The First Law Trilogy

It’s been a while since I posted any In My Opinion Reviews, and I blame that solely on this trilogy. I’ve been working my way through all three thick books of this series over the past few months, bit by bit, and now that it’s finally over (sort of) I can tell you how good it is. In My Opinion, that is.

And now I present to you Joe Abercrombie’s gory, dark fantasy, The First Law Trilogy.

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The First Law Trilogy consists of The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings and they were all published before 2010. Though Abercrombie saw some recognition at the time, like with most great pieces of literature, it took some time for the rest of the world to take notice. Since publishing, Abercombie has added three more novels to the series and written an anthology of short stories that all take place in the world he’s created. Published by Gollancz, a publisher that normally churns out gritty, bloody novels, Abercrombie’s series is known for its dark edge and gallows humor. The first three novels follow several characters along different plots as they are swept up in events which take them all over the circle of the world.

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PLOT: As I think about it, none of the novels have a summary on the back which tells you the plot in one easy paragraph. Instead there is a paragraph for each main character, since the plot comes from them and no where else.  Each character believes they are the main character and have their own lives to live, but really they all blend together masterfully to tell a comprehensive story of this world as a whole. The only thing that really ties everyone’s plot together, besides when they actually interact with each other, is that each POV character deals with something involving the first law. There are only two laws that God gave to man in this world, the first and second law. Both are broken, and it’s how the characters deal with those “rule-breakers” that make the stories interesting as hell.

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SETTING: Thanks to the length of each of these novels, you as a reader are taken all over the world through the eyes of the characters. You’ve got the north, with unending snows and fierce people who live in fiercer country. You’ve got the south, with their darker skin and free spirited ways. You’ve got the Empire, the old Empire, and a half-dozen other major countries each residing in a different topographical area. Mountains, deserts, lakes, oceans, port towns, the largest cities on earth, underground ruins, vast temples, millennia old palaces. You name it, Abercrombie probably visits it at least once in this trilogy. And he captures each area beautifully. When I read the descriptions of the north all I can think is that Abercrombie must have sat outside on a snowy day and written down what he saw. I have the same feeling when I read about the deserts. Has he actually gone to a desert in order to describe it so humorously and accurately? One mark of a great writer is being able to describe something with very few words in a way that is universally understood. Abercrombie can do this well, and sometimes even shows off the skill at times in the novels.

CHARACTERS: This, more than anything else, is where Abercrombie shines. I’ve heard it said that books are only as good as their characters; you can have the greatest plot and the most mind-twisting ending ever, but without relatable, endearing characters no one is going to invest in your story. Abercrombie has very little theme or plot in his stories, but what he does have are some incredible characters. That’s what brings me back to his universe with a smile each time I start reading. That’s why I get so excited at seeing characters interact on the pages of his books. He has managed to recreate some of the most realistically driven and motivated characters I’ve read. He has written inner dialogue and outer conversations to be nothing but entertaining to read. However, it can also be said that his characters, since they are the substance of the trilogy, will either make or break the series for you. If you can’t find the characters humorous, relatable, or inspiring, then this story is going to do little for you. But, considering the sheer amount of characters in these books I’m sure you’ll find at least some one you can root for.

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VERDICT: This is a fantastic fantasy series that anyone who calls themselves a fan of the genre should definitely check out. HOWEVER, I have one caveat: I recommend you listen to the audiobook. Abercrombie has this weird, halting style of writing that can be confusing or not make much sense at times. Then comes along a man named Steven Pacey, who was born to narrate this series. I like audiobooks because they fit into my busy lifestyle and I listen to them almost anywhere, but I find myself looking for more excused to listen with this series. Steven Pacey has myriad voices to pull from as he reads, and he turns the halting writing style of Abercrombie into this smooth, rhythmic story that captures your thoughts. In My Opinion, listen, don’t read it. But checking out the series should be on your priority list, especially when you read what other authors say about the series. Check it out. It’s worth your time. At least, it is In My Opinion. 

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