Mar 5, 2012

The Bloody Nine

The First Law

I finished reading Joe Abercrombies The First Law Trilogy.  First off I loved it.  I think it's the best dark fantasy since A Game Of Thrones(And I read a lot of good ones actually: The Name Of The Wind, The Warded Man, Mistborn, Jonathan Strange And Mister Norrel, Perdido Street Station, the Scar, The Thunderer, The Etched City, Banewreaker and it's sequel, and others).  But aside from Game Of Thrones, nothing else is what I was looking for personally, more than The First Law Trilogy.

I first started reading fantasy again in the mid 90's after a customer at the place I was working heard me ranting about how trite I felt it all was.  He suggested A Game Of Thrones and then I loved it so much I got nearly twenty of my friends personally into it.  This one though, this one is a little more complicated, suggestion-wise.

I love the tropes of various genres, but not the restricting expectations.  I've always felt that Fantasy was almost the opposite of Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction.  SF focused generally on future complications of todays world.  Fantasy had nothing to do with todays, tomorrows, or lots of times even yesterdays.  It was pure freedom.  At the same time pure freedom can sometimes lead to thousands of massive tomes about elf/orc conflicts, or more unicorn nonsense or some shit.  I had no interest in stories that had no philosophical correlation with real life.  A Game Of Thrones did.  It felt real.  It felt realer and more honest and more brutal than any historical drama.  And it covers a medieval time when people had to live much harsher lives.  It presented hard truths about life that we have long forgotten but still echo in our own behavior.

And thats what The First Law does.  But in the darkest ways possible.  Abercrombie lives by one of the characters golden rules, "You have to be realistic."

This is one of those books where there is no way of saying how great it is without mentioning some of the characters.  There is Logan Ninefingers, the lost barbarian from the north who has all the makings of a great hero, except his past is so bad he may never be anything but a villain, and that may be the only way he can ever win or lose.  Jezel, the most vain character I have ever read.  A handsome swashbuckler, and at the same time his character arc was surprisingly deep in very unexpected ways(not the cliched ways). Glotka,  the merciless, nearly crippled torturor who was once a great hero, and now is way beyond evil, but is surrounded by people who are worse.  Strangely enough, one of the most hilarious, cunning, sympathetic and unsympathetic characters I have ever read.  I have never feared a characters decision making as much as this character.  Not because it was irrational, but because it was coldy rational, and brutal, yet somehow, many times, laugh out loud funny.  My humor must be in the morgue because I laughed at these books more than any other I can think of.  There were scenes that were so brutal I couldn't believe I thought they were so funny.  And then other times where stuff got so hairy my hands were practically shaking they were so ready to turn the page and find out what happens next even if its the worst thing possible.

Other characters of note is the extremely lethal woman, Ferro.  The military captain in the worst situations ever, West.  He really was working on being one of my favorites, but I think I like "The Bloody Nine" the most, even above Glotka.  The scary and manipulative legendary wizard Bayez.  Fenris, The Feared.  Dogman was an unexpected character I liked.  All of the Named Men were pretty cool especially Black Dow.  The treacherous yet casually honest mercenary Cosca was hilarious.  Ardee, totally my type of girl, tragic, dark, feisty, sexy, and hard as all hell.

These characters are some of the most fascinating I have come across in any genre/non-genre.  These are original characters, with conflicts I just hadn't seen before.  It's funny because it does all seem like it would be predictable, but Abercrombie hates you for thinking that and proves you wrong in the most delightfully hateful ways.  He twists the knife.  This is not for the squeamish.  Everyone is villainous in it comparable to our modern day culture.  But that's what makes this so much smarter than the fantastical ways we build up heroes.  The heroes in this are usually heroes of circumstance.  It never forgets the real stories behind heroes are much darker and fraught with tragic mistakes than we like to remember.  Killers are rarely perfect.

These are reviews for each book in the Trilogy.  I left out spoilers, and the stuff I mentioned so far really gives little clue to what happens.

The Blade Itself

I only read this book because I was writing a lot of villains in a story and they had very different motives and personalities.  At some point in the writing it became about all the different reasons one would end up being a villain and how those old reasons would lead to unexpected present catastrophes.  I read The Name Of The Wind(an excellent book) to see someone's original take on the makings of a great hero.  And the word of mouth seemed to be that The Blade Itself, the first in the First Law Trilogy might be a good thing to read to get a good gauge of how to write dark characters.  And I was more right than I could imagine.  In fact after reading Joe Abercrombie, I just need to up my game.  In these three books Abercrombie convinced me he was a master of characterization.

But that's where I have my flimsy(in retrospect) complaint.  This first book, while amazing, and breathlessly paced once it starts going, only shows the tip of the iceberg where the grand plot is concerned. It's all there.  But only after reading the third book did I really understand all the things that happened, and why, in the first book.

But, think if it this way, I finished reading this book in love with the characters, scared for their lives, not knowing where the hell this was all going, let alone what a third book would even be about, and hungering for more.

The same day I started reading the next book.

