The Blade Itself (2006), Before They are Hanged (2007), and Last Argument of Kings (2008) form Joe Abercrombie's dark fantasy First Law Trilogy. This oppressive, violent sword and sorcery is sometimes difficult to stomach, but there's a lot to like. The books are intelligently written and the world clearly portrayed as several point of view characters follow their bloody, brutal, but necessary paths of destruction.
Length and grade: The Blade Itself [22h 18m] - 5, Before They are Hanged [22h 37m] - 5, Last Argument of Kings [27h 1m] - 4
Orion Publishing Group, 2010
The Blade Itself introduces Logen Ninefingers, barbarian; Sand dan Glokta, torturer; and Jezal dan Luthar, fop, as they meet up and get down to business in a violent and brutal world. These books had been recommended to me by several people, but I had a hard time starting the trilogy since I did not want to go anywhere near a torturer character. Once I got into the first book, I loved it. Glokta is well fleshed-out with specific reasons for his actions and even became somewhat sympathetic, for a time. I especially liked when characters met each other and each person's weaknesses were shown through the others' eyes.
The story was often difficult to take because of the neverending oppressive violence and also because people did not do what I expected. No one is good and most are barely sympathetic. I found myself yelling at the characters more than once and often hoping for their deaths. That said, the story is fast-paced with a lot of action. I enjoyed the second book the most since there were some new POV characters who I found more interesting and sympathetic than the original three. The third book dragged a bit as big battles were fought and loose ends tied up. I took a star off book three since the denouement lasted over two hours in the audio version and just seemed to go on forever. Now that I'm finished with the series, I find I can appreciate it more than when I was actively listening. These books take awhile to digest and to come to terms with everything that happens. They are very good books for discussion and bring up a lot of questions on good vs evil vs bureaucracy and how reader expectations influence the reading experience.
Reading - Listening to the audio version, I had difficulties with Steven Pacey's reading at first. I think this was tied to my apprehension over the torturer character, Glokta. The character has several teeth missing so Pacey reads him with a lisp which took some concentration to understand. After listening for awhile, I was able to follow him more easily and really enjoyed Pacey's reading. I especially loved his different takes on "What?!" which every character yells out multiple times.
Final thoughts - I'm glad I listened to the trilogy even though the books made me very uncomfortable and didn't go where I wanted them to. They made me think, which made the last book tedious at times, but which I appreciate more the further I get from the reading. When I started The Blade Itself, I was ready to recommend these books to everyone, but now that I've gone through them, I only recommend this series to people who enjoy violent nihilism, or are ready for it. You've been warned (This really should be the title of the last book).
For - those who like battles and desperation
Not - anyone who wants a happy ending
Nums - appreciated the female POV, too bad she didn't get to talk to any other women in the world
Nits - backcountry stew, while trying to secretly outmarch an army? How about some nice jerky instead?