Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Review: The First Law Trilogy

I don't recall being more impressed with a fantasy author's debut since...well, I can't remember if I ever have been. The comparison suffers because I generally avoid debuts, as writing is definitely a skill that improves with practice.

But I read this trilogy quickly enough that I never changed my blog to reflect the third book, in spite of the fact that I was deliberately savoring it toward the end. I simply didn't want the series to be over, and return to my near-constant state of searching for something entertaining to read.

I finally did finish, and although it lacked a gripping climax, Abercrombie's first published work has already become one of my favorites. The author displays a finely tuned sense of balance, portraying cruel situations without the desensitizing the reader, a la Terry Goodkind. He kills off important characters suddenly, and shockingly, without destroying your trust and investment, which is my major complaint of George R.R. Martin. He reveals a dark side of each hero - people who are torturers, murderers, ruthless, arrogant, cowardly, drunk - without leaving you no one to root for. In fact, these flaws only serve to make them more real and easy to identify with.

He maintains a steady presentation of his own morality without ever adopting a preachy, overwhelming tone. Life isn't fair. Dreams are for children. No one gets what they deserve. He freely references historical quotes, and creates several quotable lines of his own:
Pride comes first. Then pain. Humility follows hard upon it. Obedience lies just beyond.
But there are worse fates than first among slaves...freedom is far overrated in any case. We all have our responsibilities. We all owe something to someone. Only the worthless are truly free. The worthless and the dead.
He reduces the struggle between good and evil to a simple struggle for power, with the benefit of historical judgment to the victor.

In addition to the cynical worldview and flawed characters, Abercrombie's work is also easily digestible. I'd recommend it for first-time fantasy readers as something easy to swallow, but without the childishness of Tolkein or Eddings. I'd also recommend it to fantasy vets who are looking for something that turns standard conventions on their heads.

The First Law is just the right shade of black: pitch. Can't wait til Abercrombie writes some more.


At 4:59 PM, Blogger MarkRebuck said...

I just finished the first book. I'm glad I bought the second book before finishing the first, because I can't wait to continue reading the series.

Thanks for the recommendation!


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