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The First Law #1

The Blade Itself

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Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

515 pages, Paperback

First published May 4, 2006

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About the author

Joe Abercrombie

116 books26.1k followers
Joe Abercrombie was educated at Lancaster Royal Grammar School and Manchester University, where he studied psychology. He moved into television production before taking up a career as a freelance film editor. During a break between jobs he began writing The Blade Itself in 2002, completing it in 2004. It was published by Gollancz in 2006 and was followed by two other books in The First Law trilogy, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings. He currently lives and works in London with his wife and daughter. In early 2008 Joe Abercrombie was one of the contributors to the BBC Worlds of Fantasy series, alongside other contributors such as Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett and China Mieville.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 13,472 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
674 reviews42.8k followers
January 21, 2023
I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo

The Blade Itself was my first entry into a grimdark fantasy novel that I highly enjoyed; on this reread, I loved it even more.

“Once you've got a task to do, it's better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

Back in October 2016, the only reason I stumbled upon this bloody marvelous trilogy was that, as many other readers did, I was looking for a reading experience that could offer me the kind of unpredictability and morally ambiguous characters that the Game of Thrones TV show did. I haven’t read A Song of Ice and Fire back then, fans of Game of Thrones weren’t so divisive in their opinion yet too, but suffice to say I was surprised that I got what I was looking for in this series, and more. I’ve read many grimdark novels since then, and it’s baffling that I haven’t encountered many grimdark characters with characterizations level as high as Abercrombie. Seeing that Abercrombie’s newest novel in the world of First Law is coming out in a month, I figured it’s about time for me to actually refresh my memory and check whether it was my nostalgia goggles playing trick on me; it wasn’t, I actually loved my reread experience more than my first read.

Picture: The Blade Itself by Alexander Preuss

The Blade Itself is Joe Abercrombie’s debut, the first book in The First Law trilogy, a series that has inspired so many books in the current market. Thinking about it, I have lost count on how many times I’ve recommended Abercrombie’s First Law series to readers around the world; it is one of my favorite series and I truly believe Abercrombie has achieved something special for the genre. The Blade Itself can be considered a setup book; it established the characters’ personality and motivation meticulously. More than anything else, Abercrombie made sure that readers will get to know each main characters behavior and internal conflicts on an intimate level that many grimdark writers until today have tried and failed to achieve.

“The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. Still, the struggle itself is worthwhile. Knowledge is the root of power, after all.”

The storyline on its own was interesting but from what I’ve gathered from many fans and also my personal opinion, Abercrombie became well-known in the fantasy genre because of his exceptional characterizations. Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he knows how to write memorable catch-phrases and characters. Abercrombie’s prose is well-polished, accessible, and vivid; the dialogues between characters were incredibly entertaining, and the characters that he created has an enormous depth of characterizations and it all began with this debut. Logen Ninefingers, the infamous barbarians also known as The Bloody-Nine; Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta, once the best swordsman who’s now crippled and is now a torturer; Jezal dan Luthar, a selfish and narcissistic officer who dreams of glory; these main characters drove the plot wonderfully and every moment spent with them were utterly delightful, to say the least.

“You have to learn to love the small things in life, like a hot bath. You have to love the small things, when you have nothing else.”

Regarding reading experience, I can safely say that I’ve become so much well-acquainted with grimdark fantasy than I was in 2016, and yet one of my assessment from back then still holds true until today: Abercrombie writes some of the most well-written and memorable characters in grimdark fantasy; this statement is especially true for Logen, Glokta, and Bayaz. However, this doesn’t mean that the other characters weren’t memorable. West, Dogman, Black Dow, The Feared, and many more characters that will appear in the next books eventually became characters with a significant presence in the series. You’ll see, what we get to see in The Blade Itself was merely an appetizer for greater things to come in future installments. Even Abercrombie’s famous and highly praised battle scenes within this book were still fewer and much smaller in scope compared to its subsequent sequels.

“History is littered with dead good men.”

From this debut alone, Abercrombie already made me care for the anti-heroes and bastards; Logen Ninefingers is still one of my favorite characters of all time; Glokta is truly one of a kind character in fantasy; the closest comparison to Glokta I can think of would be Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. The Blade Itself is a fantastic character-driven debut that starts one of the most unforgettable and important grimdark fantasy series of our time. If this is your first time starting The First Law trilogy, consider yourself lucky to have the chance to read it. If you’ve read it and it’s been a while for you, consider visiting these characters again in preparation for A Little Hatred. I didn’t realize how much I missed these characters until I’ve begun my reread. Absolutely recommended!

You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,644 reviews5,102 followers
March 21, 2011
I’m going to do something that's a little disrespectful and start this review by talking about another fantasy series that I’ve enjoyed: A Song of Ice and Fire. That series rules. It has everything I’ve wanted in a series since Tolkien but there’s one thing to be said about it, neither good or bad, that is a big part of its impact: it is dark, very very dark. The darkness comes, as it should in all quality fiction, not necessarily from the actual bad things that happen to good people, but from the depth of the characterizations themselves. Bad things happen to very real, very well-characterized, and truly understandable people, and so those bad things are made all the more upsetting, all the more hard to read.

So that’s where The Blade Itself comes in. It is a funny thing for me, reading the reviews. Everyone goes on about how bloody it is, how graphic and hardcore, etc etc. How it is a part of the “George R.R. Martin tradition”. Of course there is truth to that: much blood is spilled, incredibly tragic things happen, and hell, one of its central characters (in fact, its best character) is a torturer with an awfully painful past. But what I rarely see mentioned is the wonderful lightness of tone that makes the novel such a pleasure to read. For all its tragedies and darkness, the tone is amusing, light-hearted, comic, and never in awe of the various mysteries depicted. I laughed out loud many times. It is also a surprisingly tender novel. That comment may be hard for lovers of this book to read. But The Blade does not demonize any of its characters, it allows all of them (even Black Dow!) their moments of decency and kindness, it views all of them in such a cheerful, upbeat way, that never did I feel a sense of bleak heaviness at the tragedies displayed. Those tragedies are shown to be a part of life, for some, and although they are impactful, the characters are not beaten completely down by their pasts. It is not a sentimental novel, but it is a very sweet-tempered one. The down side to this is that, at times, the characters and situations have a vibe to them that is almost close to being a sitcom. The upside is that it is wall-to-wall pleasure and at the end of the novel, I felt uplifted, rather than weighted down. It is a wonderful antidote to the compelling but grueling Song of Ice and Fire. A kind of tonic. The novel is a breezy delight and I am really looking forward to the rest of the series.

Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention: the author knows how to write action sequences. They were truly exciting, even cinematic in the clarity of what was happening. Often fights are confusing affairs in fantasy, but that is not the case here. The whole novel had a brisk yet cinematic feel to it. I choose Matthew MacFayden to play Inquisitor Glotka!
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
532 reviews58.5k followers
March 3, 2021
I haven't enjoyed a character driven Fantasy book this much in a while!

Totally recommend it, loved Glokta, will read the rest of the series before the end of the year.
Profile Image for Jim.
248 reviews79 followers
May 13, 2008
Anton Chekhov famously said that if an author mentions a gun, it had better go off at some point, a point often attributed to Raymond Chandler (who at least practiced this rule). The same goes for fantasy writers. Fantasy doesn't need to be all blood and whirling blades, but if a fantasy writer straps a broadsword to a character's side, it had better be drawn in anger, at some point.

This was one of the best fantasy novels I've read in a while, especially impressive as it's a first novel. It has a fair amount of the aforementioned blood and swordplay, but it is much more than that. The characters are finely drawn and the story is both complex and well-paced.

For me, the most interesting character was the Inquisitor Glotka, who is deliciously cynical. A formerly dashing officer, he was taken as a prisoner of war and tortured. Having subsequently become a professional torturer himself, he can't help but admire the skill and creativity his captors put into breaking him. He harbors a great deal of hatred for his former comrades, who he feels forgot about him in captivity and would like to forget him still.

Glotka serves the Union, a civilization confident of its superiority, centered on the decadent city of Adua. War is brewing in the barbarian North and in the Gurkish south. Into this setting comes the wizard Bayaz, accompanied by the barabarian warrior Logen Ninefingers. Logen is famed in the North as a master of violence, but it is a reputation he wishes he could put behind him. Bayaz won't let him get away that easily, however, needing the barbarian's skills for his own purposes.

Bayaz has interests of his own in Adua, tied to the distant past and the vanquishing of a dark magus who was the founder of the city. Bayaz spends a good deal of his time acting un-wizardly (in Logen's opinion), more like a balding, fat, lazy peasant. It is an assessment others make, to the point that they risk underestimating the cranky, old man.

Abercrombie's accounts of fighting are incredibly well-done, fast paced and capturing the fear and confusion, along with the rage and bloody-minded delight of mastering an opponent. Yet, the violence in this book takes an emotional toll on those involved. Also, his accounts of magic are very good, not flashy but weird and disturbing.

