Author Joe Abercrombie deserves credit for two great things when it comes to his fantasy First Law trilogy.
- The Bloody Nine. Logen Ninefingers, so known because one of his digits was excised during many one of his personal and/or tribal battles, is a simple dude. He really just wants to live in peace with his family. The problem is, his family is dead, and Logen is one of the most feared and hated warriors of the North, known as The Bloody Nine to both enemies and allies. There is no peace for Logen, who survives to trudge from fight to fight, questioning more and more his destructive path as the years and fighting drag on. But when the fighting is fiercest, when the heat is truly, Logen evolves from a relatively nice guy trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation into The Bloody Nine, a sociopathic and vile beast who relishes delivering pain and death to all around him, and not necessarily just his enemies. The Bloody Nine is an alternate personality, appearing only in the most dire of situations, and always to the dread of Logen. When The Bloody Nine first truly makes an appearance in The Blade Itself, that is when the tone starts to turn from that of a normal, adult, fantasy tale to truly dark, and a shadow is cast over the next two books that never disappears. For a simple dude, Logen turns out to be a singularly complex and compelling character in a book full of personalities with depth and interesting back stories.
- War is hell. Yes, a lot of the fantasy genre covers this, from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones. But in the second and third books of the First Law series – Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings – Abercrombie really sinks down into the morass. What is the point of all of this violence? What does it solve? The arguments of kings are born on the backs of soldiers and the people, not the men who start the fights. Limbs and lives are lost, cities and towns destroyed, and for what? Honor? Glory? Logen asks these questions, repeatedly – and isn’t the only one – but can never seem to break away from the cycle of death and war. Many of the characters – from career soldier and war hero Collem West to once-the-tortured-now-the-torturer Sand dan Glokta to Dogman, a Northman and running buddy of Logen – come back to this, over and over, never really able to answer their own questions to their satisfaction. Even as our heroes’ fortunes turn and they appear to be winning the fight, the cost is never ignored. Many fantasy books have no problem with the battles and blood, but gloss over the impact with tales of honor and bravery. In the First Law trilogy, the honor and bravery are there, but the end result of all of this warring is never buried. It makes for a grim tale, but one worth telling.