The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

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The basics

Title: The Blade Itself

Author:

Series: The First Law #1

- The Blade Itself (2006)
- Before They Are Hanged (2007)
- Last Argument of Kings (2008)

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Goodreads Summary:

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.

written by Q. Hoadly

IN SHORT

Logen is on the run from King Bethod and falls off a cliff. His friend the Dogman thinks he’s dead. Bayaz, the first of the Magi, refuses to pledge himself to Bethod, then goes to the Union with Logen and his apprentice to take up his seat on the Closed Council. Jezal meets Major West’s sister Ardee and becomes infatuated. Jezal trains for the Contest and wins, unknowingly with magical help from Bayaz. Glokta is ordered to prove Bayaz is a fraud. Bayaz proves his identity by opening the House of the Maker and retrieving a mysterious box. Ferro is found by Yulwei and brought to Bayaz in Adua. The Inquisition tries to capture Logen and Ferro, but fail when Bayaz makes a guy freaking explode. Meanwhile Bethod’s emissaries show up and declare war on the Union. Major West gets drafted onto Marshall Burrs staff and asks Glokta to look after his sister while he’s at war. Bayaz, Jezal, and the rest set off in a mysterious quest, West leaves for the war, and Glokta is sent to defend Dagoska from the Gurkish. The Dogman’s band decide to go and help the Union fight Bethod.

WHAT WENT DOWN

  • Logen Nine-Fingers (no prizes for guessing the reason for the name) was one of the greatest warriors in the North but got sick of fighting, seeing as it only earned him a lot enemies and very few friends. He seeks out Bayaz after talking to spirits (something he may be the only person alive able to do) and hearing he’s looking for him.
  • Bayaz sent his apprentice Malacus Quai out looking for Logen, except Malacus gets ill. Logen ends up carrying him cross – country to Bayaz library, because Logen is a bro.
  • Bayaz is basically angry Merlin. He’s short tempered and sweary,  but powerful. He tells Bethod, the King of the Northmen, to jog on and reminds him that it’s only  because of Bayaz he’s king at all.
  • Jezal is an arse. He wins his friends’ money at cards like an arse, he trains to fence like an arse, he whines about getting up early like an arse, and he debates banging Major West’s sister Ardee. Like an arse.
  • Ardee mocks Jezal and he loves it. He starts to take his training for the contest seriously mainly as a way to prove to her he’s not a total arse.
  • Sand dan Glokta used to be a dashing commander until he got captured during a war with the Gurkish and returned as a cripple, now working the for the Inquisition. As such, the main antagonist in his chapters is really stairs.
  • Glokta investigates the Guild of Mercers for tax evasion and discovers they’re funded by a bank called Valint and Balk, which, in a case of art mirroring life, seems like some evil corporate cabal. His boss, Sult, tells him to drop it.
  • The Dogman and the rest of Logen’s crew survived the Shanka attack, and reckon Logen to be dead. They decide they need to warn Bethod about the Shanka coming over the mountains.
  • Sult drags the Guild of  Mercers before the Open Council and has them tried and sentenced for treason. The Council kicks off and loses its collective shit.
  • The king of the Union, who is Jabba the Hutt levels of fat and also senile, is brought to the Open Council to meet Bethod’s emissaries, who demand all the Union’s northern territories. Then they offer to settle it with a duel of champions. Their champion is a montrously huge near-naked man who causes everyone in the room to literally cower in fear. So naturally Jezal shoots his mouth off. Like an arse. The Council says no. War is declared. The council bricks it.
  • Bayaz shows up literally wearing a starry robe and pointy hat and demands his seat on the Closed Council, which has always been held for him should he return since the founding of the Union. The Council burst a vein and all need to lie down.
  • Logen’s crew arrive at Carleon, and Forley the Weakest volunteers to go and tell Bethod about the Shanka. Unfortunately, Bethod’s DICKHEAD son Scale is there instead, and they kill Forley.
  • Having buried Forley, Logen’s crew decide to head south and help the Union fight Bethod.
  • Sult orders Glokta to expose Bayaz as a fraud. Glokta goes to the university and learns of how Bayaz killed Kanedias in the tower of the maker. According to legend, Bayaz should have a key to the Tower, which no one has entered in living memory.
  • Ferro is found by Yulwei in the Ghurkish badlands. After failing to kill him three times in the space of five minutes and realising she’ll die there otherwise, she agree come with him.
  • While staying in Adua, Logen is attacked by something that looks like his dead wife, and then smashes a giant hole in the stone tower where he’s staying. Like, it seriously comes out of nowhere.  
  • While investigating Bayaz, Glokta finds a dead body with chunks bitten out of it.
  • Ferro and Yulwei discover the Ghurkish building a massive fleet. Ferro tries to ditch Yulwei and is found by two Eaters, whom Yulwei kills. Ferro and Yulwei set off for Adua.
  • Major West is assigned to Marshall Burrs staff and is going off to war. Trying to get anything done is impossible because West is a commoner and all the other officers are nobility, who consider him pondscum risen above his station.
  • After another day of getting shit all done, West finds Ardee drunk, flips his lid, and hits her.
  • Filled with guilt, West asks Glokta to look after Ardee while he’s away doing war and stuff, since they used to be pals before Glokta got captured. Glokta points out West never showed up to see if he was ok before, the prick. Then, in something that should be a surprise to nobody, West reveals he was always turned away by Glokta’s mother when he tried to visit, since, you know, commoner. Glokta agrees to West’s request. It’s so touching you’d almost forget he tortures people for a living.
  • The annual fencing contest begins! GET HYPE, SON! Jezal, who has basically just been swooning over Ardee so far, does some fencing, and damn, but he’s actually good. He gets to the final and wins with magical help from Bayaz. Jezal doesn’t know this however, and once again proceeds to act like an arse.
  • At the celebratory party, Sult squares off with Bayaz and demands evidence of his identity. Bayaz reveals he  orchestrated the rise of the Union’s first king, and has held several offices in government over the centuries, in different guises. Bayaz announces he’ll open the House of the Maker, bringing Jezal and Glokta as witnesses. Bayaz causes Sult’s chair to collapse with magic, because mic – dropping hasn’t been invented yet.
  • Bayaz, Logen, Quai, Jezal and Glokta all head into the Maker’s Tower, which is strange, unsettling and fails to comply with normal physics. Inside, Bayaz retrieves a strange, empty box.
  • Yulwei brings Ferro to Bayaz in Adua. It goes as well as you’d expect. Bayaz tricks Ferro into revealing she’s colour-blind, confirming she has demon blood. Yulwei and Bayaz argue, but Ferro sticks around when Bayaz promises her revenge on the Ghurkish.
  • Jezal manages to not be an arse for long enough to ask Ardee to wait for him as he sails off to fight the Northmen. This is a real growing moment for him.

