Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Joe Abercrombie – fantasy with grit

When I decided to start reading Mr. Abercrombie’s novels, I did a brief consideration of the reading order and opted for The Blade Itself, the first book in The First Law trilogy. As my expectations were rather high I was not surprised with the overall quality but I did find some aspects of the books more satisfying. There will be some spoilers in the remainder of this article so read with caution, if you happened to have stumbled on this blog and are interested in reading what some guy from who knows where has to say about these particular works of literature.

I have read five of Abercrombie’s novels in total, without pauses. When I read series of books, and I do have all published parts at hand, I usually read something else between parts of the series. I don’t have a specific explanation for that but if I had to explain myself, I would say that I do it so as not to grow weary of the same setting, characters or both. This tactic has helped me wrestle through The Eye of the World, but that is another story…

In this case, however, there was no need for such approach. I was through The First Law very quickly, and it left me craving for more. It was The Heroes then, followed by Red Country, after which I decided to make a little break.

First, I will mention some of the obvious strong points of Abercrombie’s writing. Characterization is one of three essential elements of good writing, the other two being plot and style, and it is simply superb. Abercrombie has great skill in making lifelike and realistic characters. Most of them are not likable, and those who are, usually get killed soon. I must confess that Logen Ninefingers, is my favorite. I still cannot decide if he has a split personality, or is there a demon who possesses him during battle, or is he a berserker who gets into a battle frenzy. He is a very good example of Abercrombie’s characterization craft. Glokta is another, maybe even more nuanced. There are also some particularly interesting female characters. Characterization is definitely one of the strongest elements of Abercrombie’s books.

As regards style, it is in perfect harmony with Abercrombie’s take on fantasy literature, or its deconstruction, conditionally speaking. He is often using internal monologue, colloquialisms, characters are swearing, there are a lot of quips. On the other hand, there is not much description, except in battle sequences, and those are top of the line. The best action sequences that I have read so far were in Paul Kearney’s Macht series, and Abercrombie is getting pretty darn close. All in all, Abercrombie’s writing style is perfectly suitable for the grittiness that he is trying to convey.

That leaves us with the plot. There is not much to object in this respect. All Abercrombie’s books that I have read are fast-paced. He has achieved great balance between action and the rest. Since my reading time is restricted to commuting and bedtime, I had been expecting that it would take me a lot of time to read these books. However, Abercrombie just makes you find time. He is that good.

The world that Abercrombie has created is a harsh world, world where magic exists but barely, world where it does not pay to be nice because you will pay for it. It is a world where people get hurt, crippled, tortured, cheated, deceived, manipulated and every victory has a bitter taste. One just has to be realistic about these things. And this world is exactly that. Realistic

Verdict or De gustibus non est disputandum: I am not very good at grading but I can highly recommend these books. It does not matter if you like this genre or that. A good book is a good book. Try Abercrombie, you might like it a lot.

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