Reviews: The First Law


Abercrombie's site provides samples of his work so you can decide whether you'd like to get deeper into it. I appreciate that.

The descriptive writing was excellent and there were some intense battle scenes. The words engage the senses quite vividly. This might be a good thing, if you enjoy wading into a swamp, feeling the muck cling and pull at your boots while the leeches slither up your pants and the suspicious reptile-shaped logs make ominous faces in your direction. I don't. I stopped.

I couldn't like any of the characters. Everybody is miserable in a world where everything is miserable. Most memorable example: Glokta is constantly in pain and agony dwells in his 70 year old granny knees and 70 year old concentration camp granny teeth and his 70 year old starvation victim stomach. He seems to enjoy sharing that pain around. Or maybe he doesn't and he's secretly noble, it's all hard to tell when the thing that stands out the most is how he's constantly in pain and crumbling away and every other line serves to remind you of that.

I listened in on some fan discussions after that. I've heard good things about the author, so he sounds like someone worth respecting, not least for letting me have a free preview and decide what to do with his work from there. I haven't heard quite so good things from the fanbase, whose praise for the writing skews heavily toward calling it a "deconstruction". Quite frankly, I'm tired of deconstructions. I'd like to be able to enjoy something for once without everything about it going to shit so the author or their fanbase can tell me what a horrible and immature person I am for liking the thing.

If being an adult means unironically hating things that make you happy, I'm fine hanging out at the kids' table.

Deconstruction at it's finest

In three books, you will see the hallmarks of fantasy dragged out, laid infront of you, and tortured until they squeal.

The First Law trilogy stretches across a crisis in the history of 'The Union', a kingdom of colonies centred around the heartland of Midderland, as it is assailed by the savage and hardy Northmen, under Bethod, and the massive and cultured Empire of Gurkhul. In all of the characters, the fire, edge and unbelievable passion of this book comes forward.

This is not Tolkien. The three protagonists make it a habit to kill an innocent, insult a cripple, or maim a friend atleast once per chapter, but the ability of Abercrombie to make us like these characters regardless is astounding. Mainly because everyone else is just as bit worse; the 'Circle of The World' is a place where the bad guys do not win; they've already won. Now it's just the villains trying to see who gets the scraps. This bleakness does contribute to the only flaw; after a while, it's pretty easy to guess that nothing good will happen.

Every major event is a deconstruction. The duel is so brutal and cringe-inducing that it's almost hard to read, and has far more in common with a gutter brawl than some grand contest of arms. Each battle is filled with terrified men hoping for salvation and getting none, every victory won at the cost of characters who you can't help but weep for. Tropes are deconstructed left and right, from the Gandalf, to the Berserker, to the Rightful King Returns, and then to Torture Technician just because.

And the wonderful thing is, you won't want to miss a second of it. The First Law manages to drag black humour into the most horrific of situations, it manages to keep tension so butt-clenching you might fall out of your seat through entire books, and you'll wish for more. Because the characters all have real, inherent flaws, you cheer for them, because they're not fantasy ciphers...they're people. Perhaps that is why the First Law hit this troper so hard. It is truly a terrible world. The North is unruly, harsh, heavily implied to be locked in a cycle of civil war. The Union is treacherous, hedonistic, pompous and ruled by possibly the most despicable character in the series. Gurkhul is worse.

Yet, every now and then, a good guy gets a little victory...and it's all the brighter for it.