Going to be a short one this month, I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment. My apologies to Abercrombie since I may sell him a bit short as a result, but a lot of my other options for spotlights need more explanation.
The First Law comprises the original trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings), three standalones (Best Served Cold, The Heroes and Red Country) and assorted short stories and novellas now available as Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law. I appreciate this, by the way. Not enough authors let you read their short stories and extras without having to buy anthologies full of other crap you mostly aren’t interested in. There’s also a sequel trilogy in the works.
I’m going to focus on the original trilogy, since the standalones will be a lot more appealing once you know the world and since the trilogy allows a lot more character development that in my opinion make them more interesting to read. Many of the novellas deal with backstory and so on as well, and you should probably read the originals first.
The setting isn’t really anything to write home about, mostly following well-trodden sword and sorcery lines along a simple enough plot – you have your home kingdom being torn apart internally by politics, your generic northern barbarian enemies-turned-reluctant-allies, and your invading outside foes forcing everyone else to stop bickering and unite, with some magic thrown in for good measure.
But it’s the characters who make this series so worth reading, from the most genre-aware and cynical barbarian I’ve read outside of pure parody – one actually hampered by physical reality in terms of injuries and so on, as well – to an actually believable and well handled badly disabled and traumatised character who is genuinely morally ambiguous. Refreshingly, the band of heroes who form our protagonists generally can’t stand one another and don’t try to hide it, and it’s a lot more fun to read about than just another group of best friends. There’s a decent amount of humour to lighten up a fairly grimdark setting, but not so much that it spoils the serious moments.
Standard representation disclaimers apply, sadly – don’t expect much. There are women among the main characters, but they’re rather more one-dimensional than the boys. Same for other ethnicities, sexualities etc – they exist, barely, but that’s about it. A couple of the standalones do better and I have hope for the sequels.
Abercrombie has written a second series, The Shattered Sea. I’ve read it once and found it sadly forgettable, though the premise was good. I’ll probably give it another chance sometime.
Shoutout to my brother for recommending these. One day I might even tell him that the character he named my nephew after doesn’t actually spell his name that way. (Don’t rely too much on audiobooks, folks. You look silly when things like this happen.)