The Blade Itself is a quick, fun read. The story isn’t complicated. The world building is nothing special nor awesome: there’s hardly any sense of wonder, not much detail, the magic just works, there’s no real justification for it. Language-wise there’s not really that much there either, and it features rather plain images (“his heart was beating like a hammer on a smith’s anvil”). It’s easily read in a couple of days and doesn’t need a whole lot of concentration investment.
Still, it’s a fun read, mostly because of some interesting characters: especially Glokta, the inquisitor/torturer and Bayaz, first of the Magi. Most of the rest of the cast is rather clichéd as well – a barbarian that doesn’t have table manners nor has ever seen a toilet, etc. – , but that doesn’t really spoil the fun. Still: don’t expect Glokta to be a Severian (of Gene Wolfe fame).
Some reviewers talk of the book capturing the “darkness” of the human mind, but in my opinion, it’s more a cartoon form of darkness. The story could easily be made into a 2-hour Hollywood-script without losing a lot of its nuance, so that says it all.
This novel also suffers from first-part-of-a-trilogy-syndrome: in a way, it’s all set up and build up, and only that. It can’t stand on its own, since it feels like the actually story will start with book 2 – which I’ll read, because I’m interested in how things will work out, and as I said, I had fun reading part 1.
It’s no surprise Abercrombie turned to Young Adult writing. In a sense, the lack of depth makes this kind of YA as well.
Conclusion: the book deserves a chance and has its merits, just don’t expect your socks to be blown off. My hunch is that parts 2 and 3 will be better, maybe much better even.
originally written on the 14th of September, 2014