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Bookworm 2013: The Whole Nine Fingers

Posted on | December 16, 2013 | No Comments

Joe Abercrombie - The Blade ItselfLast year I read Joe Abercrombie’s Heroes, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Only later did I realize it was part of a larger universe, and the fifth in a line of books. Though a standalone title, much of the back story and some of the characters and their actions become much clearer once you burn through the rest of the books, and though there is a lot of reading involved – each of the books in this series is a doorstopper, burn I did.

Joe Abercrombie - Before They Are HangedWhile browsing reviews of Heroes, I frequently ran across people writing it off as junk, just because there was no mention of Logen Ninefingers – and now, in retrospect, I do understand the sentiment, even through I disagree. The first three books in the series deal with the (mis)adventures of merry party of adventurers gathered around Bayaz, the First of the Magi, as they trek across the world trying to complete a weapon that should bring and end to a war between the magi that has been bubbling slowly over centuries and millennia.

Joe Abercrombie - Last Argument of KingsThe party consists of the aforementioned Logen Ninefingers, a likable viking-style barbarian from the cold north, Ferro Maljinn, a fiery tempered archer girl from the warm south, Jezal Dan Luthar, a stuck-up nobleman swordsman, and with the addition of the wise old wizard this all seems like it should turn into stereotypical quest fantasy, but Abercrombie manages to tap dance around that trap and to provide something quite different – his characters, despite being outlandish, sometimes to the point of caricature, still feel like real people, with real problems and real histories that shaped their worldviews, and the gritty realism coupled with an almost Pratchettish sense of humor and quests and adventures that almost never seem to go quite the way either the characters want, or the standard tropes of fantasy require, all provide for some excellent reading.

Joe Abercrombie - Best Served ColdThe books are not without problems, though – The Blade Itself feels a bit clunky at first (to add to the problem – in the edition I read there were even proofreading errors), and although there is a great story in there, it is obvious that Abercrombie’s style developed as he was writing these books. By book two, Before They Are Hanged, he seems to be hitting his stride, and book three, Last Argument of Kings is smooth as milk. This may be one reason why it’s best to hop into one of the standalone titles – and Heroes is probably the best choice there is – to get hooked on his writing, and then these little sins in the early books can be more easily forgiven.

Joe Abercrombie - Red CountryBest Served Cold would not be a good choice for reading out of order, since although it is nominally a standalone revenge thriller, its plot unfolding in a separate region and with characters that don’t get much playtime in the other books,  it relies on the backstory both of the world, as well as the characters, to an extent that would rob a reader of most of the emotional impact, while Red Country, although again a standalone western-style novel and perfectly readable as such, would miss out on the emotional and historical context of one of the main characters.

The books are hefty – all totaled up they run at around three thousand pages – and the thing is, once you start, it is difficult to stop, so you should only dig into them if you are prepared for a lengthy, but thoroughly enjoyable adventure, as well as the inevitable downer once the pages run out.


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