Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

A slow burn. That’s what you’re getting yourself into if you read The Blade Itself. Cleverly executed characters going about their daily lives while the threat of war looms in the background.

[Note: this review was originally posted on Goodreads. Follow me for more updates and reviews]

While the title and the cover design make this look like an action heavy novel strewn with violence, it really wasn’t. There are some action scenes, and when they come they are fairly brutal, but the action is not the focus, thank God. I usually find myself board when half the novel is descriptions of characters swinging swords and parrying and whatnot.

The Blade Itself felt more like a character focused hardboiled detective novel with a coming of age tournament arc and a travel log. The several different styles of story mashed together actually worked well.

We follow several disparate characters who’s threads eventually intertwine. Logan the barbarian, Bayaz the magi, Luthar the soldier, and several others. Most are fleshed out and fully realized. You’ll find yourself rooting for quite a few of them, even when they’re at odds with one another.

No character is all sterling, and none are evil. They feel conflicted and their motivations feel compelling (though we don’t always know what a characters motivations might be). But none are as compelling as one of the best characters I’ve read in a fantasy novel, Sand dan Glokta.

“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?” -Glokta from The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Glokta is a war hero now crippled by torture who’s survived to become a torturer himself. Due to a series of discoveries, Glokta is promoted and empowered. He’s charged with investigating merchants who’ve neglected to pay the kings taxes, and what follows is an engrossing detective story.

While we get to peer into several (but not all) characters minds, with Glokta we get full access. It reminds me of reading some of the best hardboiled novels, especially while Glokta says one thing and thinks quite another. In my mind, Glokta is the hero of this story, even if by appearances he is the least heroic of all the character types.

Apparently there’s a comic book adaptation too. Neat.

Despite his grisly job, I found myself so invested in Glokta, I was able to overlook some of the novels faults. But there are faults. Chapters following Logan’s former band of warriors weren’t that interesting. These characters, along with Ferro, felt like cookie cutter one-dimensional fantasy fair. I think they were included to add extra action scenes, but because I never found myself invested in Dogman or Threetrees and especially not Ferro, when the action came I never really cared what the result was.

Picking on Ferro more, her chapters never felt consequential. She’s a former slave who’s seeking vengeance for what’s been done to her people. She will remind you of that over and over again, often spouting the one liner, “Vengeance!” in case you’re not clear on that point. The only purpose of her chapters is to get her from point A to point B. She inevitably arrives, and it’s a big fat “so what?” If I were the editor here, I’d have fought strongly to have her cut entirely. But who knows, maybe she’ll be important in the next book.

All that said, I never wanted to put the book down. Yes, it sometimes felt aimless, but I was so engrossed in the moment to moment storytelling that I didn’t really care. I was compelled through the narrative, eagerly awaiting the next turn (or Glokta chapter). Yes, sometimes I had to read a Ferro chapter, and I found myself rolling my eyes, but they would end and the story became fantastic again.

So, despite it’s weaknesses, I still give this novel a very high recommendation. It’s one of those stories that feels like more than the some of its parts, and some of the characters were among the most compelling I’ve ever read in fantasy, even if others were not. If you read it, you’ll enjoy it. I’m very much looking forward to the next entry in the series.

Berserk Vol 1 cover

Review of Berserk Vol. 1 by Kentaro Miura

I fell in love with Guts through the 1997 Berserk anime. It’s one of my favorites, and ever since I finally watched it two years ago, I’ve been craving more. The movies were pretty good too, but they followed the same arc. Then came the 2016 show. It was… lacking. But at least it was more Guts (the MC).

You can also read this review on Goodreads.

Scene from Berserk 1997 anime

I wanted more of what I’d seen in the 1997 anime, and I figured the only way to get it was to go to the source material. So I read book one and was surprised to see that it follows the storyline of the 2016 show.

What I liked

It’s fun, albeit a gore-fest. I’m pretty desensitized when it comes to violence in fiction, so the frequent gore didn’t bother me. For the most part, I found myself enjoying the entire read, which took me the better part of an hour.

What I didn’t like

Berserk Vol 1 coverGut’s seems like a very flat character in this book. He kills stuff because he’s badass. He wins fights because he’s strong. He survives inhuman amounts of damage because… I’m not clear on that yet. His motivations aren’t always clear from scene to scene.

