Glokta could’t help himself, he spluttered with shrill laughter…
‘Did I talk? I talked until my throat was raw. I told them everything I could think of. I screamed every secret I’d heard. I babbled like a fool. When I ran out of things to tell them I made things up. I pissed myself and cried like a girl. Everyone does.’
‘But not everyone survives. Two years in the Emperor’s prisons. No one else lasted half that long.’
I don’t know why when I still have one more book left to read in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, I decided it was time to start another Joe Abercrombie series, but I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed The Blade Itself, the first book in Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, even if it did make for grim reading.
The story centres around three characters: Logen Ninefingers, an infamous barbarian known as ‘the Bloody-Nine’, Jezal dan Luthar, a spoiled and selfish nobleman’s son, and Inquisitor Glokta, a victim of torture turned torturer. Whilst fleeing from his enemies in the far North, Logen Ninefingers is sought out by the famous Bayaz, First of the Magi, and embarks upon a mysterious quest with him and his hapless apprentice. Meanwhile in the far off city of Adua, Jezal dan Luthar is training for the famous Adua fencing contest and hoping to win glory and renown amongst his peers, and crippled former swordsman Glokta is on the trail of corruption and treason at the heart of the city, torturing confessions out of people one at a time. However, with war brewing all three characters will be thrust into great danger. Their lives will never be the same again…
One of the strongest things about this book was the characters. Whilst none were particularly likeable, all seemed incredibly realistic as they were complex, deeply flawed and often selfish (not that I’m cynical about the human race or anything!), and rather than the dashing heroes that you so often find in fantasy they were all more or less misfits. Jezal, as the closest to the ‘dashing hero’ archetype is in actual fact a horrible, self-centred and cowardly character, whilst Logen – a man famed for acts of violence – seems to have a far better moral compass, and it was this ‘shades of grey’ characterisation that I liked so much in this book.
In that way Glokta especially was an interesting character. He is described as physically repulsive and commits despicably evil acts as a torturer, but in some ways you do find yourself kind of on his side against the corrupt merchants and councillors, which is a little unnerving. You sympathise with him over what he has been through, but then he does the same things that happened him to other people which kind of muddies the water… All in all he was a fascinating character, and one of the most complex I’ve encountered in a long time.
Even the secondary characters were well crafted and equally conflicting. Major West for example seems like one of the most moral characters in the book, yet an incident that takes place later in the book with his sister Ardee throws this on its head and starts to make you wonder if he is really as he seems. Meanwhile Logen’s barbarian friends – who are supposedly as ruthless as him – were all pretty interesting characters as well. They are undoubtedly violent men, but their camaraderie (despite all the bickering) is admirable.
The world in which the story is set was also well written, and seemed as bleak and cruel as a lot of the characters. The North is shown as wild and lawless, whilst the supposed civilisation of the Union (of which Adua is the centre) is rife with corruption and truly rotten to the core, which made for a very interesting political landscape.
I also liked the magic system, although you don’t learn a massive amount about it in this book. Bayaz, as the First of the Magi occasionally uses his magic, and it tends to be an incredibly destructive force, but he makes it clear that there is a price to magic. The ‘First Law’ that is mentioned in the title of this trilogy refers to the two laws of magic, the first being – ‘It is forbidden to touch the Other Side. Forbidden to communicate with the world below, forbidden to summon demons, and forbidden to open the gates to hell’. The Second Law is even more horrifying – ‘It is forbidden to eat the Flesh of Men’ – especially when those who disobey the Second Law are shown within the book (and are known as Eaters) as beings of terrible magical powers. The grimness of the magic system (which involves devils, hell and cannibalism by the sound of its laws!) fits perfectly into such a harsh world, and I’m hoping to learn more about it in the next book.
I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series, as I’m interested to see what happens next. You definitely know that a book is good when you can get past the fact that pretty much all of the characters are unlikable in some way. I probably should finish reading the Shattered Sea books first though!