The First Law: The Strong Will Take from the Weak

I raced to the finish of Duma Key at the end of last week and I have to say that while I loved the book, I found the ending to be a bit weak, unusual for a King book.  I think he fell to much into the trap of showing too much of the “horrible thing” and thereby robbing it of some of its power to terrify through being unknown.  Take, for example, the scene where the two drowned twin sisters appear at the bottom of the stairs in Big Pink, where they do and say nothing just stand there, but only for a moment in which the main character questions his sanity.  That’s terrifying.  Now compare that to the scene where the drowned man is in the kitchen with the main character, grabs him and begins to drag him away, trying to put him in manacles.  To me, that scene was just silly and not scary at all.  The monster became too real, and by becoming real it became weak, vulnerable, and easily beatable.  The last scenes in the original Heron’s Roost house were not as scary as they could of been and I felt they were a bit rushed.  Was a deadline approaching, Mr. King?  But, overall, this was a great story and one of my favorite King books.  It was engaging, interesting, a (sort-of) fresh idea, and fast paced.  A more than excellent beach read – for at least two reasons.

Now, I’ve moved on to my next book.  It was with grave amounts of hesitancy that I picked this book from the bookstore’s shelves.  I had a gift certificate and was ready to use it.  The first book I bought with it was the first book in the Prince of Nothing trilogy by R. Scott Baker, a novel that comes with a strong recommendation from a trusted friend.  Then my eye was caught by this other fantasy trilogy by new author Joe Abercrombie.  Two things attracted my immediate attention: one, as a trilogy, it was completed, and two, the binding and cover art were unusual.  On the first point, I cannot stand reading serial books if the series is not completed.  I waited until Book 7  was out before picking up Harry Potter, for example.  I will bear a grudge to the grave with me against Robert Jordan, and George R.R. Martin is is serious danger of falling into that abyss as well.  But this trilogy was completed.  The second point goes again the adage of never judge  a book by its cover, but I do that often.  The truth is, you can do that, if you’re careful.  This cover was unusual, and interesting.  Interesting enough to make me read the back.  The back was interesting enough to make me read the first chapter there in the store to get a feel for the writer’s style and and sense of diction and syntax.  The danger: it’s a fantasy book – you can pick up ten fantasy books you’ve never heard of and they all will very likely be terrible.  The good fantasy book is a gem and difficult to find.  So, that was my hesitancy.  But I liked the first chapter and I liked the description from the back of the book, so I jumped.  The Blade Itself

About 150 pages into the story now, I am glad I bought it.  It is excellent, engrossing, with wonderful, flawed, human, and ambitious characters.  So far, it is the best fantasy story I have read since A Game of Thrones (finish the damned series, please, Martin!) though it lacks all the political intrigue.  This book is definitely character driven so far, with political intrigue as the backdrop.  I appreciate the complexity of the characters themselves and look forward to a growing complexity of political relationships, some of which is slowly manifesting.  One of the interesting things about the story so far, and the characters who propel it, is the sense of over-ripeness.  This is an empire past its prime with characters who are either also past their prime or who are in danger of never realizing their potential.  Among certain minor character there is a sense not of over-ripeness, but of rottenness.  And I like that.  Nobody here is innocent.  Nobody is clean.  And the place is going to rot from the top down.

The other thing I really appreciate is Abercrombie’s facility to imbue his world with a tremendous sense of history without droning on in a lecturer’s voice.  “Ok, and then the 4th king after the reign of ….  in the year of…. following the great drought of….before the battle of…”  No, that’s boring.  What he does is inject the history of the world into his descriptions of the contemporary setting or into the mouth’s of the characters.  It’s well done.  You don’t feel like you have to learn an encyclopedic amount of information to appreciate the story; it is not a novel requiring a guidebook.

The final thing I want to comment on is how I appreciate his sense of boundary breaking and cliche avoiding.  No where was this more apparent (though it certainly is throughout the story so far) that in the part when Logen approaches the old, wizened man with the long flowing white beard and the voluminous robes and comments to himself that “…the First of the Magi, Bayaz, certainly looked the part,” only to quickly discover that that man was not Bayaz at all, but a librarian.  Bayaz was the powerfully built bald man who was currently engaged in butchering a cow.  The Butcher draws near and introduces himself as the First of the Magi.  I darn near applauded!

This is a good book so far and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it as it goes on.  I’m glad I got it and if the only complaint I saw in other reviews is that the book ends in a cliffhanger (duh…trilogy) why then I will look with eager longing to a new, well executed, high fantasy trilogy.  They are so good, and so, so far and few between.

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