The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie

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WARNING: may contain spoilers. I have not finished the third book yet.

The First Law is one of those series that I feel either gets overlooked a lot, or I’m just not very well-involved in the book community to have heard its name much. I will say as a start that I have maybe only one or two qualms with these books so far. I’ve only read up to the second book, but I already own the third and have skimmed through and know that my opinion will likely not change by much.

The narrative is probably one of the things that’s impressed me most about the books: it uses third person character specific point of view focused on several main characters and sometimes one or two others. Not only does it excellently describe the characters’ emotions and experiences, as well as the way they view others (and it becomes very clear that the characters’ perceptions of someone may not be true – so you never quite get an accurate picture of someone they interact with, but only of the way they think of the other person, which is done marvelously), but it does so by changing the narrative style. Let me explain: Sand Dan Glokta’s narrative features a lot of his own thoughts given directly as part of the flow, in quotes. This is vastly different from, for example, Logen’s narrative, that, while describing his thought process, almost never really gives you the actual words he thinks in. The language and vocabulary also changes according to each character, most noticeably if you read, say, Jezal dan Luthar’s chapter and then a chapter telling of The Dogman’s perspective. I would like to stress this again – the very vocabulary in the narrative changes to suit the character, so you get a taste of how they think, how they’ve been taught and raised. Not only that, but the focus of the characters shift as well – you can easily tell that the most important thing to Ferro is revenge, as her narrative includes a lot of hatred and bitterness, and that Sand Dan Glokta is completely disillusioned with the world at that point, his narrative dripping with sarcasm and lack of real surprise at anything happening around him currently. You can pinpoint very accurately what the characters’ want or expect from life, what drives them (or doesn’t), what they’re afraid of and how they plan to proceed. And in addition, we get some of their different perspectives of the enigmatic Beyaz, so much so that even the reader can’t quite decide if they can trust him or not. This is not in the least bit sloppy, either, as you’re not frustrated with not knowing, but rather curious by what you’ll find out.

This extremely character-driven narrative means that you also get a good idea of any character development occurring as the story goes along. The most noticeable so far for me being the development of Jezal, starting from a spoiled brat and currently at that point in his life where he realizes not everything comes easy. I’ve read parts of the third book and I also know he turns into a more serious and mature man as the plot progresses. There are other developments I would like to mention, such as Logen finally getting over his fears and doubts and finding his new purpose (or rediscovering an older purpose at least), and I’m sure Ferro gets her fair share of progress as well (already seen in the second book), but I’m afraid this paragraph will just get long-winded again.

Excellent writing style and extremely engaging and driven dialogue are a given, so I will not get into that, but it deserves its mentions.

The world and setting are exciting and relatively new (at least to me), with my small complaint of the Gurkish and their surrounding areas being very clearly inspired by real world Muslim countries. They are described, so far, as savages and monsters, merciless and slave-traders. What saves this point is the fact that you realize, as you read along, that none of the nations are actually “good” – there is no nation that the narrative doesn’t give any one nation the “win” because they are “superior” or “good”, but just because someone has to win a war and anyway even winners lose a lot along the way. Not one of the countries so far involved struck me as being without its corruption and cruelty, and let’s not forget that as we only have the point of view of certain characters, naturally they would think less of outside forces. Logen for example has a very low opinion of The Union, seeing them as underdeveloped and impractical, too loud and too materialistic, while Jezal believes the Northmen are savage, illiterate and badly trained for life and combat. Since they are forced to travel together for the majority of the story so far, this makes for some interesting and conflicting points of view brought up in their respective chapters.

My qualm with these books is the unfair treatment of the one character who seems to not be straight – though she is not a main character and I haven’t read in detail the parts of her that do appear, it seems that she has a rather nasty and unpleasant personality, and receives a harsh punishment for not being interested in men. Although it is well-disguised and excused with the world itself being unaccepting of such relationships and people, it does show the author’s overall disposition.

On the other hand, I am somewhat prepared to overlook this just as the issue I have with the Gurkish (at least overlook it long enough to finish the books and still enjoy other aspects) because of the last, and very important point I wanted to make: these books aren’t fair. People that should die are left alive and well, people that should have been alive die, a lot of horrible things happen to many others. None of the characters is an inherently good person (although few are inherently evil), and any good deeds they may do is a choice they work towards. The books aren’t fair, and that’s one of the main reasons I forgive some things that happen in them – it just fits. The world keeps moving no matter what disaster strikes, people suffer and disagree with the higher forces and no one wants to listen, and a lot of other things that feel, well, realistic. Sand dan Glokta is noteably the one character that seems to be aware that this is how everything goes, and so far doesn’t try to fight it all that much, as opposed to, for example, Ferro and Jezal, who, for their own reasons, fight with claws and teeth to get the justice they think they deserve. The fact that none of the characters are inherently good people – some simply being more wicked than others – is one thing I can respect. It definitely accents the idea that doing good things is an active choice and not a characteristic of the personality (although, of course, being kinder as a person does help – as is in Logen’s case).

The books are not fair, but even so the way they progress does feel satisfactory – I think that in the end, the main characters who do deserve a good ending do get some semblance of it, or at least some satisfaction from life.

Conclusion: I really enjoy this series and every time I open a book, I get lost in the story. Excellent style, excellent characters, engaging story.

Would I recommend: As a whole, yes. But if you dislike unfair stories that include a lot of war casualties, then be careful when picking these up.

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2 thoughts on “The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie

  1. A fair review for an unfair series 🙂 Does a lot of justice for the books as I consider them highly under-rated.
    I am really interested in what do you think about the third and of course, you should also check the other three standalone novels, especially The heroes. And maybe you know, there will be more of the First Law world soon.

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    • Thank you! And I was aware of other stories/books already out, but nothing upcoming. Thanks for letting me know! I am sure I will enjoy the 3rd installment (as I have already looked through it a few times).

      Like

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