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When pandemia became all the rage on Planet Earth in 2020, I took stock and decided I didn’t really need to be around for most of it, so I saddled up the unicorn and trotted off to the Land of Make Believe.

Joe Abercrombie kept me enthralled for many moons of the journey. I’m not sure how I have lived this long without knowing about his First Law Series. There are three books in the series, and I’ll be honest, I don’t recall what exactly happened in which book of the series, so lucky you, I won’t bore you with ALL the details –just the ones I think are important.

The Blade Itself (Book 1)

Abercrombie lifted the title of the first book of the series, The Blade Itself, from a line in Homer’s Odyssey:

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.

As you might guess, the whole series has a lot of dudes in it and if they aren’t having skirmishes, battles, epic battles, sieges, or wars, then they are either preparing to fight or trying to figure out who they can get away with killing next. Ordinarily, this sort of thing reads like a bunch of “blah-blah-blah” to me, but Abercrombie writes fight scenes with a choreographer’s sense of body awareness that appeals to the dancer in me. Movement details are vividly described, remarkably entertaining, and often hilarious.

Under questionable authority figures, soldiers in the series are as likely to go bumbling and clanging about with “dirty faces, but clean armor” as they are to actually engage in serious combat. Their leaders also tend to be incompetent, often entrapped idiots, who suffer from a range of issues: excessive drinking, lack of authority, plain old heartburn, and poor fashion choices. It makes you wonder what kind of man would go to war dressed “not a uniform, but bedwear with a military motiff”? and also…”if the measure of a man was the size of his hat, then these were great men indeed.” Rest assured, it’s not all fashion faux pas, there are also intense fight scenes that are every bit as disgusting and gory as one might expect. Abercrombie’s world is as brutal as the second book’s title suggests, coming from a quote by Heinrich Heine:

We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.

Before They Are Hanged (Book 2)

Personally, I did not come here for the fighting, but for the fun stuff — the magic, drinking, gambling, revelry, and story people! While the characters are somewhat stereotypical (there’s an ancient, enigmatic wizard of course, and his apprentice, a bunch of inquisitors, a former slave warrior woman with devil-blood, and a sorceress), they come alive through the dialogue, action, and description. The Northman, Logen Ninefingers, was one of the most endearing. He’s a big, bad-ass berserker and battle-hardened member of the Bloody-Nine. He speaks with these little primal spirits, which admittedly sounds pretty lame, if not emasculating, as I write about it now, but somehow Abercrombie makes it all seem like a super cool and perfectly manly thing to do. There is also Major Collem West, in the Union Army who “sometimes felt as if he was the only man in the union seriously preparing for a war, and he had to organize the entire business on his own, right down to counting the number of nails that would hold the horse’s shoes on.” Major West is a bit too full of his own importance to make him likeable, but he has a sister Artee, who is lots of fun with all her sass. She is the kind of woman who gets sloppy drunk at 10 a.m., just because she’s bored and then she reads novels full of “knights with mighty swords and ladies with mightier bosoms.”

Last Argument of Kings (Book 3)

Social commentary is scattered throughout the pages, much of it as relevant and applicable to the mundane world I was attempting to escape as it was to the story’s action. That is just civilization, as Ninefingers muses, “…people with nothing to do, dreaming up ways to make easy things difficult.”

The last thing I have to say about it all is that I experience the series via audiobook. Steven Pacey is the narrator. His wonderfully rich, deep voice and English accent is the sort one may sit and listen to contently for hours. I did, for 71 hours and 58 minutes to be precise, though not all in one sitting, of course. When the series was over, I knew I immediately had to get another book by Joe Abercrombie, which I did. But that’s a different post for another day.

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