Before We Are Hanged

This may be the ultimate middle book in a trilogy.  So much happens in it, at the risk of so many lives.  Wars are fought, great distances are travelled, nothing you expect happens and just in case you expected that, he adds on many more layers of unexpected stuff.

I actually liked this book more than the first.  It was way bigger, and the sense of scope and total despair of the situations on a constantly changing basis left me forced to read nonstop.  Every decision was a lethal one.

It was so big and so good, I almost had no idea what the third book could possibly have in it.  So I had to read it.  I think I held out a day.  I don't like reading books by the same author or in the same genre in a row, because I think it's good to diversify, but these books were so entertaining it was like being a kid and watching Star Wars and then being told you could just pop in the sequel Empire Strikes Back.  If you never saw those movies and you still didn't want to watch the next one, you were not a boy with a soul.  It's just like that.  At this point you are all in with these maniacs, you have to see them out of this world, whether it ends badly for them or not(and at this point, in the books, things were looking far from good).

The Last Argument Of Kings

I remember buying the first book and seeing this title for the third.  As I read the books I wondered what in the story would warrant such a grand title.  Even with all the war and the epic vastness of this little world, I didn't know.  And boy does Abercrombie back up that title with huge plot twists.  There was a point about half way through the book where after so many consistent answers and awesome climaxes, I thought it was over.  But then things kept going and twisting.

This book is one of the best conclusions to any trilogy that I am aware of.  It has some open ended things.  But as there are two more books out in the same world after this, and I think I heard something about a second trilogy someday(I assume with only a few returning characters in a different epic story).

In fact the reason I bought the first book besides to read some good villains, was because Abercrombie wrote a book called The Heroes about a single battle over three days for one hill.  And it was set in this pitch black universe.  Now, having read the trilogy, and understanding the basic idea behind what that battle will be about and how it will all be written, it is my most anticipated book to read.

But next(chronologically), I have to read Best Served Cold, a way bigger stand alone novel than I would have expected, about even darker mercenaries plotting revenge.  I think I'll either love it or it will be too depressing(but I loved the Road by Cormac Macarthy, so I doubt it will be too dark for me).

Joe Abercrombie is one of the few people I look up to.  He is that good.  Him, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Loius CK, George R. R. Martin, etc.  People whose skills are high and would be very hard to surpass.  So, in other words, my highest recommendation, as long as you don't mind getting a little blood on your hands.  For real, these are violent, dark decisions in these books.  If you ever rooted for Stringer Bell or Omar on the Wire this book is for you. If your favorite characters in A Game Of Thrones are Tyrion, the Hound, Jaime Lannister, and Theon, then congratulations, these will be your favorite books ever.  Not for the faint of heart.

The Bloody Nine

The drawing is of the Bloody Nine, a character(my favorite) in the novel who has a horrifying dark side.  He is the dude, not the big monster dude.  That's Fenris The Feared.  This was practice I do to get better skills.  I actually drew this on the back of a half inked page I didn't like.  For some reason I really loved the way the great narrator Steven Pacey portrayed one character who kept calling the Bloody Nine the beloved of the moon(like that meant he couldn't lose).  It was loony, endearing, and catchy.  I listened to the audio book while looking for apartments in LA and doing the drive up and down.  Pacey was excellent.  I tried to make him as savage as he is in the book.  Those are tattoos all over Fenris's non armored half.


This one girl called me up yesterday and told me she had mono.  I had hung out with her a few months back and then last week(on my fucking birthday) got really sick.  It was just extreme allergies but she got me all paranoid.  I'm fine and don't have it.  She told me I could have gotten it from sharing food or drinks with her. With our history, I couldn't help saying, "sure, but no one was ever going to believe that story."  I included the epic song Mononucleosis by Ween.

Humanoids Of The Deep

I basically watched this because it was one of the weird first horror movies I remembered from my youth. I basically remembered it because it had naked boobs and some chick gives birth to a seaman(ironically).   First off, its straight up crap.  But I have a serious obsession with pretty little sea side towns(like when I spent time in Pasadena just a few weeks ago).  And Humanoids Of The deep is all about that.  I lived in Pacifica on the coast near San Francisco and I loved it there, so movies like Goonies, The Fog(the original of course, and that one I like because it features the town Inverness which is beautiful, and my favorite place Drake's Bay), and this one were of that time in that similar kind of place that felt most like home to me.  Its still a shit movie.  But whatever I just wanted to see any 80's horror movie in a place I like.  Although there is one scene worth mentioning where this ventriloquist's dummy talks a naughty girl into stripping.  That part was raaaad.  I mean, in terms of wild shit that ventriloquists dummies pull, I thought this was pretty smooth.

The Last Exorcism

I liked this found footage horror movie.  It's about a documentary crew following this guy as he does this exorcism of this little girl.  He is a famous hot young reverend and he is going to expose the truth about himself, he is a fraud.  He doesn't really do exorcism, he doesn't believe in god, and he knows these yokels with their possessed children are just stupid and confused.  Except of course he is wrong.  And so things get creepy.  It was an entertaining little independent horror movie and it was a slow burn so it actually worked pretty damn well and it ended with a big payoff.

Now I'm reading Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End.  He's a great futurist and he's wasted no time blowing my mind already.