I’ll be going into the first book in depth, and then some thoughts on the series overall at the bottom, they might get a little spoilery, so just stop after the first books final score if you haven’t read these yet – although I feel like I’m one of the only ones who hasn’t gotten around to this yet.
I also took no notes doing this, I audiobooked while doing other things, so I’m kind of winging this review – we’ll see how it goes.
I crushed all 3 books in about 5 days, and I’ve started on the stand alones in the series.
There’s so much going on with the plot, but the main gist is that there’s a war brewing, but we don’t even really see much of it in the first book, it’s a lot of building up and setting things up for an amazing book 2 and 3.
Logen Ninefingers has lost everything after a raid on his hometown that killed his family and friends. He’s also lost his commander in a way, after falling out of his good graces and nearly getting himself killed in the process. He’s on the run and not really sure where he’s going, he sort of wants to start over. He’s been a war mongering killing machine for years, earning himself the title of The Bloody Nine, since he’s lost one of his fingers – but he wants more from life than just killing.
He ends up with a character named Bayaz, who’s the First of the Magi, and quite a powerful character himself. Magic is not that prevalent in this world, there’s not a “magic system” per se, it’s pretty mysterious old-school handy wavey wizard kind of magic with loose rules, but classifications. You get to learn a little more about it in book 2.
Bayaz has had schemes going for years, but you don’t know what they are until the end. He’s hundreds of years old and has been an advisor to kings for generations. In the first book, his plan is to get to “the end of the world” with a rag tag group of people, each one of them has something that’s needed for the journey. He wants to reach the ‘end of the world’ to get an ancient weapon made by the gods that has been safeguarded for hundreds of years. It’s a weapon that can “touch the other side”, meaning hell – supposedly “the other side” is the source of all magic. The weapon can break apart the rifts between this world, and the world beyond which could bring with it demons and monsters. Bayaz has been advised from other magi not to go and look for this weapon, but he believes it’s the only way to save the world from what’s to come.
Meanwhile, there’s a war brewing between the North and the South. Each of these regions has a distinct and very different set of cultures. The North being considered a territory of “barbarians” who are blood thirtsy and uncivilized, living in the harsh northern climate. The southerners are based around a strict aristocracy with Kings and nobles and the like. The King in the North is causing a lot of trouble, and is threatening to come down to the south and wreak havoc – but the southerners don’t take him very seriously at first.
There’s ANOTHER war brewing between the southern aristocrats and a group called the Gurkish – they are a culture that proliferates slavery and capture and torture people if you get in their way. They have a habit of raiding and pillaging and enslaving people.
There’s so much going on as far as politics, back stabbing, and plots. This is a really complex story which is why the first book is mostly set up for what’s to come.
Final Score: 14/15
I think if I didn’t like the characters so much in the first book, I may have DNF’ed the series after The Blade Itself. The characters were SO engaging and so complex that I just kept turning pages to see what they were going to do, and how they were going to develop.
Jezel is a haughty, spoiled, self centered asshole in the first book. OMG he drove me crazy, but in all the right ways. He knows he’s a coward and self centered, and the more he comes to terms with it, the “better” he becomes, watching him develop over the course of the three books was one hell of a ride. I hated him, then I was rooting for him, then I was rolling my eyes at him – but I had to know what he was going to do next.
Glokta stole the show for me, and I’m NOT someone who usually enjoys a torturer kind of character. I usually find them grimly fascinating, but I don’t usually like them. I actually really liked this character despite how terrible he is. He is a broken person in every meaning of the term. He was captured by the Gurkish when he wa a Colonel in the army and they tortured him for a solid 2 years. Broken legs, broken jaw, broken teeth – they fileted him alive and it’s left him a twisted cripple. He has a wicked black sense of humor that made me snort more than a few times, and all the while he always has a question in the back of his mind “Why do I do this?”. He seems to truly not understand why he continues to be a torturer for the Inquisition, but he continues to do it day after day, and what he does is brutal.
Logen Ninefingers has crept his way into my favorite characters of all time – in the first book you hear about what he’s done in the past, but what you see is the man he is now. He’s striving to be better, he wants to do better and to be a decent person. He shows mercy when he has no need to, and compassion when you don’t expect it. He’s running from the horrors of his past and is trying to break free and be a new person. However, things just don’t turn out well and he keeps getting roped into battles. A wonderfully complex character that I couldn’t get enough of – especially as the series continues.
Farrow is a southener, she has dark skin and refers to all the white people as “pinks” and omg it’s funny. “Shut up, pink” “Gods damned pinks”, it tickled me every time I listened to it on the audiobook. She’s also suffered a great deal, she was also enslaved by the gurkish, but for reasons outside of torture…. She’s a bitter, broken person who wants nothing more than revenge. She goes along with Bayaz’s plans to reach the end of the world solely because she wants to take revenge on the Gurkish, and Bayaz has promised that if they can reach this weapon, she will have more revenge than she can handle. She’s tough as nails, she’s funny in her own way even though she’s not trying to be funny at all. She was one that had to grow on me though, I didn’t understand how her storyline fit in at first, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the character until I got to know her more.