**SPOILERS**

Here’s an example, and it’s contains spoilers for the first half of the book. We see him dismantle tens of bandits one scene, and the next he’s confronted by soldiers and just gives up without a fight and let’s himself get tortured. Then he escapes by…. I actually don’t know how he escapes because one scene he’s in prison unable to move on the cell floor and the next he’s suddenly out killin’ dudes. Sooo…

**END SPOILERS**

This was annoying because in the ’97 anime he’s definitely all the attributes I listed above but he’s a much more complex yet internally consistent figure. I assume what happens is Gut’s gains this depth over the course of several books. I’ve heard a few books it the series has a massive jump in quality, so I’m willing to give several more a shot before I make an informed opinion on the manga.

Overall – 3.5/5

I enjoyed aspects of vol. 1, but as a whole it’s flawed and flat. That’s fine when it only takes you an hour to get through the entire book, but I’m hoping for a jump in quality in later volumes.

MY RATING SCALE

5 – Excellent. Either this book was incredibly enjoyable, or I learned something that will improve my own writing.

4 – Fine. The book was pretty good/fun, but was held down by several issues.

3 – Meh. The issues in this book hampered my enjoyment.

2 – Not for me. I didn’t like it, but I can see why other people might.

1 – Not for anyone. I hated it, probably didn’t finish reading, definitely didn’t take the time to write a review.

Note: I don’t write fully negative reviews. Books I don’t like will be given a star rating on Goodreads with no review. As a writer, I don’t want to add my voice to a conversation that might negatively affect another writers income.

 

 

Grim Curio Preview – The Story of How The World Ends

It’s been a while since I shared anything from Grim Curio. There have been some significant updates since the last scene I shared a couple of months back. My dad is about to head out on a three-week business trip for Boeing and before he left he asked if there was anything ready to read yet. So I figure now’s a good time to share something. This one’s for you dad, the first scene from Grim Curio.


Check out this preview of the first scene from Grim Curio. #fantasy #scifi #novel Click To Tweet

 

This is the story of how the world ends. It’s not pretty or even necessary, but it happens and so it will be told. It begins and ends with James, who walks along the narrow empty streets of Refuge, the last city on earth. He breaths through a filter on his mask, the sound rushing in his ears, mingling with his footfalls against the disintegrated road. Black lenses block out his eyes. On either side of him are patchworks of rusted steel walls welded together with thick seams like veins. On some walls, groaning air filtration systems struggle and cough. On others, the systems aren’t more than dead metal boxes, tombstones.

James marches a fixed path toward Grievances with a few ill earned dollars in his pocket. He never set out to con anyone, not originally. But things happen and a guy’s gotta make a buck. Guilt isn’t an emotion he feels anymore, or so he lies to himself, hurrying his pace.

At night, streets are usually empty, so when he passes three figures — each masked, carrying heavy duffel bags — he passes on the far side of the street. The black, emotionless masks follow him as he passes. Before rounding a corner he pauses, looks over his shoulder. They stare intently. What mischief are they up to? Doesn’t matter. Not tonight. Tonight he has only one goal, to drink and forget for a little while. He continues on.

He arrives. A hand drawn sign next to the entrance chamber reads “Grievances”. The last few letters are squished together as the artist ran out of space. Below a smudged charcoal sketch of a masked stability officer pointing a sting box at the viewer has been ineffectively erased.

James knocks against the thick steel door. It clicks. He spins the hatch, pulls it open, and enters. Air is sucked out in a rush and his ears pop. A fine mist coats his clothing for a second, then the next door clicks open. Entering anywhere is always uncomfortable.

The room is dim, the air thick with fungal smoke rising off steel pipes. Sweet sounds of the beautiful Astira Lockhart’s crooning makes James smile. He removes his mask, takes in a deep breath and sighs. Graying stubble, wrinkles around his eyes. He’s not old, but he looks it. Sometimes he feels it. He takes an empty seat, places a couple bucks on the table, and watches Astira sing.

“Drink?”

