Open Your Ears To Joe Abercrombie’s first book from the First Law Series, The Blade Itself, narrated by Steven Pacey.
The Blade Itself is the first book in the First Law Series by English fantasy writer Joe Abercrombie. The First Law Series is well known across the board so the books included in it are already outstanding, so how about the narrator, Steven Pacey?
Amazing. Steven Pacey is amazing.
The Blade Itself follows a few characters, all points of view told in third person. The book opens to running through a forest with the haggard, war-worn, Northmen, Logen Ninefingers. It’s a crazy, disjointed, and rushed introduction that sets the tone for the rest of the book, and Steven Pacey nails the chaotic feel in a comprehensive manner. In case you ever need help imagining a character, Steven Pacey does a dead-on imitation of a certain other rugged, dark, muscular man to help you visualize Ninefingers.
In the chaos of the Shanka attack (we never really figure out what Shanka are, but thanks to the First Law Wiki, we can assume they look something like this:)
We lose Logen’s men, but (SPOILERS:) there are survivors and through Dogman’s view-point we get an idea of why the Northmen names are so unusual. These are “Named Men” which in their culture means they’ve accomplished extraordinary tasks of bravery, strength, and/or courage. When a Northman is named, he’s famous–or more appropriately put, infamous–putting a chill into anyone’s bone, stirring up rage, hatred, respect, or more often as it seems, terror. They’re rough men with even rougher language and a resolve to survive at any cost, but they’re aren’t inhumane when confronted with difficult decisions when it comes to doing the right thing. It doesn’t take too long to realize that Dogman, Tul Duru Thunderhead, Black Dow, Rudd Threetrees, Foley the Weakest, Harding Grim, and particularly Logen Ninefingers, aka The Bloody Nine, are something very, very special.
We head to the Union in the midlands and meet Sand dan Glokta, a very questionable man indeed. Formerly a glorious, handsome, notable officer in the King’s Own, with a legendary heroic past from the Gurkish War in the South, the now crippled, disfigured, and somewhat toothless Glokta is a black-clad Inquisitor for the King’s House of Questions. We learn early that his heroics in his youth led him to be captured by the Gurkish enemy, and this man’s-man was tortured and reduced to a bitter, sarcastic, husk of what he had once been. Inquisitor Glokta has an amusing dry sense of humor, a quick wit, little patience, and above all lives in constant, agonizing, mind numbing pain due to his time spent in Gurkish prisons. Regardless of the pain, Glokta and his henchmen work tirelessly at the direction of his superior, Arch Lector Sult, to bring about justice in whatever measures are deemed necessary, not excluding cleaving off fingers or chipping away teeth. Why does he do it? He often wonders that himself. There’s no other character I’ve seen in literature quite like Sand dan Glokta and he’s certainly become on of my favorite characters because of it. Steven Pacey’s voice talent as Glokta is distinct to say the least, so you will never wonder when it’s Sand dan Glokta’s turn and you’ll be so happy when it is.
Not that you’ll really be wondering when the characters switch. Even without Steven Pacey effortlessly working to make each character distinguishable, the mastery Joe Abercrombie has over vernacular language is unmatched by any other author, easily adjusting personality, thought process, language, and priorities from character to character. The thoroughness of it all is noteworthy and Steven Pacey gives this incredible writing talent the respect it deserves.
Another notable point-of-view character from the Union is the young, handsome, talented, and rich Jezal dan Luthar. Already an office in the King’s Own, Jezal is the typical popular young man anyone would expect from coming from a well to do family, getting everything he wants with hardly any effort, and dealing with idiots all day every day (for anyone who has already read this book–nudge, nudge, wink, wink, am I right?). Jezal has several problems, the biggest one being the upcoming Contest, a glorious tournament for fencers, where the champions are forever remembered as celebrities; even the cripple Glokta (who makes Jezal sick to his stomach just by looking at his toothless smile) is remembered for being the Champion in his day, as if the war hero pedigree didn’t do enough. Whether he likes it or not, Jezal’s time and energy is poured into both getting ready for the Contest and entertaining his best friend’s anything-but-ordinary sister, so when war breaks out between the Union and the Northmen, Jezal can hardly spare a thought for a senile old man claiming to be the centuries old Great and Powerful Bayaz, First of the Magi, who keeps pestering him. But there is more in store there.
If Glokta has the ability to be such a despicable and yet likable character, you’ll most certainly be interested in what this admirable character Jezal has to offer.
Then there’s Ferro Maljinn, a run away slave who’s last straw was used up a long, long time before we met her. She’s wild, fierce, deadly, and damn near uncontrollable, even by the most powerful of Magi’s (and powerful they are). She untrusting of everyone, nearly an animal, and much like Glokta, had been at the hands of the Gurkish past the point of emotional rescue. As far as a female character, at first she seems to be weak in character (weak in character, not a weak character), but as the story continues, especially into the following books in the series, the reader realizes that Ferro’s view is as narrow and twisted as it is for a reason. Ferro does have her moments of sanity, such as when she and over a dozen of the King’s House of Questions get first hand experience as to why Logen Ninefingers is infamously known as The Bloody Nine. That suspicious nature serves her very well when encountering The Bloody Nine. After that bit, we realize she’s insane all over again.
I mentioned the Magi. The head of the Order of the Magi, Bayaz, is involved throughout most of the novel, and instead of being shroud in a mystical air of command, the balding, black smith looking old man is actually quite ordinary. The forth ranking member of the order, Yulwei, might look the most magical of them all with long greying dreadlocks, bangles on his arms, and uses the aid of a walking stick, but he tends to perhaps be perceived as a homeless by most. It’s a very non-romantic approach to magic; very matter-of-fact and lacking mysticism. Oddly, after reading dozens of books about fantastical complicated magics, it is welcoming to watch the story unfold from non-magical people’s point of view and experience their encounters with it. It also must be mentioned that since Joe Abercrombie doesn’t tell the story from anyone who uses magic, the book doesn’t get tied up in explanations of how the magic works. It’s actually strangely refreshing. For so long I’ve been reading books that explain the system of magic that to just jump in with other mortals and experience it without having the slightest idea of how it comes to be is…well, it makes for an astonishing listen!
So overall, what to say about the audiobook version of The Blade Itself? It’s incredible. If you ever listen to one audiobook in your life, let it be this. Sure, the voices are preordained for you, but Steven Pacey does such an incredible job capturing the essence of the characters that there’s no way you can possibly be disappointed. Pacey is a master at delivery, accounting for Glokta’s missing front teeth, Practical Frost’s absent tongue, Arch Lector Sult’s pompous attitude, Jezal’s high-born demeanor, Logen’s easy-going attitude, Ferro’s venom, and Lord Marshall Burr‘s “damned indigestion.” While the names are unusual, Joe Abercrombie, either knowingly or not, audibly makes it very easy to distinguish characters from each other and keep them straight in your head when listening. After the first few chapters you instinctively know when you hear a Named Northman, any time there’s a “dan” in a name the person is Union nobility, and all sorts of other little tidbits. Steven Pacey’s voice talent helps tremendously as he has notable accents and dialects for each region.
The Blade Itself is fast paced and fascinating at every turn. The characters are so real they’ll haunt your dreams and stay with you. Undoubtedly, this isn’t an epic fantasy or a timeless classic, but it is a damn good book and arguably made better as an audiobook. As soon as you finish it, you know that the story isn’t finished and you’ll be quick to download the next book in the First Law Series: Before They Are Hanged.
Larkable says it’s good to go! Open Your Ears To The Blade Itself.