A lot of fantasy writers make the mistake of giving the reader too much information about the world they've created. Abercrombie gives enough background to keep the plot going, leaving the rest as tantalizing clues that give the sense of a real world. The only part of the book where I thought he was giving us too much was in regard to the fencing tournament that the nobleman Jezal dan Luthar takes part in. It did help display the arrogant, selfish character of Captain Luthar, but I felt there was a bit too much detail expended on it. Still, this is the first book of a trilogy, so perhaps the event of the tournament will figure later in the story.

All in all, this was a great read. I've read too much fantasy in recent years that seemed too much like feminist theory or post-Marxian cultural critique with dragons, often written with a faux-epic wordiness. (I really think this is why the Potter books were so popular with adults; they were looking for something story-driven.) This book by Joe Abercrombie is an antidote for a lot that has been wrong in fantasy literature.

Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,044 followers
July 29, 2015
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths Reviews

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, Joe Abercrombie is a fantasy author who all my real-life friends have raved about for years and insisted that I read. From their proselyting, it seemed that my life would not be complete without sampling Lord Grimdark’s wares. So, in order to save myself from some accursed fate, I read the first two novels in Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series.

Unfortunately, grimwhine was not for me. If interested in the “why”, you can read my reviews of Half a King and Half the World here on Goodreads.

Naturally, my friends were aghast at my heretical dislike of Lord Grimdark. That led them to berate my poor taste in fantasy literature. Arguments ensued thereafter until eventually they understood – even if they did not agree – with my lack of excitement with grimwhine, and so these close buddies of mine insisted that Shattered Sea was really a YA fantasy series and demanded that I try The First Law before I abandoned Lord Grimdark, because it was his masterpiece.

Well, I have recently completed my read of The Blade Itself, book one of The First Law. And, for those who have never tried it, I will attempt to sum it up succinctly for you.

This is a story told from multiple points of view by several main characters with the most important being: Jezal, the rich, noble’s son who is bratty and also a great swordsman; Logen, the northern barbarian who has a dark, mysterious past but wants to escape from it; Ferro, a fugitive slave from the nation of Gurkhul whose desire for revenge is greater than her common sense; and Glokta, a handicapped war hero who is now a torturer working for the Union’s secretive inquisition.

As a reader slowly tags along with these four, they slowly learn tidbits about each person, their pasts, the world they live in, and the coming conflicts that are a brewing. But finally, all these interwoven pieces begin to gather together for the last section of the novel in the capital city of the Union, where not only do these four interact with one another but also set up the story for the second installment of the series.

Now, I did enjoy The Blade Itself; it was an interesting enough book in its own way. However, the plot was a rather slow moving affair. (At one point, I actually found myself wondering if glaciers moved faster than The Blade Itself.) But once Abercrombie got everyone together in the capital, he did ratchet up the action, ending the story with a small bang.

Even with that being said, however, the characters in this novel were a bit of an enigma for me. Going into my read, all I had heard was how amazing they all were, how brilliant the characterization, how . . . you get the picture: Great characters. And I suppose they were very well developed, but unfortunately, I didn’t care one iota for any of them. Jezal made me want to slap him, because he was such an annoying, rich brat. Logen was boring most of the time. Ferro was an amalgamation of every ex-slave character I’ve ever read about. And Glokta (though he is the most interesting) would be a heartless bastard only to then turn around and go all gooey inside because an old friend apologized to him. I grew tired of each very quickly. Thank God the viewpoint changed between them constantly. It grew so bad that (unlike Song of Ice and Fire where I got sick of Martin killing everyone off) I kept hoping Abercrombie would kill someone, so they might be replaced with someone less boring.

I know all that sounds really harsh of me, doesn’t it? But I did like The Blade Itself. Really. I’m just disappointed with it. A disappoint that has grown rather than lessened in the weeks since I read it.

Why, you ask?

Well, for years, I’ve heard all these grandiose accolades about this book. People would tell me it was the quintessential modern grimdark. The tale that revolutionized the fantasy genre for a new century. Hell, one of my friends even anointed Abercrombie the Tolkien for the twenty-first century. (Yeah, he is the president of the Lord Grimdark Fan Club.) But as I read, I just did not see any of that. Still do not in hindsight. It was a fine fantasy novel. Abercrombie spent a lot of time writing a fiction novel which was “incidentally” a fantasy. But revolutionary? Not so much. Glen Cook’s Black Company series was more grimdark than this before there was a term for it. George R.R. Martin’s work in Song of Ice and Fire was far more “grim” in tone than anything I read here. Hell, even Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns was more “dark” and bloody than this tale. So for those reasons, reading this novel was a little bit of a letdown.

With all that being said, I actually am looking forward to reading the next novel in the series. Now, I can experience Before They Were Hanged without any grandiose expectations weighing it down. It will be merely me sitting down to read an interesting fantasy novel about some people mixed up in deadly adventures, not me sitting down to read the “MOST REVOLUTIONARY FANTASY NOVEL SINCE LORD OF THE RINGS” and I believe that will allow me to enjoy it better than I did this one – especially if Abercrombie actually kills someone. I mean, OMFG, this is grimdark already; a main character has to die now!

Profile Image for Ibrahim Z.
37 reviews18 followers
December 15, 2011
I almost put down the book when 3 paragraphs in the first 3 pages began with some version of this line:

"Shit," he said.

But I managed to slog through because I was told this was a some genre-breaking novel that didn't rely so heavily on typical fantasy clichés and it was supposed to be really dark and gritty. Instead of gritty, it felt kind of like a teenager who swears a lot to try and sound like an adult: really forced and usually out of context. A lot of the writing in general seemed to trip over itself. Good editing would have helped a lot.

Luckily, it's a fast read and it only took a day to read it. Probably because I've read the books Abercrombie pulls from. Stop me if you've heard of any of these plotlines:

A powerful and mysterious wizard who reappears at various times through history reappears once again to put together an unlikely fellowship comprising of each of the major factions that we hear about in the novels and they have to transport an infinitely powerful magical item somewhere. They have to be on the lookout for a fallen wizard who wants said item and a bunch of magically created servants who are going to hunt them down.

An introspective torturer who's a shadow of his former self.

Invaders from the north who won't listen to others about the REAL threat coming from further north.

An unconventionally beautiful, plain speaking commoner girl, here to turn a certain nobleman's world upside down.

There's more I could list, but I'd rather talk about the last one for a moment. For the majority of the book, this down to earth girl is the only female character in the entire thing. And she's a victim of abuse. She's really only there to complicate things for the boys. About two thirds of the way through, we're introduced to our second female character who is also, surprise, a victim of abuse and a former slave. Neither of the characters seems to really have any depth, at all. One could be replaced by a pair of batting eyelashes and the other could be replaced by the word VENGEANCE.
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
311 reviews1,329 followers
March 8, 2017
I was up until half five yesterday morning reading intensely to finish off this story. I didn't write the review then as it would have been a tired, mumbled mess with little to no eloquence and it wouldn't have included any cool sounding words. Let's see how I get on now after a good nights sleep. Prior to reading this, I had completed Abercrombie's Shattered Sea trilogy and enjoyed it a lot. Where that was classic story focused fantasy with twists aplenty, this is best described as a macabre, dark and twisted character study of morally questionable individuals. This narrative takes place in a world that seems to be brimming with a blood-splattered past, interesting races and a heightened amount of warmongering aggression between the countries and factions. There is a lot going on in Abercrombie's world yet, it is a shame that the two versions of this book that I have didn't include any cartographed maps. I did get a little confused trying to compose a mental map of the world and distinguish where the action was taking place.

The greatest accomplishment achieved by Abercrombie here is the characters he has created.

The four main individuals are:
Jezal: A vain, selfish nobleman and talented fencer.
Logan: An infamous warrior.
Glokta: A tortured and crippled torturer.
Bayaz: A mage whose motives are mystical.

I will not go into any real details about them, how they intertwine, their opinions shared in monologues regarding the others (if they meet that is) but it is a pleasure to read about these characters that are, on paper at least, completely unlikeable. There are times that these characters surprised me with their thoughts. Glokta's internal opinions are darkly humorous yet tortuous when relating to his past, and the womaniser and dashing swordsman Jezal actually having some weird emotions for only one lady are two fine examples. The players' interactions had a Tarantino-like quality.

