Fantasy Book Review
Abercrombie writes books that are damn near impossible to put down. His style is very similar to David Gemmell’s but they have been modernized a bit to add an even darker element to every page. Abercrombie’s characters are raw and incredibly believable. Each one of them is uniquely forged by the fires of circumstance into something hard, dangerous and painfully relatable. I got my introduction to Abercrombie in the First Law series. Those books were regular Greek tragedies. When starting this series I knew not to expect happy endings but I couldn’t wait to see the trials he would throw his characters through.
I wasn’t disappointed. Abercrombie introduces us to another cold and dark world that seemed built from the nightmares of a 13th century Viking. In the first book we are introduced to Yarvi, the crippled son of a king. Abercrombie shares his fascination of the disabled yet again in this character who is universally disdained by his disability in a land where survival allows for no sympathy. The author gives you the faint hint of having his main character rise above his impediment before ruthlessly taking everything away from him.
As Yarvi’s world is destroyed and he himself is sold into slavery, the only thing he is left with is an oath of vengeance. Luckily, to a viking, vengeance is more sustaining than a pallet of powerbars and Yarvi rises above again and again. He makes lifelong friends of his oar-mates who respect, if not his strength, certainly his persistence and definitely his ‘deep cunning’. Yarvi trained to be a minister which, in the Shattered Sea, is an adviser to kings. He uses this knowledge to turn the tables on his situation and by the end he fights his way free of slavery, misconceptions and even disability. He becomes a character that is likable and respected.
In book two, Abercrombie takes a risky approach and presents us with an entirely new cast of characters. Yarvi is still around but he plays a secondary role to our new characters Thorn and Brand. Thorn Bathu is a fireball. She is one of the first women to come close to passing the warrior’s trials and she is heavily discriminated against because of it. While these northern women are expected to fight in self defense they are never expected to become actual raiding warriors. This bias earns Thorn a one way ticket to a personal showing of the headman’s axe.
Brand, the young warrior that Thorn bested to win her warrior’s badge, struggles with the injustice heaped upon Thorn and ultimately stands up for her, even though he can’t stand her, by bringing up the injustice to Yarvi. Brand is one of the good guys in a bad world and he ultimately gets punished for it.
By circumstance, Yarvi takes Thorn and Brand on an epic journey to the south to gain the support of the southern empress. They bring along a cast of interesting characters with them, one of which is an old witch that trains Thorn into a formidable weapon. By the end of the journey, no single man seems able to best Thorn in a fight and her reality becomes legend. Interestingly enough, a romance also blooms between Thorn and Brand in a reverse chick flick sort of way. The relationship is as endearing as it is fleeting and you find yourself truly rooting for these two while knowing that good things just don’t last long in the dark of the North.
Our author doubles down in the third novel by changing up the cast once again. This time our heroine is Skara, princess and daughter of a slaughtered king. Skara is no warrior but her battles are one of policy and politics as she does her best to wrench her kingdom back from the High King. Only she has the power to bring warring realms together to fight a greater tyrant and she does it admirably.
One of the sneaky things that Abercrombie does with his characters is turn heroes into villains. He changes characters you love into ones that you don’t like so much along the way. This is a much more odious and painful way of destroying characters than the Martin approach of just killing them off. It takes a lot more balls to shift the love of a reader into something akin to hatred. He did it with Baez in the first law and he does it again here. Don’t want to ruin the surprise but it teaches an interesting lesson that all men are fallible when pushed in the right way.
Read the series if you are willing to give up all your free time for the next week or two.