”His character work enlightened me, but the grim and dark realities of his world enraptured me.
Fifteen years ago, it was 2007. I was nineteen years old and living in a college dorm with my best friend from high school. We both had a tremendous love for fantasy novels.
As long as I’ve existed, I’ve been a voracious reader. Before I could read myself, my mother read to me and I ate that up. And somewhere along the line, I fell in love with fantasy. I consumed as much of it as I could—the earliest books I can remember that might’ve contributed to this were Blade of the Poisoner by Douglas Adams and the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. I’m sure there were others, but I can’t remember them. In any case, I consumed a lot of books, basically living in libraries.
The problem? I quickly learned all the typical tropes and cliches in regular epic fantasy. It got to where I was reading a lot of these novels and getting increasingly bored—I knew the end before it had even happened. Just before leaving for college, I started reading a series I’d yet to try, which I’ll leave unnamed (I’m not trying to insult the author here). I predicted the end of the book halfway through, and, when I got to the ending, it unraveled in exactly the way I figured. I laughed out loud for a long time. My disappointment was indescribable. In that moment, I had forsaken fantasy. I vowed not to return (I quit reading the only genre I read now).
My friend I was rooming with in college knew about my disgust for the predictable and “normal” epic fantasy novels out there. I hated the idea that the main characters were untouchable and invincible, that you would know how everything was going to play out. He recommended a book to me: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie.
Eager to read a fantasy novel I couldn’t predict, I read the first chapter and promptly through the book at my friend. “Are you serious?” I asked him, “What could possibly be more cliche than a barbarian who falls off a cliff and lives?”
“Try one more chapter,” he’d said.
So I did. And boy am I glad I did because I have purchased every single Abercrombie book since. His character work enlightened me, but the grim and dark realities of his world enraptured me. I hadn’t known about some of the other big names in this genre at the time: GRRM and Glen Cook being two of them. I immediately fell in love with Jezal dan Luther and Sand dan Glokta (controversially, I’m still not a fan of the barbarian). And when I’d finished the First Law trilogy and the ending actually landed? It didn’t make me laugh, and I didn’t predict it? I was stupefied. I was so happy.
Without The Blade Itself, I don’t know that I would have returned to reading (and now writing) fantasy. So, thank you, Joe. You made me believe again.