This book was a slow burner for me. It has many great qualities but whilst reading I occasionally had an internal dilemma about whether I should put it down and pick up something with more action. Two or three amazing setpieces excluded (such as a fencing contest and Logan's old gangs' antics), it doesn't really include many all out adrenaline fueling segments. Towards the end, however; reading this was quite intense hence why I was up until stupid o'clock to finish the story. I reflect that this books main agenda was probably for the reader to get to know the characters because this is done extremely well. At the finale, the seams are brimming with reported conflicts and a bizarre proposed mission that the characters find out are their fates and destinies moving forward. To conclude, I have to admit that Before they are Hanged is set up phenomenally well and I am looking forward to shortly jump back into Abercrombie's world. www.youandibooks.wordpress.com x
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 508 books402k followers
November 8, 2013
It's been a while since I read a fantasy trilogy all the way through, back to back. Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series was too compelling not to finish in a single marathon. The first book, The Blade Itself, introduces a cast of well-developed, complex characters throw together in a world loosely based on medieval Europe. At first, it's not entirely clear what the major story line will be. It's also not clear who the good guys and bad guys are -- kind of like real life. If this sounds like A Game of Thrones, well, yes -- the series are very different, but they do share some elements: morally complex protagonists, no easy answers, and a well-rendered world with a long history and many cultures. Logen Ninefingers, the Northern berserker, alone is worth reading about, but he's only one of many great characters. San dan Glokta is the coolest, and definitely the most sympathetic torturer I've ever encountered. If you like fantasy, check it out, and stay with it until the end of the third book. The ending is both satisfying and unexpected.
Profile Image for Mpauli.
157 reviews458 followers
July 8, 2013
"So, let's cast the characters for our novel, shall we?"
"Of course, boss, Mr. Abercrombie, sir!"
"Where is the run-of-a-mill farmboy with a great destination?"
"I'm afraid he ran of the mill, met a goblin. Now rots in a ditch."
"Oh, how unfortunate."
"Indeed, boss, indeed."
"Let's see. What about the maiden fair in need of rescue from a dragon?"
"Apparently she ate the dragon. Now she was saying something about a burning sensation in the...well...digesting area. Went to the toilet, never saw her again."
"Hm, what a shame. Well, what about a lovely elf?"
"You wish, ey boss?"
"Yeah, had to ask at least."
"Maybe a sturdy dwarf?"
"Nah, you know how they are these days. They all want to be Tyrion. More the sophisticated wine-drinking type, rather than being honourable beer-folk."

"So, what are we left with, then?"
"We have a fencing soldier..."
"Sounds promising!"
"Yeah, just...he's kind of an ass. Pompous fool type."
"At least good to look at for the ladies?"
"Might work, he's no sparkly Edward though."
"Come on, go Edward yourself. What else?"
"There is this savage dude, but his best days seem to be over."
"Like a Baldwin?"
"And he's missing a finger..."
"So he's basically crippled...wonderful, anyone else?"
"Funny thing, boss. There is this actual cripple. A torture victim, who's now an Inquisitor."
"You're kidding me?"
"I'm afraid not. On a stretch I might have a savage female psychokiller on a revenge streak."
"Oh please no, not for the beginning of the novel!"
"Maybe later then, boss?"
"Maybe later, for now, let's work with these guys..."

And Abercrombie worked really well with them. I had a blast with his refreshing new characters.
These miscreants really grow fast on you and you keep rooting for the strangest guys.

As the novel is really character focused, the main plot is more of a build-up to bigger things in the later books.
But it's interesting enough and has a lot of potential. Therefore I'm going to dive into the other two books of the First Law trilogy in the near future. Maybe there are even more casting surprises ahead.

"Oh, boss...one thing...the savage guy brought some friends aswell."
"Of course, he did, of course...we'll make it work."
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
355 reviews1,467 followers
July 4, 2022

My 45th read of the year! 45/60 through my Reading Challenge. Three quarters! And this is up with the best of those 45.

Well, well, well. I finally dived into one of, if not my most, anticipated read of the year. The Blade Itself, constantly recommended in the Gwynne household and far beyond, hit my expectations. Shocking, grim, brutal, revolting at times, yet one of the funniest books I've read, with a lot of heart, and great characters to carry the tale.

We held a poll on The Brothers Gwynne, the YouTube channel I run with my brother, and they decided that they wanted us to hold a series of reviews for Joe Abercrombie's works. So, here I go! The first one to bite the dust, The Blade Itself.

"Say one thing about Logen Ninefingers, say he's a survivor"

This is a character driven plot, with the attraction of the characters fully justifying, for me at least, the limited amount of plot progression, which was still intriguing and engaging on its own. But, the plot development still appeared perfect, with the clever, gradual world building being executed in a manner that sets everything for book 2 to start at a quicker pace right away.

Returning to characters, that is the heart of the genius of the story. Each is just so, so distinctive, from the bitter torturer Glokta, to the philosophical warrior Logen, who most underestimate as a brute, Jezal the handsome solider chained by his notions of propriety, and all the other PoV's of this story. Summarised by just saying that it is masterful.

Over on Twitter, Paul said that Joe Abercrombie creates "a lot of unlikeable people doing terrible things in a brilliant way in a short amount of time." And I'm inclined to agree. Couldn't have said that better.

It is shocking to think that this was Joe Abercrombie's debut, as this feels like a refined and polished writer at the best of their game. I really cannot wait to dive into Before They Are Hanged and be reunited shortly with some of the best characters I have met in fantasy, and also to record a review with my brother, Ed, on The Brothers Gwynne.


I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne
Profile Image for carol..
1,535 reviews7,871 followers
February 26, 2012
The Blade Itself will undoubtedly become classic fantasy. I found it engrossing, and one of the best examples of the "darker" epic fantasies, with protagonists lacking in traditional heroic qualities and quests that are less than selfless. I liked the way the story was constructed, primarily following three main characters, with a fourth was added partway through the book. I was fairly certain they would intersect at some point, so part of the interest in the story is seeing how their individual tales will intertwine. The stories of each are mostly linear, with some appropriate flashbacks, but never done so choppily that one can't tell primary time frame. I can't tell you what a relief this is; I've been reading too many deconstructionist sort of fantasies lately where narrative skill is dropped for the ease of disjointed four-page scenes. Does everyone have narrative ADD? However, I digress.

Abercrombie has a gift for clear storytelling without simplicity. While I had heard this was a "dark fantasy," with unlikeable characters, I would wholeheartedly disagree, at least within the confines of this book. Perhaps on the surface our three main characters are unlikeable--one a 'barbarian' with a very bloody past, Logen Ninefingers; one a vain and talented peacock, Captain Jezel; and the last a maimed and internally tortured torturer, Inquisitor Glokta--but they are imbued with a humanity that makes them likeable despite themselves. Frequently we are privy to their decision-making process, and it becomes evident that their motives are more complex than simple bloodthirst, vanity or hate. Ninefingers is undergoing a shift in his feelings on fighting and war, after losing everything he has loved. It's lovely seeing how the entitled noble Jezel finds himself attracted to someone very different than he, and the stages he goes through as he realizes his love. Glokta's interactions with the Arch Lector are stunning; we quickly develop the sense of the long term and unethical mechaniations of the Arch Lector and develop further sympathy for the poor torturer. It was a brilliant way to help readers understand the political ramifications of the actions we've been witnessing without a lot of dreary exposition or monologues.

A portentous and sinister air developes through the book. There is the larger issue of the Union and it's surrounding countries preparing for war, and the local issue of a power vacuum around king's throne, and competing interests. The evil characters are frightening-the Northmen have a sorceress working with them, and the Emperor of Gurkhul uses monsters called "Eaters" as enforcers. Nonetheless, there are light moments, and moments of redemption, even in beginning chapters, such as when Logen decides to rescue someone, even if it should mean his death. It's an astonishing level of complexity, but Abercrombie handles it well.

I've already got the second book on my shelf waiting to be read.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2012/1...
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
724 reviews1,205 followers
April 9, 2020
After finishing my second read-through of The Blade Itself, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on it.

The book is a slow burn, which should not be confused with “boring.” Slower pacing can be incredibly effective if all the scenes have great character development and purpose. This tale took its time, and it was mostly time well used. The first time through, I found myself constantly distracted during one section of the book (about 20% shortly after the halfway point). At the time, I chalked it up to a mood thing on my end. After losing interest at the exact same section during this read, I can trust that something about that part just didn’t work for me. It was a small struggle to get through, but not enough of one to steal my enthusiasm for the rest of the book. Another thing I’ll point out is that I reread the book because I couldn’t remember very many pivotal plot-advancers and I wanted a refresher before continuing. As it turns out, I recalled most of it really well, there just aren’t that many things that happen in the whole book lol. What I’m getting at is, it’s an excellent book (among what I would call the staples for the genre), but it’s definitely not for the reader who needs a ton of action scenes.

It’s a multiple POV story. If you read my reviews for McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, you’ll recall how highly I praised the characters for playing so well off of one another (the relationships are everything). These characters weren’t quite as brilliant as those, but were still incredibly strong and memorable. And for a story with not much pacing and a fairly narrow focus, I think good character development is the main reason most people rave this series. I’m especially excited to see how they develop in future books because there’s definitely a ton of growth potential there.