Collem West is in the army and probably one of the less “grey” characters of the lot. He tends to strive to do good, but, sometimes he loses his temper and bad shit can follow. He’s escaped an abusive father and clawed his way up the ranks in the army, reaching further than most could given his station at birth. He has a sister and they have a really complex relationship that only gets more complex as the series goes on. He does want what’s best for her, but his rage at some of her decisions gets in the way of them having a truly healthy relationship. He’s plagued by guilt about how he treats her, and asks for others to help watch over her while he’s out fighting a war.
Final Score: 14/15
The first book left me wanting a little bit with the world building, we only got to touch on a little bit of how the magic worked and what the 3 disciplines of magic actually were. There was a lot going on as far as culture though, you really get immersed in the different cities and societies of this world and they were well done.
There are “Eaters” who eat the flesh of men which brings them new fount powers – they are extremely strong, incredible fighters, and have insane healing abilities. They are breaking “The Second Law” by eating people, so they are considered a damned race of people bordering on demons rather than people.
The “Flatheads” are a race of subhumans that are more like apes than men, but they can carry basic weapons and are ruthless when they raid. The Flatheads are what killed Logens family and aren’t natural creatures, long ago a magi made this race of semi-human ape creatures and they are multiplying and growing stronger, becoming more and more of a threat. The people in the south tend to think they are just childrens stories to scare people, but, as they’ll soon find out – they’re very real.
Pedigree is extremely important to the south, having “good blood” is everything, and if you don’t have noble blood you are absolutely a second class citizen. Jezel is obsessed with this and you learn a lot about how all that works through his POV.
Final Score: 12/15
The beginning of this book, and for almost half the book this went kind of slowly for me. There’s a lot of build up, and what kept me turning the pages were the characters and not so much the plot. I didn’t have a good grasp on where things were going for a while, but I was willing to keep going because I found the people so engaging. The last portion of the book really knocked things up a notch though, and got me very excited to see where things were going to go in the second book.
Final Score: 10.5/15
The writing was absolutely superb, I laughed where I was supposed to laugh, I grimaced where I was supposed to feel uncomfortable, and I was shocked when I was supposed to be. This book toes the line for grim dark – black comedy especially in Glokta’s chapters. His self loathing sense of humor was just on point.
Final Score: 13/15
This is where the book won’t score all that well, I’ve seen a lot of war books, a lot of “cold hard northerners” and the like. This doesn’t really stand out as far as originality, what keeps you going is how well it’s written and how the characters suck you in, and then the plot does the same later on. I usually put a lot of emphasis on originality because I’ve read so many books that reading “the same thing over again” usually annoys me, but not with this series. This was a great read despite it not breaking any moulds.
Final Score: 10/15
Well, I think you can tell from this review that this book hit the nail on the head for me, and as a series it’s worked it’s way into my favorites.
Final Score: 8.5/10
- grim dark epic fantasy
- black humor
- multi pov
- slow start with a rapid finish
- low magic use
- realistic settings and people
- medieval/surfdom societies
Final Score: 82/100
SPOILERS BELOW FOR BOOK 2 AND 3 STOP READING NOW IF YOU DONT WANT TO KNOW. I won’t be giving away character deaths or anything too major, but plot points could be spoiled.
Ok, so the second book got a solid 90/100 from me. That’s one of the highest scoring books of this year, and I’ve read 72 so far this year! (jesus christ)
I liked it so much more than the first because all the character arcs are coming together and I could see where everything was going. I mean, I got to that point a little bit with book 1, but this one really brought things together. The character interactions were amazing, I don’t know what it was but reading about Logen and Farrow just made me giggle over and over again.
Watching Jezel have to learn to grow up and realize how spoiled and self centered he had been up until that point was pure satisfaction. Some people think he walked backwards from his progress in the third book, for me there was a bit of that – but in the end though there were fundamental changes to him. He wanted to build hospitals for the poor and treat the common people with more respect – which is something book 1 Jezel never would have done, or ever even thought about doing. So, for me, it’s like he took 5 steps forward, and maybe 1 step back. Which, honestly, just made him more realistic to me. It’s rare when people make a steady progression forward with themselves, many people hem and haw and go back and forth before they make any real progress.
I also loved getting to see more of the North and Black Dogs men and how they talk about Logen. Watching Logen turn into The Bloody Nine was heart breaking and awe inspiring. You hear about his atrocities in the first book, but when you get to witness it first hand in the heat of the moment, just, wow.
The ending of book 3 left me feeling unsure how I felt. I’m not one for loose endings, but for some reason it still felt like it was the right ending for the series, despite it not being ideal for me personally. When the book ended my first reaction was “wait what?” I truly thought there were going to be a few more chapters after it ended, which sort of leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Up until that point though, book 3 was impressing me time and again. I do not at all regret reading the series despite the ending – and I have quickly continued on to the stand alone books in the First Law world. I really just can’t get enough of this, I’ve finished the trilogy and am halfway through The Heroes in less than a week.
Excellent review Esme! I read this series all the way back in 2009? 2008? It was the first thing like this I’d read and it set me on the grim dark path 😅
I thought that each subsequent book was an improvement. I loved the characters.