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Joe Abercrombie – The First Law Trilogy

Series: The First Law Trilogy

Rating: 8/10

For Fans Of: Game of Thrones, Raymond E. Feist

You can’t swing a flail in a bookstore these days without hitting a series of “GrimDark” Fantasy books. (Also, don’t swing your flails in bookstores). George R. R. Martin’s colossal success with the Game of Thrones TV series and books spawned this sub-genre that, for awhile, seemed poised to become the majority of fantasy fiction.

Because of that, any author writing in this style cannot escape the inevitable comparison to GRRM.

Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings) melds the GrimDark style with some old standby Fantasy tropes to form something that is both a tribute to its inspirations and an expert work in its own right.

The “Noble Barbarian” and “Wise Wizard” are the two foremost standard Fantasy characters introduced in the series. Abercrombie’s writing and narrative make these characters into fully imagined and believable protagonists rather than just boring archetypes. All of the characters in the series are painted in shades of gray instead of having shining white knights facing the forces of evil.

While the female characters are under-represented in the series, the ones Abercrombie does include also steer away from stereotypes. Like GRRM, Abercrombie also chooses to steer away from overt Fantasy creatures (Goblins, Orcs and other monsters) and keep the magical element as a small part of the overall narrative.

I think it is also important to praise the fact that Abercrombie wrote this series as a contained trilogy and not a sprawling epic that drags on endlessly. While the books are large, each coming in around 600 pages, nothing feels like filler and each marches the story forward at a perfect pace.

For anyone like me who has read countless Fantasy novels and series, this trilogy takes the common ingredients of the genre and cooks them into something that feels surprisingly fresh.