Can we talk specific characters for a minute? Notably the brilliance that is Sand dan Glokta? If you want a master class in how to develop characters with duality and depth, study Glokta. Even though the character’s physicality is repulsive, and his profession as torturer for the crown deplorable, it’s his frank way of seeing the world and sardonic dialogue that still manages to make him one of the most likable characters I’ve ever come across. I’m thrilled to read more, if only just to spend more time with him.

I’d been eyeballing this series for years, but hesitated to pick it up in my younger days because of how often I heard about the gritty nature of the story. You’ll often hear it described as one of the original Grimdark novels…. which might be true, but I have some hesitations selling it with that impressions. Series like Malazan, GoT, and Sword of Truth we’re already on the market, and, in my humble opinion, contained scenes that were significantly darker and grittier than I’ve read here (so far). So for anyone hesitating to read it because of what you’ve heard about the content, it’s not that bad. Comparatively, anyway. It’s still torture lol.

Recommendations: as a (well-deserved) staple in fantasy, I highly recommend The Blade Itself to anyone who wants to experience the best of the genre (based on mass appeal and quality of content, not necessarily on my own personal top books list). So far its Grimdark appeal has been surprisingly moderate, so I think it would appeal to a wider range of readers than I initially predicted. It’s packed with great characters, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com

Other books you might like:
Promise of Blood (Powder Mage, #1) by Brian McClellan The Dragon's Path (The Dagger and the Coin, #1) by Daniel Abraham Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1) by Robin Hobb Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1) by Mark Lawrence A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) by George R.R. Martin
Profile Image for Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~.
347 reviews932 followers
March 26, 2018
So this was one of my most anticipated reads.

Grimdark fans from all over offer up this book as one of the best in the genre, and so that understandably rocketed my expectations!

And this was not a bad book by any means.

In fact, as soon as I started I was told multiple times that I could liken the first book of The First Law series to "a giant prologue," and I think that's a really accurate way to describe it.

The book follows a handful of characters who are all entangled in some way in the degenerating political situation between The Union and The North.

Each character brings with them an interesting history & plays a unique role in the story. How they relate & integrate themselves into the plot feels very believable & covers a wide range of positions, which provides decent footing for the reader to understand Abercrombie's world through their eyes.

My favorite character was a tie between Inquisitor Sand dan Glotka, once a brilliant & charming swordsman, now crippled & experienced in the art of torture, and Logen "Ninefingers," a banished Northman warrior with a bloody reputation.

Both of these characters are written in a way that kept me wanting to find out how their story would unfold. Especially Glotka with all his biting sarcasm & sardonic sense of humor.

Abercrombie's talent as a writer is one of the shining aspects of this novel. His ability to develop landscapes & nations with distinctive cultures is impressive. He is seamlessly able to tie together situations & characters with smooth descriptions & clever dialogue.

However, even with these strong qualities, I really suffered to stay engaged with what was happening from almost the very beginning to the end.

Every so often, a great section of action or an intriguing piece of banter would bring me to the surface, but for much of the story I felt as though I were drowning in cumbersome details & a political set up that I wasn't fully on board with. That is to say, the story just didn't do it for me.

When I finally finished this book, I was relieved on some level because in many places it was quite a slog. Pacing was a bit of the problem, but for me more of the issue was I just couldn't fully connect with what was going on.

There were definitely a number of enjoyable elements here & there's no denying Abercrombie's skill at world building & characterization. But "good" is the best way I can describe my reading of The Blade Itself.

I'm glad I read it, as I've heard the next two books really take off & take the reader on a crazy journey. So I'll be looking forward to reading the next two books in the series!

Buddy read this with my girl, Nenia! Here's a link to her lovely review!
Profile Image for jessica.
2,534 reviews32.5k followers
February 9, 2019
gritty. visceral. unapologetic. and darkly humorous. everything you could ever want from a story like this.

its safe to say this is primarily a character driven novel, which is fine by me because every character is brilliant - it has quite the ensemble cast! each has their own secrets, histories, and quirks; making it quite the experience getting to know each of them.

not a lot happens plot wise, and with the main focus on the character developments, this felt very much like an introduction rather than a true first instalment of a series. a lot of time is spent exploring the world, distinguishing different empires and their history, how each characters plays a part in the story, etc. but its all a really great set up for what i imagine will be a really gripping series. im looking forward to seeing where everything goes!

4 stars
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,537 reviews9,793 followers
April 14, 2023
**4.5-stars rounded up**

The First Law series has been on my TBR for a long time.

It's one of those Epic Fantasy series that seems to stand out as a favorite amongst Readers. After completing this, I can absolutely see why.

With a lush, Grimdark Fantasy setting, extremely well-constructed characters, magic and a ton of intrigue, I was fully immersed within this story.

Even when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. I had no clue where the story was going, but was perfectly content to sit back and let Abercrombie's genius wash over me.

In this first book, the main cast of characters is introduced and we watch as the spheres of their worlds begin to merge.

Logen, Bayaz, Glokta and Jezal were all incredibly compelling. Each one of their stories was one that I wanted to know more about.

Often, I feel like character work can be uneven; like there are characters you are more drawn to than others. In this case, however, I happily loved each and every one of them!

There is a lot of ground work being laid in this novel, but in spite of that, it never felt like a slog. It always felt exciting and important.

I really enjoyed the level of magic that Abercrombie included. It wasn't overdone, or relied upon too heavily as a plot device, but I feel like we are just scratching the surface of the powers available in this world.

I love how this ended, with the intrigue higher than ever and it appears we are heading out on a quest. One of my favorite tropes in Fantasy.

I cannot wait to get to the next book!!!

Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
March 9, 2018
Joe Abercrombie certainly knows how to write some disturbingly likable characters. In any other book the protagonists would be the bad guys. Logan Ninefingers is a brutal warrior who goes into insane blood rages where he kills anything, and everything, near him. Yet, weirdly, he is also a wise and sensitive soul. San Dan Glocka is a torturer whose heart is pure malice, yet somehow his attitude toward life boarders on the hilarious. These two are such great characters; they make the series what it is.

A character defining opening


I love how this novel begins because it sets the tone for the rest of it. Ninefingers, as ever, is in a fight for his life, but it is clear that this is neither his first fight nor his last. He doesn’t fight with grace; he doesn’t fight with much skill either, but what he does fight with is an animalistic passion for survival and, knives, lots of knives. He knows how to win a fight and it is, most definitely, not by fighting clean or with bravery. Sometimes, the best way to win/survive a fight is by running of a cliff. In this opening we see a glimpse of his complex character.

“There are few men with more blood on their hands than me. None, that I know of. The Bloody-Nine they call me, my enemies, and there’s a lot of ’em. Always more enemies, and fewer friends. Blood gets you nothing but more blood. It follows me now, always, like my shadow, and like my shadow I can never be free of it. I should never be free of it. I’ve earned it. I’ve deserved it. I’ve sought it out. Such is my punishment.”

Indeed, he is very well written. There’s so much more to him than his outwardly barbarian appearance; he is more than a survivor and a pragmatist. He knows when his luck has run out; it’s why he has survived for so long. There’s wisdom inside him too. He’s an exceptionally good judge of character. When the plot sends him in the path of Bayaz, a powerful mage, he can see the man’s worth almost instantly; he can see exactly what he is about and how unstraightforward his intentions are. He is forced to go along with his plans, but he knows not to fully trust him. He can smell deception a mile away. After all, you have to be realistic about these things. (I just had to say it!)

A twisted world

It is clear that Ninefingers is far from a good man. He has killed countless people, and he has enjoyed it. Yet, somehow Abercrombie has made this bloodthirsty barbarian into a likable protagonist. He is simply who he is. It makes me wonder that if the protagonist is this brutal, then the antagonists must be terrible people. They must be much worse than Logan. Though, something does tell me that there are very few good men in this world. Everybody is in a shadowy place of dark and questionable morals. I love it.

“There was nothing to be gained by losing his temper. There was never anything to be gained by that.”

Indeed, Gloka is just as nasty. He enjoys inflicting pain, through torture, in the same way it was done to him. But, at the same time, he works for the government and serves his country. So he can’t be all that bad, right? Wrong. He is much, much, worse. He is one of the darkest characters in fantasy that isn’t the villain. However, he is also brilliant. His wit and attitude reminds me somewhat of Tyrion Lannister. If these two met, it would certainly lead to one incredibly interesting conversation. Say one thing of Abercrombie; say he can write disturbingly likable characters, and novels; he’s quite good at novels too. You have to be realistic about these things.

I’ve really got to stop saying that!

The First Law Trilogy
1. The Blade Itself- A bloody four stars
2. Before They Were Hanged- A gritty four stars
3. The Last Argument of Kings- A strong four stars

Profile Image for Celeste.
906 reviews2,342 followers
June 5, 2019
You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.

