Another review is on the way – and this time, it’s about a book that made me angry (for a change).
I finished reading The Blade Itself by Joe Abercombie, the first book in the First Law trilogy. A couple of my friends read the book and, encouraged by their positive opinion of the book, I went out and bought it last year.
Now, this is a fantasy novel that has many, many mistakes but there is a BUT – and I’ll leave it for the end of the post. We’ll first cover some of the mistakes.
The first mistake and the one that caused me a lot of anger and confusion is a strange one – there is no map. Please, how can anyone give you a fantasy novel that spans an entire world and not provide the reader with a map!?!?!? How? How was it not added to the book? At one point a group of characters travels across some piece of land and they arrive in a city, and only after some 10 pages do you realize that it’s the same city where the majority of other characters live. Not fun, not fun at all. (the map was created for the trilogy last year! 9 years after the third part came out!)
The next one is the way Abercombie writes his characters. Each of the main characters has their own POV, and each chapter (mostly) is a single character POV chapter. Now all characters are presented by a narrator who talks about the character’s surroundings and offers some insights into the workings of the minds of the POV character. EXCEPT for Glotka’s chapters. Here the author chose to use italics to represent Glotka’s inner thoughts. Cute, you might think. But it really isn’t. It is annoying – he keeps whining about the fact that he is in pain, that he had been tortured for 2 years, that he’s a cripple, that he hates stairs…… In addition to being tiresome, at times it is even simply stupid and confusing. Abercombie gives us Glotka’s thoughts both in cursive and in normal text. I’ll give you a longer quote here so you can see the problem:
“Glotka wondered idly if he could have beaten Gorst, at his best. It would have been a bout worth seeing anyway – a damn sight better than this mismatch. (…) The fourth touch began precisely as the third had ended. With Luthar taking a hammering. Glotka could see it…”
Why? Really, someone explain why this?
The trouble with character POV doesn’t end there. Throughout the book the narrator speaks in standard English language. Individual idiomatic characteristics are reserved for dialogue, not for the narration, EXCEPT in the case of Dogman. He just adds, AT RANDOM, colloquialisms individual speaking patters of the “uneducated” Northmen: “Dogman was just sat there, thinking about….”; ” A lot of men, most men even, wouldn’t have dared meet no look like that from Black Dow.” But, of course, he is not consistent at this either. In the surrounding paragraphs, the narrator gives us complex sentences with plu-perfect and all sorts of things. If you’re going to go vernacular or whatever, STICK TO IT, you idjt.
Another element of writing that just made me want to have a talk with the author is his belief that his readers are goldfish when it comes to memory and that the readers’ IQ is that of room temperature. He describes a pair of Northerners twice in the span of some 5 pages and he uses the same adjectives and everything – but, check this out – from a different POV. Oooooooooooh, a revelation. And 2 pages later he does something even more stupid. I’ll give you the quote and see if you can spot what the author thinks of us, his readers:
“Around the high table there were 14 Knights of the Body… [and] perhaps forty guardsmen…. They outnumbered these two Northmen more than twenty to one.”
No, shit, Pythagoras.
Then there were my pet peeves. Like using basically the same word twice with only 2 words in between: “He tripped and nearly fell over a fallen beam.” Ok, the first one is a verb and the second one an adjective, but come on! You could have used collapsed or something. And, truth be told, this was the mistake of the editor. He/she should have caught that and circled it with a thick red sharpie.
There’s another example: “Killing weapons meant to kill.” Aaaaah, as opposed to killing weapons meant to do what else, exactly?
To the editor, I have only one thing to say:
Now, onto the BUT part (s) of the book.
Somewhere around page 340 (out of 515) the book gets interesting! And I mean Interesting. You finally find out shit about the past, about the Maker, about the Mages about everything and you don’t just read inner monologues of crippled whining cry-babies and ego-trips of look-at-me-look-at-me fencing wannabes. You simply read a proper fantasy book, with political intrigue to top it all off, and mages that are able of making a man simply explode into droplets of blood and tissue. So much fun!
I am actually reading the second part right now and it’s going well so far. I mean, the writing is still the same, annoying, but the book started just as interesting as this one finished!
And there is a second BUT, there are some good quotes in this book.
“There are few ills a good cup of tea won’t help with.”
“Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than to live with the fear of it.”
“Hard words are for fools and cowards… if you mean to kill, you’re better getting right to it than talking about it. Talk only makes the other man ready.”
“Fear is a good friend to the hunted, it’s kept me alive this long. The dead are fearless, and I don’t care to join them.”
“The tree is only as strong as its root, and knowledge is the root of power.”