Amazon listing as yet).

The sequel, Before They Are Hanged, will be published by Gollancz in the UK in trade paperback and hardcover on 15 March 2007.

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