The Blade Itself is exactly why I believe in second chances. When I first read this book four years ago, I had very little adult fantasy under my belt. I had read Elantris, Mistborn, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Kingkiller Chronicle. That’s pretty much it. I think I just wasn’t mentally prepared for something like The Blade Itself. Even ASoIaF, by far the darkest of the fantasy novels I had read up to that point, had a number of characters who were mostly moral. Even if I wasn’t sure how long said characters would live, I knew that there was good even in this dark world. Then Abercrombie entered. While even on my first reading I appreciated how fleshed out and unique his characters were, there was a part of me that was horrified to find a core of darkness within those I had thought were basically good. My little brain didn’t cope well with that.
“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?”

Fast forward to 2019. With much more of the fantasy genre under my belt, I decided to give The First Law another shot. My co-blogger, Petrik, considers this one of his favorite series of all time, so I wanted to give the series at least one more try before writing it off as too dark for me. I’m so glad I did. If I could travel back in time and smack past me on the back of the head, I would. I don’t know what my problem was, because The Blade Itself is absolutely fantastic. Now that I’m not clutching my pearls in horror over a cast of completely morally gray characters, I have so much respect for Abercrombie and the world he created.
“History is littered with dead good men.”

What really makes this book shine is the very element that turned me off during my first reading: the characters. They’re all insanely lifelike and fleshed out, and I love them intensely. Rarely have I come across characters so vibrantly alive. Glotka is one of the funniest, foulest, cleverest, most pitiable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I honestly wouldn’t have been too surprised had he limped right off the pages. I know he limped his way into my heart, ugly smile and all. He’s one of the most determined characters I’ve come across, and I really respect his tenacity, because even when he wonders why he doesn’t just give up, he somehow finds the strength to take the next step, and the next.
“Everything frightens me, and it's well that it does. 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.”

And Jezal! This noble son turned soldier is shallow and lazy and breathtakingly self-absorbed. There’s a whole little section of him just admiring his jawline in a mirror, mediating on how superior it is to other jaws. I laughed out loud so many times during scenes from his point of view. I especially loved how mercurial his moods were, changing radically mid-paragraph. Bayaz, though not a perspective character, also deserves special mention. He reminded me of Merlin as presented in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, but far surlier and with a much fouler vocabulary. And I mean that in the best way. There were other side characters who I eventually found fascinating, as well, as they reveals hidden depths and darknesses and motivations. Every fictional person in the world Abercrombie crafted felt believable to me, full of hopes and dreams and quirks and failings.
“I’m trying to put things in the best light, but a turd’s a turd, whatever light it’s in!”

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he knows how to write a compellingly reluctant action hero. The star of the book for me, despite how much I enjoy Glotka and Jezal, is without a doubt Logen Ninefingers. The Bloody Nine has a fearsome reputation, but Logen would honestly like nothing more than to leave it behind. But he is who he is, and will never back down from doing what needs doing. Despite his body count, Logen is perhaps the kindest character in the entire novel. He’s far more conflicted and selfless than others around him, though he is by no means perfect. You can’t help but root for him.
“The best steel doesn't always shine the brightest.”

I also want to take a moment to praise Abercrombie’s writing. The man really has a way with words. His prose is captivating in a way that doesn’t distract you from the story. And I love how his writing style shifts subtly for each perspective, adding an extra layer of distinction for each voice. Despite the darkness of the world and the plot, Abercrombie was able to seamlessly pack in a ton of humor. The only other novel I’ve read that was able to achieve this balance so deftly is The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, with is one of my very books.
“Some things have to be done. It's better to do them, than to live with the fear of them.”

Coming back to this book was a wonderful decision. I can see now, having read so much fantasy over the past three years, how much Abercrombie has inspired other authors in the genre. I can’t wait to continue reading and see what he has in store for Logen and Glotka and all the rest. You know, maybe grimdark isn’t too much for me after all. It’s amazing how tastes change.
Profile Image for oyshik.
210 reviews664 followers
October 12, 2020
I appreciate it. I didn't like this story as I expected, but I didn't dislike it.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
795 reviews3,612 followers
December 14, 2019
Compared to other High-Fantasy, there is lesser action, many character scenes, introspective and dialogues and yet as much suspense as in a horror novel.

It must have taken the author much time to find such original characters and to combine them in a way that gives new perspectives and potentials for the fantasy genre. It seems to me as if, as with many newer great High-Fantasy series, that there is nothing healthier for a genre than to become unconventional, progressive and well, yes, pretty dark and filthy too.

Take for instance Game of Thrones, The Warded Man, Malazan Books of the Fallen, Brandon Sanderson, etc. that have all redefined the Fantasy genre in new, mostly darker ways.

Hardly ever the villain has been described in so much detail and so close that he gets sympathetic in a strange way and the other characters certainly aren´t likeable too, but boy how interesting their deficits make them in the eye of the reader. All this together makes it closer to real life and less unrealistic than those superhuman, always good never evil, standard tropes from the past.

Tropes show how literature is conceived and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Eric Allen.
Author 3 books732 followers
March 5, 2015
I tried to read this book. I really did. I got over halfway through, but I just can't go any further. It's too damn boring and pointless. I hate every character in it. I'm not interested in what's going on in the slightest. I keep making excuses not to read any more of it. A good story is about interesting people doing interesting things. And this one lacked both of those things. I should never have to force myself to keep reading, I should be excited and compelled to read by what's going on and how it's written, and I'm just not. If a book is so bad I can't finish it, it gets one star by default in my rules of reviewing that I made for myself when I first started out. I really wanted to like this book, because I hear a lot of people saying such great things about Joe Abercrombie, but holy crap, this book is just a complete and utter failure to tell a compelling story in every single way imaginable. If this is what I can expect from the author, I don't even want to try any of his other books.

At over halfway through, the book doesn't really have any reason to exist. There's no point or purpose. There's no goal to be achieved. There's no impending doom, or mysterious questions that need answering. It's just a bunch of things that happen, rather than any sort of cohesive story or narrative. A story is more than simple a collection of things that happen--I'm looking at YOU Rothfuss!!! There's like three completely separate and independent plotlines that lave little to nothing to do with one another, and are all equally as pointless and boring. I don't like or don't care about any of the characters in it. I don't care what they're doing or why, when the author even bothers to tell us why. I don't feel any sort of attachment to any of the people, places, things or events. This is not how good storytelling works. It's like The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It's just a bunch of things that happen, with nothing tying them together in any meaningful way, and about characters that either a.) have no actual defined character at all, or b.) are utterly loathsome human beings. Not a great way to pique my interest.

Chapters would start out, and my first reaction to seeing which character it was about would be, "I don't care." Or, "not this douchebag again!" These are reactions that no one should ever have to your characters. When you don't like, or don't care about any of the characters in a book, there's no emotional attachment. And without emotional attachment, there's no tension or drama, because those things come from caring about the characters, and a genuine desire to see them succeed and overcome. If they're so bland, or without character that they might as well not even exist, and the reader is constantly asking why am I reading about this person, he's not doing anything interesting or important, and he's about as interesting himself as a plank of wood. Or are so loathsome that the reader actually dreads another chapter about them, you have failed as a storyteller.

So yeah, I give up. I tried, but there's just nothing in this book I found even remotely interesting, and I just can't force myself to try reading any more of it. Sorry to any Abercrombie fans out there, but I'm done with this one, and good riddance to it. I absolutely hated the 2/3-ish of the book that I read, and was bored to death rather than entertained in any way by it. No ending, no matter how epic and awesome, can ever make up for the boring, soulless, and all-together pointless drudgery of the rest of the book leading up to it. There are far more interesting ways to set up a series than this. Thanks but no thanks. I'll go find something worth the time and effort to read.

If anyone has a suggestion on a Joe Abercrombie book that is actually worth reading, rather than this boring, pointless mess, (meaning a book about interesting characters doing interesting things, rather than characters that are boring or loathsome, doing things that are pointless, completely unconnected to each other in any meaningful way, and boring as sin) please let me know, and I'll stick it on my to-read list. But if they're all like this one, please don't bother, because I didn't like it at all, and I don't want to read anything like it again.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books397 followers
April 13, 2023
The Blade Itself is Joe Abercrombie's gritty first volume of The First Law trilogy, featuring a brilliantly crafted cast of complex characters including:

Sand dan Glokta, a former war hero who was tortured and crippled, later reinventing himself as a sadistic torturer for the Inquisition. In my opinion, Glokta is the most compelling, well-developed character in the entire book. I love how Abercrombie focuses on a hero after his glory days, and how the brutality he experienced translates into his own brutality as he methodically tortures others. As a reader, we feel Glokta's constant physical and emotional pain in excruciating detail. Glokta's inner monologue is one of my favorite parts of the book.

Logen Ninefingers is a violent barbarian from the North who has lost his way and looking for direction in his life, which he finds from Bayaz, the First of the Magi, an ancient wizard who is also a master psychological and political manipulator.

