>There’s lots to like about Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. Pithy, witty prose for one. And the characters are superbly drawn – smart new takes on the traditional high fantasy archetypes. I loved Logen’s contemplative barbarian, world-weary and rather depressed that he just keeps winning all these down-and-dirty battles. Inquisitor Glokta is a joy, with his constant and bitter internal monologue that actually manages to generate sympathy even while he’s pulling out the teeth of an unfortunate prisoner.
Even so, I don’t think I’ll be picking up the sequel.
The trouble is with me. Honest, Joe, it’s not you. I’ve just never been a fan of high fantasy. Maybe I still think of it as “sword and sorcery” – a term that still sends shivers up my spine. The Blade Itself is still a tale of barbarians and battles in a faux-medieval setting. Instead of orcs we have Flatheads and the wizards are called Magi, but it’s still all the familiar post-Tolkein ingredients mashed together, albeit with charm and wit and pace.
I picked this book up in the hope of being converted. Sadly, despite Joe Abercrombie’s skill as a chef, I have to confess that this is a diet that just doesn’t suit me. Much of the problem, I think, boils down to my need to know one critical thing: where the hell is this fantasy world anyway? Tolkein dealt with this question by creating a mythology that could so easily be our own. Middle-Earth is a world that has passed away, symbolised by the elves passing into the West. As John Crowley says, the world was not always as it is now.
Sadly, for me, too much high fantasy relies on the creation of arbitrary worlds. And that’s a cop-out. It’s one thing to build yourself a wildly imaginative adventure playground for your characters to romp around in, quite another to make that world connect with – and be relevant to – the world we live in ourselves. It’s a hard job. The hardest of all, I think.