The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

Jack is back! He recently re-read one of his favorite fantasy series, and wanted to share his thoughts on the trilogy as a whole. Enjoy!

The First Law Trilogy
The Blade Itself
ISBN: 9781591025948
Pages: 531
Release date: September 2007
Rating: ****

Before They Are Hanged
ISBNs: 9781591026419
Pages: 543
Release date: March 2008
Rating: ****

Last Argument of Kings
ISBN: 9781591026907
Pages: 639
Release date: September 2008
Rating: ****½

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Pyr
Genre: Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Series Overall Rating: 4.25 (is that allowed?)


Joe Abercrombie’s inaugural work was The Blade Itself in 2006. He followed this up with Before They Are Hanged in 2007 and Last Argument of Kings in 2008. The three books form the First Law Trilogy.

This fantasy series features a motley crew of colorful characters:

  • Logen Ninefingers is a barbarian warrior who seeks to escape his violent past and even more violent reputation.
  • Glotka’s body was ruined by two years of torture, and since his escape has become a torturer himself.
  • Ferro Maljinn is an escaped slave who vows revenge for the death of her family.
  • Jezel dan Luthar is a spoiled aristocrat who thinks only of himself, idling his time away with gambling, fencing and womanizing.
  • Bayaz, First of the Magi, is an old sorcerer who seeks to perfect his art.

All of the action is set across the backdrop of a war between civilized Adua (reminiscent of Medieval Europe, or possibly just England); Bethod, the new King of the Northmen; and the Gurkish Empire, who have shades of the Ottomans.


The setting and the characters seem to reek of fantasy clichés. You may be thinking, “A torturer, a barbarian, an overstuffed nobleman, a warrior woman and a wise old magician? Do they go on a quest or something?! [They do.] Do they meet some kooky characters along the way? Do they all learn something about themselves and humanity before they overcome the odds to defeat evil?” [No comment.]

Believe me, this is all intentional. The book is like a modern reflection of fantasy, where our own understanding of the tropes and assumptions of the genre are used against us. If you are a fan of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and George R.R. Martin, then you will see echoes of all three. But don’t think that extensive knowledge of fantasy is needed to appreciate these books.

The strength of the series lies in Abercrombie’s ability to subvert expectations. The series appears to be a simple superficial romp. But at the same time, there is plenty going on in the background; when you finally see all that is going on behind the curtain you will have to wonder what you were thinking initially.

And the series is fun—Abercrombie’s story has good pacing and the action sequences are excellent. The book finds a great balance of things to challenge the reader, like historical allegory and social commentary, along with more standard fantasy fare to keep the narrative from getting bogged down. The final book ties it all together for a finish that is both climactic and unexpected.

These are Abercrombie’s first books, and while it is an impressive achievement, the prose can be rather amateurish at times, particularly in the first two books. Given the progress he shows by book three, I look forward to seeing if he can continue refining his craft in subsequent efforts.

The series improves as it goes along, and the final installment is full of exciting twists and turns. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in fantasy, or who might want to read something a little different.

6 replies »

  1. I read these books for the first time a few months ago, and they are some of the funnest, craziest, most insane books I’ve ever read. Abercrombie doesn’t just take fantasy tropes and turn them on their heads, the man obliterates standard fantasy tropes. the series is just brilliant.


  2. The plot turns were unexpected and kept my interest. I liked the fist book the best, then the third, and the second was not quite as good. All in all, an excellent read that I wish I could find more of.


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