Jezal dan Luthar is a handsome, ambitious, self-absorbed nobleman who is obsessed with winning a fencing contest and impressing Ardee West, his friend's enchanting sister. Jezal is the epitome of shallowness and my least favorite of the main characters.

In a testosterone-heavy cast of characters, I felt like The Blade Itself was missing a strong female voice. Enter Ferro Maljinn, a former slave who is hell-bent on revenge. Ferro makes her appearance in the second half of the book. She was an absolute delight, written with a vibrancy that practically pops off the page.

Overall, Glokta and Ferro were my two favorite characters. I thoroughly enjoyed every time they were given a point of view.

I should also mention the excellent cast of secondary characters, including Ardee West, Practical Frost (a mostly silent albino giant who acts as Glokta's muscles), Malacus Quai (an apprentice of Bayaz), and many others.

The characters are the highlight of the book, carrying The Blade Itself despite its underwhelming execution in several other areas:

The worldbuilding is rather basic. It's a standard medieval Europe-inspired land with three major regions. Most of the action takes place in the Union, whose major country is Angland (England). To the south is the powerful Gurkish (Turkish) Empire. To the north is the brutal land of the North (hello, Vikings). As you can see, the naming is not particularly inventive. Also, there is no map.

The plot revolves around political maneuverings. The novel is so focused on individual characters that we rarely get the big picture of what is happening. I know this was a deliberate choice by Abercrombie, but I would have liked to have a more well-developed overall story arc. To me, The Blade Itself feels mostly like setup for subsequent novels in the trilogy. I definitely wanted more from the plot of this book.

The writing reflects the rawness of the characters. Abercrombie is particularly adept at conveying their pain in a brutal and detailed fashion. The prose is direct and unadorned. At times I felt like I could smell the stench of the characters emanating off the page. Personally, I prefer a more lyrical writing style such as that of Mark Lawrence or Patrick Rothfuss, but that lyricism would probably be a poor fit for the dirty, brutal world that Abercrombie has created. My main complaint about the writing is that it is far too repetitive. Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers, say he needs a bigger vocabulary.

All in all, this book was carried by the characters. I enjoyed the novel and appreciate what Abercrombie has created here, but I wish that he had crafted a plot as compelling as the characters themselves. Perhaps this will be rectified in the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,938 reviews428 followers
November 29, 2022
I first read this book nine years ago and my memory of it was rather hazy: I could remember the Bloody-Nine alright, and Glokta was a name that rang heavily in my ears, but otherwise most of it was cloudy, vague memories of possibilities. After finishing my Annual Reading Challenge six months early-and having read mostly genres that were not my favourite just to see how I fared with them-I knew I needed something good: something I knew (or thought I knew) I liked.

I'm so happy that I was not disappointed. I was instantly transported once again to Adua, the stinking great city of the Union and I was with the Bloody-Nine once again. Memories flooded back, but still there were surprises in-store. I didn't recall Ferro at all: the escaped slave-girl, full of malice and hatred, rather annoying yet obviously welcoming redeeming features in the future, and Bayaz himself. In fact, I'd completely mis-remembered the plot and didn't realise there was magic involved. This got me even more excited.

The First of the Magi, Bayaz, is returning to civilisation again. Wars are ever on-going, the Union is pressed on two fronts with the Gurkish and the Northmen. New kings have risen and yet, in the city of Auda, the very heart of the empire, the only thing any of the self-important fops care for is who will win the Fencing Contest.

The book begins slowly: of course, to introduce the many characters, weave the many threads and set out the many, many political intrigues of the world. I couldn't fathom how they all tied together: why are we following a Northerner who's only life has been killed and then switching to a pompous, self-important, stuck-up little swine of a Union soldier? This felt strange and yet intrigued me. It took maybe 100 pages altogether, but afterwards I was hooked. It has been a long while since I didn't want to work and instead read. Hell, I even stopped playing Destiny 2 to read this. Now that is commitment.

The story is developing nicely, the characters all suitably arranged. They all seem destestable, and yet we have a hierarchy of detestation and can pick a level of it to slot ourselves in to wherever we feel comfortable. They're all vile and I love it.

What I was not expecting was how much I would fall in love with Sand dan Glokta. In my memory of this book he was an 85-year-old, lethal little man, bitter, snide, awful, self-absorbed. Poor cripple, oh poor him. But no: he is witty-yes bitter but who wouldn't be?-35-years-old, tried and tested and almost dead inside. And yet there is a spark there that I can see, and I enjoy every moment we are with him. I find myself wondering of him whilst we move to other countries and lands, thinking on how he fares. This is not right: he is mean and disfigured and, well, a torturer. How can you love a torturer? It is often said that the victim becomes the crime and this is no different, and yet it feels different. I cannot explain it, it is just so.

I have often re-read books before, waiting at least five years between the two, and have often been disappointed. Books from my youth are not so magical, not quite so wonderful as I always recalled that they were. Harry Potter, Abhorsen, to name but a couple: but this lived up to everything I remembered and more. My only gripe? The dialogue. The words are fine, they move the plot along nicely and we get an insight to the speakers, but the exclamation marks are verging on tedious. We have at least 5 in every paragraph that contains text, every single character seems to scream, shout, cry. I can avoid them for the most part, but if it continues I do not know if those who speak them will come out the other end in my favour.

I am not so dead inside that I cannot see that this is gritty, grim, dark and visceral. It cuts and spins, twists and slashes at every moment, but that has no effect upon me. The battles leave me wanting other things, I care not for them, and yet when they end I want more. It does not frighten nor quicken the pulse, but then again it does not easily lie down and go to sleep. Abercrombie's Shattered Sea series was abysmal: I didn't not finish it. It was watered-down twaddle for the easy-to-buy, quick-to-praise YA market. This is what I love with High Fantasy.
August 30, 2021
· Buddy read with the wannabe torturers over at BBB ·

DNF at 34%.

You! Yes, you there! The person who is reading this review right now! Are you one of the hilarious people who told me I was going LOVE this book? You aren't? It's your lucky day, you should try playing the lottery or something. Now. If you are one of the delirious people who did tell me I was going to LOVE this book…oh man, you are SO doomed.

I mean, what the bloody hell??!! How DARE you suicidal people lure me into this by dangling a supposedly awesomely irresistible, blood-shedding torturer in front of my lovely nose??!! Here I was, expecting an uber cool, super hot homicidal maniac, and what do I get? An ever pity partying, toothless bore with a limp. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? What were you thinking, you crazed people??!! Damn. Poor, pathetic Glotka is so grumpy he puts both the Grumpy Cat AND the old guys from the Muppet Show to shame. Grumpy can be sexy, but grumpy can be GRUMPY.

And I know that looks aren't everything, but I draw the line at toothlessness. I could have survived the limp if poor, pathetic Glotka here hadn't spent every single second of his fascinating life complaining about it. Actually, he spends every single second of his fascinating life complaining about ALL his various and numerous and abundantly diverse pains, aches and ailments. So much so that I considered putting a bullet through his grumpy little head to put an end to his misery. Yeah, I'm charitable like that.

Anything else? Yeah. This book is boring as hell.

Bye now.

PS: I might be slightly charitable to Grumpy-Ouch-It-Hurts torturers, but I'm not so lenient towards delusional people who think they can recommend I read Crappy Books (CB™) and get away with it unharmed, unscathed and stuff. All you people are now on my Shrimpy Hit List (SHL™). Expect a visit from the murderous decapodic army shortly. There will be blood.

[Pre-review nonsense]

DNF at 34%.

34%. And it almost took me a month to get that far. Yes, the book was *that* brilliantly exciting. I loved every minute of it.

Come on, Edward, time to bail.

I-hate-the-ill-intentioned-well-intentioned-friends-who-told-me-I-would-LUUURRRVE-Glotka review coming right up. You are SO in for that paid burn-in-hell holiday, people.

My dear friends keep telling me I will LOVE Glokta. Might be because he's a cripple turned torturer (it's the torturer bit that counts). I have to say that Captain Jezal dan Luthar sounds pretty cool too: dashing officer and paragon of selfishness? Works for me. Then there's Logen Ninefingers, the infamous barbarian. Don't really care about the infamous part, but the barbarian side of things sounds positively yummy. Strangely enough, no one tried to sell this to me by mentioning Bayaz the wizard, a bald old man with a terrible temper. Weird.

Looking forward to reading this and then sending half of my friend list on a paid burn-in-hell holiday.

November 5, 2021
The Blade Itself is the first book of the First Law Trilogy, which is an epic world-building supernatural fantasy adventure. It can’t be helped to compare the trilogy to the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series in its depth of detail, its rollcall of wonderful characters, hidden plots and agendas, and fantasy dimensions. The world of Joe Abercrombie it told in superb vivid detail where multiple cultures and nations are warring and untrustworthy. Still, there is a darker menace growing in strength and intent on domination.