How did it end?

Jezal gets dragged off his ship heading north at the last minute by order of the council. It turns out Bayaz has decided Jezal is to accompany them on a separate journey, which he announces to the rest of the group, and introduces them to their navigator, brother Longfoot.

Ferro gets bored and slinks off, which means Logen has to go looking for her. He finds her running from the inquisitions goons and a riveting chase ensues through the city streets. When it looks like they’re about to be either killed or captured, Logen’s split personality, the Bloody-Nine, shows up and it is SO ON. After decorating several rooms with the innards of about seven people, the Bloody-Nine leaves and Logen passes out. Ferro drags him back to their rooms. The Inquisition shows up again to take them, when Bayaz strolls out of the bathroom, balls swinging idly in the breeze, and makes one of them explode with his mind. It’s fantastic. The group decide not to piss off Bayaz any more and set sail for the Old Empire.

Glokta meanwhile is appointed Superior of Dagoska by Sult, and sent off to investigate the cirucmstances of his predecessor’s mysterious disappearance, and defend the city from the Ghurkish.

Anything else

Kanedias – An ancient being who made lots of mysterious objects of unspecified nature and/or doom. Killed his daughter for turning against him.

Juvens – Kanedias’ brother, and the world’s first user of High Art a.k.a magic. Killed by Kanedias.

Magi – The 13 long-lived apprentices of Juvens including Yulwei, Bayaz, and his rival Khalul.

The Union – Self-proclaimed greatest nation in the world.

Adua – The Union’s capital.

The House of the Maker – An enormous tower of arcane construction, once home to Kanedias, where he and his daughter died.

Shanka – Also called “flatheads” vaguely troll/orc like creatures that lurk in the dark corners of the world.

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