Friday, 11 February 2011

Modern authors: Joe Abercrombie

I have quite a few favourite authors, some ancient and some more recent. One of my favourites is a pretty new fellow (he prowls stealthily on the SFF Chronicles forum linked on the right hand side of this blog, though he posts only rarely, alas).

So far, he’s written the First Law Trilogy and two stand-alone books: Best Served Cold and The Heroes. I’ve ordered the last of these, and read the others.

All his books take place in the same world. Some of the minor characters in the trilogy crop up in Best Served Cold, and I imagine the same happens in The Heroes.

There won’t be many spoilers below, though obviously this means I’ll be a bit fuzzier regarding the characters and plots involved.

The First Law Trilogy begins quite slowly. Personally, I didn’t mind the fact that most of the first book was scene-setting, as it was very well-written and most of the characters were nice and three-dimensional. One, in particular, was quite fantastic. There were a few clich├ęs here and there, but nothing grating in that regard.

Mr. Abercrombie excels in the sphere of moral ambiguity and sadistic endeavour, perhaps unsurprising given the evil beard he sports. [NB: I’ve just had a brilliant idea. What about Joe Abercrombie as the next Master in Doctor Who?] And there is quite a lot of torture and general horridness in the trilogy, as well as some sex and a lot of political conniving.

Interestingly, given when he started to write it (The Blade Itself, the first book, was released in 2006) banks are included as a powerful influence.

Something I heartily approve of is the real character development that occurs throughout the three books, with each of the central characters (there is no single protagonist) changing drastically in one regard or other. Another part of Mr. Abercrombie’s style I entirely approve of is the killing off of significant characters. He’s not quite at George RR Martin levels of rampant slaughter, but there’s always the delightful threat of sudden death.

What are the bad points, you may ask. For some, the absence of a map may rankle. Fantasy often has maps (sometimes many, many maps) and the absence of one can annoy some people. It doesn’t annoy me, personally. As I mentioned above, the first book is a little slow and has the requisite scene-setting, but I still liked it a lot.

I raced through these books, and would give the First Law Trilogy 9/10. If you like George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and don’t mind something not quite on the same sprawling scale, this should appeal to you. There is, as I said, plenty of violence, sex and naughty words, so don’t buy it for a nephew who’s just finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time.

Best Served Cold features a number of minor characters from the First Law Trilogy, though the protagonist is entirely new. I liked it, but it was not on a par with the trilogy. Moral ambiguity is something I typically enjoy, but the protagonist felt a little soulless and would (in my humble opinion) have been better with just a spark of morality.

Minor spoilers follow.

The protagonist has a not-so-merry band of followers, and roams around Styria (a bit like Greece but with city-states in a medieval world) assassinating certain people for entirely justified personal reasons.

Naturally, there’s lots of violence, swearing and sex, and although the characters are generally good there is not anyone who stands out especially (unlike in The First Law Trilogy).

I’d give it 7/10. It suffers by comparison with the First Law Trilogy, which is fantastic.

The Heroes should arrive on Monday.

I hope that Mr. Abercrombie keeps up the pretty swift writing rate, and pens some more trilogies as well as stand-alone books. Given that A Song of Ice and Fire has a TV series and two games (RPG and strategy, I think) in development, it’d be great if The First Law Trilogy had a similar treatment.


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