The plot is a rollercoaster of action with characters that are wonderfully drawn. The character layers are developed throughout the book and they are individually capable, dangerously incompetent, and never sure whether they will stand out as unlikely heroes or unseen traitors.

The Blade Itself focuses on the history that has led nations and characters to this place, at this time, and with victorious ambitions. The story delivers through multiple threads, each with its own set of characters and challenges. The narration doesn’t shy away from the brutality of conflict and torture but I wouldn’t say gratuitously. Battles must be fought, and Logan Ninefingers will be at the heart of many. Answers must be sought, alliances must be formed, and traitors must be found. Glokta the inquisitor will hunt the traitors and those that constitute a risk. Bayaz the First of the Magi knows what’s at stake and must stop it, he is powerful, but he cannot do this independently.

A breath-taking story of wonderful characters, that I highly recommend. I can’t understand why there isn’t a TV or film adaptation of this story.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,925 reviews10.6k followers
March 23, 2013
On the run from a king he once served, barbarian Logen Ninefingers finds himself in the Union's capital, aligned with Bayaz, a legendary wizard long thought dead. Meanwhile, nobleman Captain Jezal Luthar trains for The Contest, a fencing spectacle, while lusting after Ardee West, sister of one of his comrades. Inquistor Glokta, crippled former swordsman, skulks around in the darkness, torturing the answers he seeks while searching for treason at every turn. What is Bayaz planning? Will Jezal bed his best friend's sister? Will Glokta be able to outmaneuver the other inquistors?

After reading Red Country, I had to see how it all began. I was most pleased.

The Blade Itself reads like Terry Pratchett on the mother of all bad days. While there is a surprising amount of humor, there are also buckets of blood and gore. Abercrombie writes fantastic battle scenes and I suspect they will only get better as the series progresses.

Anyway, the strength of The Blade Itself is in the characters. While many of them fit standard fantasy archetypes, they also are far from typical. Logen Ninefingers is a barbarian that spends a lot of time thinking and being scared, guilty of a hundred atrocities. Bayaz is an ages-old wizard that looks like a blacksmith. Inquistor Glokta seems like a pretty reprehensible torturer and guardsman at first glance but there is a lot more to him than meets the eye. Jezal is a great swordsman but also a snobbish bastard. I'm also very interested in Yugei and Ferro and Logen's former band of not-so-merry men. I can't wait until they find out their old leader is still alive.

I'm going to sidestep going into too much of the plot. to avoid spoilage. Suffice to say, I'm intrigued of what I've seen so far, bringing me to my next point. The only gripe I have about this book is that it very much feels like the first book in a trilogy. Most of it feels like setup to me. Fortunately, I think Abercrombie is move than capable of delivering the goods in future volumes so it's barely a gripe.

Additional Thoughts:
- Logen Ninefingers is quickly climbing the ranks of my favorite characters in science fiction and fantasy.
- Also, Logen reminds me of a young version of Terry Pratchett's Cohen The Barbarian.
- I'm not sure if Abercrombie has ever read Hugh Cook's Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series but the writing and morally ambiguous characters make them spiritual brothers.
- I have a feeling Glokta will wind up being my second favorite character in the series.
- I love Abercrombie's magic system and the history of the Magi.

Four blood-dripping stars!
Profile Image for Jimmy G..
8 reviews4 followers
July 28, 2010
If you're serious about good fiction and are educated in storytelling, don't believe all of the praise for "The Blade Itself."

Abercrombie's trilogy has been getting a lot of buzz in fantasy circles. Most readers call it "unconventional fantasy," the back cover of my edition calls it "noir fantasy," and the loftiest of readers call it "literary fantasy." I don't find any of these terms oxymoronic--but they are all applied incorrectly to this book. "The Blade Itself" is as uninteresting and cliche-riddled as anything else. In this review, I attack the most common points of praise: good fight scenes, complex characters, and tight plotting.

One of the things praised near-universally is Abercrombie's "fight scenes." Anyone who's seen a film understands the difficulty of reproducing fast-paced physical combat in a less-than-ideal medium; writing fight scenes is hard. For the most part, at a technical level, Abercrombie holds his own. The fights have most of what they need: rhythm, description, visibility. What they frequently lack is a purpose, or emotional stakes. There's more to constructing compelling fights than "someone's gonna die." So when characters randomly come across highwaymen or "Flatheads," the feeling is not of meaningful characters clashing--it's of Abercrombie forcing an adrenaline shot. (Speaking of those Flatheads, I still don't even know if they were human or some kind of gnoll; there's never a precise description.)

I'm definitely not anti-battle. But the best fight scenes involve high stakes for both sides--stakes beyond physical preservation. Every scene present feels too one-sided. (As an example, consider Obi-Wan Kenobi VS. Darth Vader in "A New Hope": master and student, old friends, now representing entire philosophies of the Force's light and dark sides, of nigh-extinct Jedi and all-powerful Sith. Now consider Yoda VS. Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus at the end of "Attack of the Clones": Yoda doesn't want him to escape, and they're, uh . . . opposed politically? Wow, look how acrobatic the little green guy is!)

A second point of widespread acclaim for "The Blade Itself" is its characters. Common proclamations are that they break the fantasy mold by being flawed, witty, and antiheroic. I see an underlying assumption in these readers, though, and that's that the above character traits automatically make well-constructed characters. But despite hitting this literary checklist, Abecrombie's characters are flat and uncomplicated.

Glokta was an up-and-coming knight crippled by torture, who became a torturer himself. He's spiteful towards everything. Okay. What else? Well, he schemes a lot. And he's witty. He thinks a lot of jokes in italics. And . . . I guess he wishes his leg didn't hurt all the time. What about this is interesting or complicated?

Logen used to kill a bunch of people, but now he doesn't. His family got murdered by an acquaintance, someone for whom he used to kill people, now self-proclaimed "King of the Northmen." O, Irony!

Jezal's handsome and rich and rakish, and he's training to win a contest and trying to bang this one chick. Sweet. Except it's his friend's sister, of no nobility. Bummer.

And Ferro--she comes in halfway through the novel. She's a girl running from an emperor's harem and she's really angry and she kills all these people! Wicked!

Alongside the mains is a Gandalfian wizard waiting in the rafters until the world needs him yet again, a normal guy who slaps his sister at one part, a woman with brains (gasp!) and a whole bunch of even less interesting secondaries.

There's something readers of this book fail to understand. The cliches of yesterday are no longer the cliches of today. The gallant knight, the damsel in distress, the Dark Lord, the roguish wanderer; all are known to be cliche across fantasy, and as a result they don't appear anymore. Those cliche cliches (doubly cliche?) have been identified, catalogued, discussed at length, and hermetically sealed so that no one will ever use them again. The kind of characters Abercrombie uses are the new cliche, still fresh enough to be unrecognizable to the masses--antiheroes, dirty and uncouth, yet still saving the world in their own ragtag way. All of the book's characters--all, without exception--are basic and uncomplicated. Their motivations are too simple, their actions are unsurprising, and even their dialogue is tired.

There's a special affront in the female characters. The new "progressivism" of male fantasy writers has been to abolish the uncomplicated princess and replace her with a richer female character. The result? A cliche as predictable as before, and just as insulting, only in a veiled way. The main female in too many modern fantasies (Ardee West is the character here) is the aforementioned "woman with brains" in a world where women don't have brains. Whether she's a peasant or a princess, her wit makes all the other characters afraid of her. She doesn't "fit in." Also, this commonly manifests physically--i.e., she's "too tall." In the end, though, this stuff doesn't matter; she always ends up with a guy who "deserves" her. While her narration and her dialogue might be more engaging than the cliched princesses of yore, she does nothing to bolster femininity in fantasy. She winds up wedded and bedded like all the rest. Giving a female a little wit to abolish cliche is no more significant a gesture than unknotting one of the princess's bows.

(At this point, one might mention Ferro--the feral female, savage and furious, who shoots arrows through eyeballs more often than she says something witty. Okay. So a different bow is unknotted. This female can fight. This doesn't make her pro-fem, and it certainly doesn't make her a good anticliche--she's as crappy a character as any beefcake male who carries a six-foot sword and grunts a lot.)

My final grievance is in the structure of this book--or perhaps the structure of this trilogy, and what this book was designed to do. This is the party-former. It doesn't even attempt to stand alone--there's no smaller goal in sight for the end of book one. Imagine if "The Fellowship of the Ring" ended in Rivendell with the forming of the fellowship. Wow, that kind of stinks. Now erase all knowledge of Sauron, the ring itself, or any clear endgoal for the obviously ensuing quest. Wow--that actually really stinking sucks. That's what "The Blade Itself" does. Things happen. There's little cause and effect. The chapters are a smattering of chain links spilled across the floor, and you won't even know what the broken chain should be attached to until the end. You'll read 500-odd pages of uninteresting characterization, artifically-inseminated fight scenes, and witty witter's witticisms (does Abercrombie truly think snarky one-liners are the height of comedy?) before hitting the end of the book and finding out that the story has yet to begin.

