(2006) Joe Abercrombie, Gollancz,
£16.99, hrdbk / £9.99, trdpbk, 545 pp, ISBN 0-575-07785-9 (hardback) / 0-575-07786-7 (trade paperback)
The back cover describes this as a dark fantasy and it does what it sets out to do. It is indeed a dark fantasy, set in a grim, pre-industrial region which is home to varying types of people from farming types to Barbarians to nobility. It is also a land on the brink of war with the threat of an invasion close at hand.
As well as the background being dark, the characters are also sinister in nature and in some cases, a little on the hopeless side. There is a character by the name of Glokta, who is an inquisitor - AKA a torturer with two heavy-handed assistants to help him find the answers he needs from his hapless victims. Glokta is not a likeable character in the slightest with the unappealing aspects of his nature being described - sometimes on a repetitive nature - by the author in great detail. However, it is interesting to see the way he interacts with the other characters and the fact that he is cripple adds an unusual slant on the story through his eyes, for example, his viewpoint on stairs and the importance of chairs.
Another unappealing character on the face of it is Logen Ninefingers, a Barbarian who is believed dead by his friend and who starts out in the story having lost everything. Along his way he meets an apprentice magician who is in dire need of some help and in turn meets Bayaz, who is said to be the first of the Magi with a place in history - and who may or may not be what he first appears. Not being what he appears is certainly a description that can be attributed to Logen - who is mild mannered and minds his own business in what he does, but carries the nickname of "The Bloody Nine" and has a reputation for being one heck of a fighter. It is only when the reader nears the end of the book that it is revealed that there is more to this Barbarian than first meets the eye...
On the flipside, there is a lighter hearted character by the name of Jezal, who is out to prove his worth to a woman who has caught his eye and wishes to make a name for himself in a fencing contest for which is not without its dramas.
This book is the first in a sequence entitled 'The First Law' and so this novel is setting the scene and introducing the characters in question. Unfortunately this is evident in the way that the book takes a while to get going. I also found it hard to get into, at least at first, given the unappealing nature of the characters but in terms of being a dark fantasy novel it does its job. There are some genuinely amusing sections of the story, for example when Glokta has to obtain some ancient manuscripts and does so in a persuasive and insistent manner, much to the displeasure of those who keep the documents. I therefore feel that the second book will in fact be well worth waiting for as the various events for each of the characters have been soundly established and there is the suggestion that 'something' is about to happen. While this novel was not entirely to my taste, it is ideal for anyone wishing to read a darker than usual fantasy or someone who is looking for something just a little bit different from the usual sword and sorcery.
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