I recently finished reading The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercombie, which consists of “The Blade Itself”, “Before They Are Hanged” and “Last Argument of Kings”. While a fantasy series, it is also part of the grimdark subgenre. As can be guessed by the name, grimdark is darker and grittier than “normal” fantasy. Rather than a classical good versus evil story told with clear black and white characters, they characters come in varying tones of grey. It is comparable to George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (also known as Game of Thrones) where there’s really no clear-cut good guys.
This is evident in one of the main characters in the series, Inquisitor Glokta. He used to be an officer, but after being captured and tortured in a war, he has now turned to torturing others. I’ve seen him compared to Black Adder in other reviews, and while I don’t fully agree in this, I can certainly see the similarites. I would rather compare him with Dr. House, since he’s smart and capable at what he does, though constantly in pain. Glokta easily has some of the best lines in the books, and his inner monologues are a thrill to follow. He especially shines in the second book, “Before They Are Hanged”, where he is tasked with running a city while investigating why his predecessor vanished. Oh, and and the city is besieged by an army much stronger than any defence they might be able to put up.
The two other main characters are Logen Ninefingers and Jezal dan Luthar. Luthar is a young officer which is training for the annual fencing contest, hoping to win fame and glory. While busy practicing and spending his evenings playing cards, he is eventually dragged into a quest for an object which might change the fate of the world. Logen is a barbarian from the north which has been a warrior for most of his life. In addition to his skill in battle, he is able to summon and talk to spirits. After being separated from his group of fighters and assuming they have perished, he heads south. Shortly after, he is called upon by Bayaz, the First Magus, which has use for someone who can talk to the spirits.
Bayaz is a powerful wizard, who has played a vital part at several times throughout the history of the world. The backstory is presented through various means (including a play!), and helps both explain what has happened earlier and show how historical events affect the present. He is a wise old man, but can also be intimidating in his displays of magical power. I find it interesting how he fills a similar role to Gandalf, yet does things which Gandalf would never do. This is one of the fun things in the books, how the author plays with the preconceptions of how the story will progress. An example of this is that the very first chapter literally ends with a cliff-hanger.
All in all, quite interesting books. Abercombie’s also written some standalones which take place in the same universe, which I look forward to checking out.