I can’t get enough of this series, it’s a problem. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when I finish all of the stand alones, which is coming up fast. I burned through this one on the audiobook version – and didn’t take notes. Please forgive names that are spelled wrong. If you haven’t read First Law trilogy yet, I’d absolutely say start there.
More war, such is life in the First Law world, this one has some crossover characters from some of the other books. Black Dow is King of the North now, and he’s not any more of a peaceful leader than his predecessor was, he’s waging war against the Union and it’s proving to be a tough fight.
This book had fewer plot threads than the first trilogy, or at least it felt that way to me. It’s pretty straightforward, The Union is pitted against the Northmen, and neither side has much of a clear advantage. As soon as one side has a battle victory, the next day’s victory is claimed by the other side.
This is more about showing the atrocities of warfare, a lot of the first trilogy was spent building up, there were skirmishes and fights in The Blade Itself, but the war didn’t come until later. This book is basically one long battle, the entire thing takes place in just about a weeks worth of time, but a lot of action happens within that time period.
We watch a bunch of different characters viewpoints from both sides of the war having it out and trying to win the day.
A young boy named Beck is trying to earn his name in some great battle, he’s left his family’s farm behind determined to walk in his fathers’ footsteps – who was also a famous warrior in the north.
A disgraced officer named Tunny who would rather laze around than fight is begrudgingly teaching new recruits “how to be soldiers”, and he hates it.
We also follow Gorst, who was seen in the first trilogy is madly in love with a generals daughter, who herself is married to an officer in the army. Gorst is bitter and resentful towards his position in the army, writing angry letters in the night to the king, then burning them as some sort of therapy.
The general’s daughter, Finree, is also featured and she’s trying her best to hoist her husband higher and higher in the army. He’s the son of a traitor and has to scrape his way to every promotion, he works himself twice as hard as anyone else trying his best to prove he’s no traitor. She’s a very gung ho and ambitious person who speaks up often, which grates on the patience of First Magi Bayaz and other higher-ups in the military – it causes some problems.
Craw is fighting for the north, and he’s one of the last “straight edges” left, meaning he regards honor as much or more than just brute strength in a fight. He’s trying to be a better man and lead people into doing the right thing even if it doesn’t get you anything but bloodshed in return. He’s struggling with his loyalties because he’s not a fan of Black down and his blacker ways of doing battle. His loyalty gets tried further when the ex-prince comes into the mix because he and Dow are obviously enemies, and Craw had been around Calder since he was a child and helped raise him in some respects.
And we also have Bethod’s son, “Prince” Calder who’s no longer a prince now that his father is dead and Dow holds the crown in the north. His wife is being held captive to ensure his good behavior, but this guy sort of reminds me of Jalan from Mark Lawrence’s Red Queens War. He’s kind of a slippery bastard, more likely to lie to you than not. He’s also a self-professed coward and truly terrible in a sword fight – he’s mostly just trying to survive the battle.
Final Score: 14/15
Beck is sort of a jerk to the rest of the trainees he’s grouped with, he’s convinced he’s the baddest new recruit and is thirsty to win his name. I didn’t really know if I liked him all that much, he was pretty immature, quick to a fight, and there wasn’t much in the way of redeeming factors. However, watching him try to navigate through his first battle does make you sympathize with him, and he turns into a rather tragic character.
Gorst is OBSESSED with Finree and it plays a major part in his story arc, he has a lot of inner dialogue each time he speaks with her, which is pretty creepy but also funny at points. He’s a very tired and bitter person, he resents his current station as Observer for the king, what he really wants is to be reinstated to his old position which he lost in disgrace some time before the events of this book. As the book goes on he gets more and more bitter and depressed and fed up with his life.
Calder is fairly cowardly and instead of trying to fight Black Dow head on, he’s trying to sew seeds of disloyalty in Dow’s thralls. Trying to get each of them to turn against Dow one by one by whispering things in their ear, some true, some not. He has a wife, but he’s not faithful – although he says he loves her and does think of her a lot. He has a stressed relationship with his half brother, who’s more of a warrior than a thinker.
Finree is extremely ambitious and it almost seems like no matter how high she gets, she just wants to go higher. She’s very bold and very brave, enduring some battle scene hardships the way some warriors would. She has to stand up to Black Dow at one point and manages to make demands and keep eye contact – which a lot of Dow’s own men can’t do. She has a lot of good ideas and strategies, but she’s ignored due to her gender and she finds it infuriating. She and her husband have an interesting relationship, she’s never quite certain how she feels about him, although he seems fairly besotted with her. She’s definitely the backbone of the relationship and does seem to at least care about her husband even if it’s not the most passionate romance.
Final Score: 14/15
Much the same of the first trilogy, so to keep this brief – The Union is “civilized” with those fancy mother fuckers eating with forks and having holes where the poop gets flushed away. The north is full of warring clansmen, it’s colder, it’s harsher, and it breeds a hard society.
Final Score: 13/15
This is a much faster paced book than the original trilogy, and it’s a stand alone so it sort of has to be. There’s no real build up, you’re thrown into it from almost the very beginning. There’s a battle scene in this were I was listening with furious intensity, I was so into it. If I had been reading the physical book I would have been flying through it.
Final Score: 14/15
The writing continues to be amazing in this book, Abercrombie has a way of using repeated phrases that really hammer home certain personality traits or overall takeaway messages and instead of being annoying, they are deftly done and work well. He uses a straight forward writing style that’s sprinkled with metaphor and simile, not being flowery, but creating interesting imagery that doesn’t slow the pace.
Final Score: 14/15
Again, this isn’t exactly the most trope busting book that’s out there, but I couldn’t care in the least because of how strong the plot and characters are. What was unique about this story was a battle scene done unlike any other I’ve read, so it definitely earned some points from me there.
Final Score: 11/15
I really liked this one, I think my favorite Abercrombie book is still Before They Are Hanged, but, this one is a very strong book that I really enjoyed listening to – the audiobooks are just superb.
Final Score: 9/10
- For people who have read First Law
- For people who want more twisted characters with grey morals
- For people who want a lot of action
- For people who like low level magic
- For people who like a lot of violence and bloodshed
- For people who like characters struggling with depression
- For people who like seeing two sides of a war
- For people who like fast paced books
Final Score: 89/100