First Law Along #1: The Blade Itself

In my post from last week, about my readathon plans for 2023, you could already read that I was joining the Catch-up Book Club’s new readalong, a book club founded by Becca (@BeccaandTheBooks) to read big intimidating series together. The new readalong for 2023 and the first half of 2024 is for all of author Joe Abbercrombie’s books in his First Law world, aptly named the #firstlawalong.

The first book scheduled for January-February 2023 was The Blade Itself, which I finished in February.

Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself (The First Law #1) ★★★★

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

I read the majority of this book, while simultaneously also listening to the audiobook. The latter definitely added to the experience, because the narrator was absolutely genius with the voices he used.

Grim dark is usually not the type of Fantasy book I’m drawn to. Yes, I like an epic battle, but I usually shy away from scenes that are too descriptive in their blood and gore, and at the end of the day, I prefer hopeful stories.
So I was rather apprehensive about picking this up, since it is said to be THE poster child for epic grim dark fantasy, but at the same time I was really curious, since so many people seem to absolutely rave about this series. This was why I had bought the boxset for the first three books back in 2021, but still hadn’t found the mindset to read it. Joining Catch-up Bookclub’s #firstlawalong was therefore the perfect opportunity to see how I would feel about a gritty, dark book like this.

“Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

And lo and behold, I simply lapped it up! Especially also thanks to the audiobook, which I cannot recommend highly enough!
Even though this book is indeed more dark and gruesome than what I usually prefer and there were a couple of scenes that grossed me out, it was also surprisingly funny and even light hearted at times.

This first book mainly read as an introduction to the characters.
It’s slow paced and the world is not so easy to discern, since we are only learning about it from characters who already know the world and so there is no need to go into details. It’s also one of the few fantasy’s I’ve read that does not come with a map, so I couldn’t even fall back on that. But overall, it did not really bother me, mainly because I enjoyed getting to know these new characters.

And oh boy, what characters they were.
I’m both flabbergasted and appalled at how this author makes me sympathize and like such a cast of unsympathetic and severely flawed characters. In fact, most of them are downright jerks, and yet I enjoyed reading from their perspective.
Remarkable is also how the author manages to give each character such a distinct voice, that I often did not need a reminder of whose head I was in, but could glean it mainly from the way it was written.

It’s hard to stay calm when you’re terrified, helpless, alone, at the mercy of men with no mercy at all. Who could know that better than me?

Like apparently everybody who read this book, I absolutely LOVED Glokta, who’s a torturer and very good at his job, so colour me surprised to like such a character. But I just could not help feeling compassionate towards him. Also, his inner monologues are so so funny and I will never look at stairs in the same way again.
In addition, the choice of Glokta as a main perspective is very interesting and something I hadn’t read before. We mostly read about the heroes who thrive and survive or who tragically die in battle. We do not often read from disillusioned soldiers, who previously were considered successful and handsome, but who are now completely changed from their old self.

So, was my first official foray into the Grim Dark genre a success? I would say yes.
Although I can’t yet say a lot about the story, I am eager to continue the series, to see where it’s going and, especially, see what happens to these new characters that I hate to love and love to hate!


  • Conan

    Just listened to this for the first time in February. I’ve since burned through all the First Law trilogy and have started his Age of Madness trilogy.

    I agree with your assessment, very few characters who are likable on the surface, but Abercrombie pulls it off by making their voices so distinct.

    • Charlotte

      Thanks for your comment and it’s great to read that the books are so compelling! Before They Get Hanged is on my TBR for April and I’m so excited!

      What I didn’t address in my post is the fact that so many people claim that this book has no plot. And while I agree that the main focus here is on the character building, I feel like there is a lot of plot setup in this novel. We get so many fragments that I’m sure will be developed in the following books.
      As a big fan of mythology, I’m especially curious about the full story of the mages and the maker 😀

  • April Wilson

    I started First Law because all my other desired books were all on hold, and it was recommended to me. I am now on the last book in the series and have read nothing else since I started. Glokta was also my favorite, at least until I got to Half A Kingdom. I love this series because the characters are like real people, they aren’t all good or all evil but a mix of both. It’s hard for me to relate to protagonists that are all pure and perfect. And just wait. This series just gets better and better.

    • Charlotte

      I finished reading book 2 (Before The Are Hanged) a couple of days ago, and I just HAD to immediatly continue to book two.
      I agree 100% about the characters and I’m really curious to see where this is going 🙂
      Is Half A Kingdom also by Joe Abercrombie and in the First Law series? I haven’t heard of this book.