If you're interested in all of the above by the end, great. You'll love the next two, I'm sure. I wasn't grabbed by any of it, though, and won't be finishing the series.
Profile Image for Luna. ✨.
92 reviews1,214 followers
January 10, 2022
this book absolutely SLAPS!

I would love to write a proper review, however I can’t be bothered. Gifs in reviews probably aren’t cool anymore (they never were) nor would be long fangirl review.
So instead, I have compiled a pros and cons list for the book.

Reasons why this book rocks;
The writing.
Vivid and wonderful world building.
Character development.
Story pacing.
How dark and ominous the story can get and how well Joe breaks it up with the humour.
The audiobook is also fire.

”Will they find me in the canal tomorrow? Dead and bloated, far… far beyond recognition? The only emotion that he felt at the idea was a flutter of mild relief. No more stairs.” did I mention Glokta is amazing?!?!

Click, tap, pain. Click, tap, pain.

Reasons this book sucks;

This book series is a great start for people wanting to read grim dark or if you even want to get into fantasy, however you should remember it probably isn’t for you if you are not ok with heavy violence, disgusting characters, blood and guts, sex, dry humour and loads of torture.

Joe Abercrombie is one of the kings of fantasy and definitely one of the best fantasy authors. ever. Definitely in my top 5 best series ever.
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,009 reviews1,326 followers
September 26, 2019
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“The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. Still, the struggle itself is worthwhile. Knowledge is the root of power, after all.”

★ When I first started reading, all I cared about was a good plot twist and nothing else. 400 and something book later, my opinions have drastically changed and I think good characters are the most important thing to me beside the plot and writing. I probably would not have liked this book if I read it in the past because it is slow and not much happens in it but for the first time in my life, I do not care and I found it enjoyable!

★ I did not know what to expect, I saw some readers comparing it to GoT but I did not feel so up to this point, but I have many more books to read so it is early to judge! But the writing in this one was simple and funny and enjoyable, I am new to the grimdark fantasy genre and I think those books are a very good place to start with!

“Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

★ The characters were superb and unusual, we have Logen Ninefingers with his glorious past and his notorious reputation as a barbarian. Glokta which is one of my favorite characters of all time and his inner thoughts are the best, he is cunning and smart and he hates everyone and everything. Then Jezal, a nobleman who is dreaming of glory and Bayaz, an overpowered old magician (My Cryptonite!).

★ There are also secondary characters and all of the characters were well written and fleshed out and I felt I know very much about them, how they were and how they are now and how will they be! It was only 1 book but it sculpted the characters very well! I can’t wait to find out more about everyone of them.

★ The pacing is slow and not much happens because I think this book is a preparation for book 2 which I think have the potential to be much better if more things did happen in it.

“Well. What can we do, except try to do better?”

★ Summary: I think this was a very good book for fans of character-driven stories or those who are willing to get into the genre. I am not an expert yet at the genre but I expected a bit more darker things (they are there but I wanted more!). I can’t wait to continue the series which I hope and believe will get better!

You can get more books from Book Depository

Actual Rating: 3.75 Stars
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
June 9, 2020
The Blade Itself (The First Law #1), Joe Abercrombie

The First Law is a fantasy series written by British author Joe Abercrombie. It consists of a trilogy, three stand-alone novels and a number of novellas set in the same world.

The Blade Itself: Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و هشتم ماه فوریه سال 2018 میلادی

عنوان: تیغ شمشیر؛ نویسنده: جو آبرکرومبی؛ مترجم: سعید سیمرغ؛ تهران: کتابسرای تندیس‏‫٬ 1396؛ در 815ص؛ شابک 9786001822568؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیایی - سده 21م

تیغ شمشیر، خود، عاملی برای تحریک به اِعمال خشونت است. نقل از: هومر

نقل از نمونه متن: (نجات یافتگان: نخستین چیزی که حس کرد صدای جریان آب بود که گوشهایش را پر کرده بود. صدای جریان آب، خش خش برگ درختان و صدای جیک جیک یک پرنده. لوگن چشمانش را به اندازه ی شکاف باریکی گشود. نوری محو و درخشان که از میان برگها میآمد به چشمانش خورد. آیا این مرگ بود؟ پس چرا بدنش اینقدر درد میکرد؟ تمام سمت چپ بدنش از درد میتپید. تلاش کرد نفس عمیق بکشد، اما راه نفسش بسته شده بود. به سرفه افتاد و آب و لجن را تف کرد. غرشی کرد و چرخید و روی دستها و زانوهایش قرار گرفت. خودش را از رودخانه بیرون کشید. در حالیکه میان دندانهای قفل شده اش نفس نفس میزد، به پشت روی خزه و لجن و علفهای گندیده ی ساحل افتاد. لحظه ای همانجا دراز کشید و به آسمان خاکستری که بالاتر از شاخه های ��یاه درختان بود خیره شد. هنگام نفس کشیدن سینه اش خس خس میکرد. با صدایی خسته و ضعیف به خود گفت: «هنوز زنده ام.» با وجود همه ی تلاشهایی که طبیعت، شانکاها، مردم و حیوانات درنده کرده بودند، هنوز زنده بود. خیس و خسته، در حالیکه به پشت افتاده بود، شروع به خندیدن کرد. خنده ای بلند و از ته دل. اگر قرار بود لقبی به لوگن نُه انگشتی بدهند، لقب «نجات یافته» برازنده اش بود. باد سردی روی ساحل متعفن رودخانه میوزید و خنده ی لوگن آهسته قطع شد. شاید زنده بود، اما زنده ماندن خود مسئله ی دیگری بود. نشست و از شدت درد چهره در هم کشید. با پا خود را به عقب هل داد و به تنه ی نزدیکترین درخت تکیه زد. خاکی که به بینی، چشمان و گوشهایش چسبیده بود را تکاند. لباس خیسش را کنار زد تا نگاهی به محل آسیب دیده بیندازد. پهلویش بر اثر سقوط پر از کبودی بود. لکه های کبود و بنفش در همه جای دنده هایش دیده میشد. به آرامی آنجا را لمس کرد، اما انگار هیچکدام از دنده هایش نشکسته بودند. اوضاع پایش خراب بود. دندانهای شانکا آنرا دریده، و پوشیده از خون بود. اگرچه درد بدی داشت، ولی به خوبی کار میکرد و مهمترین چیز همین بود. اگر میخواست از این مخمصه خلاص شود، به پایش نیاز داشت. چاقویش هنوز در نیام روی کمربندش بود و از دیدن آن بسیار خوشحال شد. در زندگیش چاقوهای زیادی نداشت و این یکی، از آن خوبهایش بود، با وجود این چشم انداز پیش رویش هنوز چندان امیدوار کننده نبود. یکه و تنها در جنگل، همراه با کله تخت ها. کوچکترین تصوری از اینکه کجا بود نداشت، ولی میتوانست مسیر رودخانه را دنبال کند. همه ی رودخانه ها به سمت شمال میرفتند و از کوهستان به دریای سرد میریختند. باید در کنار رودخانه به سمت جنوب و در خلاف جهت آب حرکت میکرد. میرفت و به جاهای مرتفعی میرسید که هیچ شانکایی نمیتوانست پیدایش کند. این تنها بختش بود. این وقت از سال بالای کوهستان سرمای مرگباری داشت. نگاهی به پاهای برهنه اش انداخت. عجب شانش مزخرفی داشت که سر و کله ی شانکا، زمانی پیدا شده بود که او چکمه هایش را درآورده بود و تاولهای پایش را تیمار میکرد. کت هم نداشت، چون کنار آتش نشسته بود. اینطور، حتی یکروز هم در کوهستان دوام نمیآورد. دستها و پاهایش در طول شب سیاه میشدند و خودش پیش از آنکه به گردنه برسد، ذره ذره میمرد، البته اگر قبلاً از گرسنگی نمرده بود. زیر لب گفت: «لعنتی!» مجبور بود به اردوگاه برگردد. باید امیدوار میبود که کله تخت ها از آنجا رفته باشند، و چیزی پشت سرشان باقی گذاشته باشند. چیزی که بتواند از آن برای نجات خودش استفاده کند. این همه امید بستن به چنین چیزهایی بسیار بد بود، ولی چاره ی دیگری نداشت. هیچ وقت چاره ی دیگری نداشت.؛
وقتی که لوگن به اردوگاه رسید، باران شروع به باریدن کرده بود. قطرات باران موهایش را به سرش چسبانده و لباسهایش کاملاً خیس شده بودند. خودش را به تنه ی پوشیده از خزه ی درختی چسباند و به اردوگاه خیره شد. قلبش میکوبید و انگشتان دست راستش چنان سخت دور قبضه ی چاقویش بسته شده بود که درد گرفته بودند.) پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 19/03/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
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