Series rating: 4.25/5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, grimdark
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Synopsis 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.
This was my first Joe Abercrombie series and as you can tell, I really liked it. This series is the paragon of grimdark, so if you’re looking for any shred of redemption or happy ending, look elsewhere. But if you’re up for some grimness and some darkness, look no further.
My favourite book in the series was the first one. The other two were a bit too long and got boring at times. I feel like there were some scenes that could have been cut out without any damage to the story and would have streamlined it a little. But they were still 4/5 star reads. My main complaint with the series overall is that by the end of it, we don’t understand much more about the world and magic system than when we begin. And within the narrative, that makes sense. None of the POV characters had any reason or opportunity to learn much about it. But I just wish we got more, because I really love magic systems and I would have liked to understand this one more. Especially that so much was hinted at. We do learn some things, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity.
The characters were all pretty horrible people. I can’t really think of any one of them that could count as decent. Except for Jezal, who actually becomes half decent by the end of the series. But the rest of them either stay the same, or become even worse. Having said that, they are thoroughly enjoyable characters. I was absolutely invested in their lives and what happens to them and horrible as they are, I was actually rooting for them. Glokta is my favourite. His narrative is just the funniest. He’s got a bone dry wit that’s just so entertaining to read. He’s also probably the most obviously despicable of the lot, since he often tortures people he knows to be innocent.
As I said before, I thought the world was really interesting, but I do wish it had been explored more. There are some things that are mentioned or briefly glossed over which sound so interesting. I’d have loved to see more of them. But I know that they wouldn’t have served to drive this story forward. It’s not necessary to understand them for the purposes of this story. I also really liked the plot itself. It’s definitely more political than it is martial, so I can’t really call it action packed, but that’s not to say we don’t get to see our fair share of battles. I think the second book is the most action-y of them. But as I said, the series focuses more on the politicking and power dynamics of war than on the actual sword-slashy bit. Which for me is very enjoyable because I do like political plots. But it’s something to bear in mind while reading it, because I know some people prefer their fantasy more action-y.
The ending was adequately grim. It almost felt like it took all the classical happy-endings we’re used to seeing and put a nasty twist on them. Which is exactly what I was expecting and anything less would frankly have been disappointing. So all in all, I really liked this series, but it is bleak, violent and full of awful, irredeemable characters. So I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if those kinds of stories seem up your alley, then this is definitely a good series for you.