I will be lucky if I read 70 books by the end of the year… it’s sort of sad because in years past I’ve read up and over 200. I’m running way behind on reading and even further behind on reviewing. I feel like I’m one of the last people to review this, so if you’ve already read this I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.
Some authors will experiment with different writing styles, tones, themes, or genres and it’s almost as if you’re reading a totally different author with each series. Others have a very distinctive style which is identifiable after just a few sentences or paragraphs. Abercrombie, so far, has been the latter type of author. If you’ve been on the fence about him in the past and were wondering if this book was something new and different… no.
However, if you’re like me, you’ll be stoked to find out this book gives you the same darker humor, unique writing style, and grey characters that he’s delivered in the past. There are also similar themes and circumstances used in this series that overlap with First Law trilogy such as two opposing sides of a war being represented with different POVs. This book focuses on new characters in the same world as First Law, but there are lots of cross overs and references since some of the new characters are related to characters from the original trilogy. You don’t necessarily have to have read the First Law trilogy before reading this one, you’ll be able to understand it, but I personally got a lot more out of it knowing what lay behind the names of people and events. Both Dogman and Glokta have daughters that feature heavily and it adds extra depth to know Glokta’s background when he interacts with his daughter.
Steven Pacey came back to narrate the audiobooks which was a fucking delight for me. I adore his performances in the original series and since old characters come back it was nice to have consistency in the voices.
Although there are a lot of characters, a girl named Rikke who’s been blessed/cursed with the ability to see the future is arguably one of the main characters. The ability is known as the “Long Eye” and as with most things Abercrombie writes, her seemingly amazing ability is plagued with drawbacks of the dirty and gritty variety. She shits her pants when she has her visions. It’s unflattering and embarrassing and leads to chafed legs, but her bigger problem is that she’s had visions of war. That, and Stour Nightfall is trying to find her and kill her. He’s pissed at her father, (the Dogman), and intends on torturing her, killing her, and sending her body back in pieces to her father. She has a mother-ish figure named Isern who’s thought to be a witch who is trying to help her out. Isern is a hard person who’s been tempered by wars in years past, but she’s a good person to have around. She helps Rikke through her fits and is a reliable companion in a harsh world. I love these kinds of odd couple pairings so these two remained my favorites throughout.
Once again the North is rebelling against the Union and seeks to kick out the Union forces and detach themselves and live independently from the Protectorate. Some people may find this dull and repetitive, but this is what oftentimes happens in real life. Old wounds and wars are reopened and kingdoms go to war over the same disagreements or same pieces of land generation after generation. To me, it felt cyclical and depressingly realistic to watch the next generation go through their parent’s struggles.
In true Abercrombie style, this was written with multiple viewpoints (seven to be exact), with many of them falling squarely in the grey area when it comes to morality. Some lean one way or the other, but most would not qualify as a “noble bright” character or completely unrelatable and 2-dimensional villain. It would take a long time to go through all the characters in depth so the others I found interesting were Orso, the spoiled prince, and heir to the Union. He’s introduced as someone who inevitably stumbles when trying to do the right thing, ends up doing nothing, and spends most of his time being high as a kite. He can be whiny and immature, he’s too lazy or high to use his power for good, but he’s not stupid – he can be quite manipulative when he wants something.
Savine dan Glokta is a blackmailing merchant of sorts with a master torturer for a father. She owns lots of manufacturing in the city and has built herself quite a reputation in addition to her wealth. She’s fucking Prince Orso and she’s surprised at how much she’s grown to care about him despite all his flaws. They are definitely opposites and that lead to a lot of interesting dynamics between them. Later on in the book, this relationship becomes even more hilariously tragic and weird.
Leo is a young noble trying to earn respect but always seems to fall short. His best friend dies early on, and his reaction to that shows that Leo has a good heart and feels guilty for being rash and impulsive during battle. He sees himself as arrogant and ignorant but he is capable of self-reflection. I liked him immediately despite his naivety. The relationship he has with his mother is some of the most interesting bits in his arc.
Wonderful is a character that was in the previous books and she’s been paired with a man named Clover… her task is to find and capture Rikke. She works for Stour Nightfall but no one seems to like him. His own people refer to him as unhinged and can’t imagine that anyone is truly happy Stour is going to inherit after his father, Caulder, dies. He’s needlessly cruel and creepily into torture and inflicting maximum amounts of damage even if it costs him resources.
The writing style is cutting and brutal while incorporating wit and dark humor. He quoted Terry Pratchett right before Part 2 and it struck me that although it may not be obvious on the surface, Pratchett and Abercrombie may have a wide cross over audience. Both have a knack for writing about the themes of life &death, justice & morality (or the lack thereof), leadership & war in a way that’s both accessible and memorable. Both have characters that feel real even if they’re a touch exaggerated. Both have worlds that feel like a high fantasy that’s wearing low fantasy’s clothes. Both have a way of stating something very dark while making you laugh when they do it.
I loved this book and can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next, this is definitely the first of a series and ends with a lot of questions left unanswered. If that sort of thing bothers you maybe read some of the stand alones if you haven’t already while we wait for this series to finish.
- Plot: 14/15
- Characters: 15/15
- World Building: 14/15
- Writing: 14.5/15
- Pacing: 12/15
- Originality: 12/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 10/10
Final Score: 91.5/100