James nods. A cup of frothy brown wine is set before him. He drinks, savoring the mossy flavor. He listens and time melts. The mild hallucinations make his brown and gray surroundings shimmer at the corners of his eyes.

Mal takes a seat next to him. Light brown-red hair and skin off-white with freckles, and a hawkish nose. She’s cute if you don’t know better. But James knows her, so he tenses and ignores her. She looks at him, savors the discomfort for a second. “Haven’t seen you in a while, James,” she says in a matter of fact way. James nods. “Things must be good for you lately.”

“Yup,” he says humorlessly.

“I bet. Guy with your credibility, you’ll be doing well for yourself by now. Business treating you well?”

James lets the question hang, tries to focus on the way Astira swivels her hips and winks from time to time as she sings, but Mal lingers like a cancer so he turns to her and says, “Is there something you want?”

She smiles, leans back and puffs on her pipe. The smoke is thick, rising to mingle with the rest of the haze. “Solve any doozies lately?” Mal holds a straight face for a few seconds before she snorts. “I have a hot tip for you. I hear North Commune has ghosts. How much do you charge to take care of ghosts?”

“More than you can afford.”

“Ha, I bet.”

“Look, you need something or are you just here to be a nuisance?”

“Yes actually,” she replies. “You owe money to Silke Thomas.”

“So. What’s that got to do with you?”

“A lot actually. Hired me last week to settle his debts. Your name’s on his list. You might be a small fry compared to some of the communes, but you know me. Thorough. Lucky for you I’m off duty. I’ll give you another day before I collect.”

“If?”

“If you buy me a drink.”

James laughs, looks at her sideways. “I’ve got two bucks and change.”

“Put it on the table, I’ll cover the rest.”

James shakes his head, unsure if she’s extorting him or coming on to him. Either way, he’s not in the mood for a fight. He puts the money up, she tosses a couple more dollars down. Wine comes and she raises the glass. Mal talks occasionally, and James answers when prompted, but the conversation is stilted. He can’t remove that barrier he’s built up over the years, that distrust. Eventually she quits and they both just listen to the music with tension between them.

She leaves and James grows agitated. Did he want her to stay? Not really, but he didn’t want her to go either. He downs the last of his wine, then rises, puts on his mask, and exits in a bad mood. Outside, the wind blows, the gusts cut through his jacket. He curses his rotten luck as he walks back in the direction of home. His eyes adjust to the night and soon he see’s them again, three masked figures with duffle bags hovering around the walls of Grievances. They pause, watch him, and this time a shiver runs up his spine. He ignores it, continues on till they’re out of sight.

Then it hits. From a quarter-mile away, James hears the boom! He spins around in time to see the glow, a plumb of smoke. Eyes wide behind his mask, he stumbles, breath caught in his throat. He rushes back to Grievances, see’s the twisted metal, the still standing hatch, rubble strewn about his feet. It’s eerily quiet, only the sound of flames.

He looks for anyone. Beyond the flames, a glint catches his eye, and there they are slinking away. He’s alone with the wreckage, the too afraid to see the bodies inside but he steps forward anyway. He stops short when he realizes what will happen if he’s found here by the officers. Stability must be preserved, the city survives on a knifes edge, and he’ll feel the edge of that knife if he’s implicated with this. He turns and hurries back towards home.

I just read a preview of the first scene from Grim Curio. Check it out! #fantasy #scifi #books Click To Tweet

The Layered Universe

Production Note

I’ve been talking about my novel in progress for a couple of weeks now, and there are some topics that I’ve brought up that need some fleshing out. Grim Curio is a kind of Fantasy/Post Apocalyptic hybrid, so there’s a fair amount of world building in the subtext.

Today I want to talk about one probably the most prominent piece of subtext, The Layered Universe Theory. The Layered Universe is James Bartlebee’s working theory seeking to explain the many phenomena he’s witness through the years.

The Many Layers

The theory states that our reality is actually one of many. These realities exist on a plane stacked on top of each other. The idea of a stack is very important, realities piled up like a deck of cards. In fact, these realities are so tightly stacked that they almost inhabit the same space: often things from one reality can influence the other.

The Veils

Between each layer of reality is a thin substance known as a veil. This matter acts like lubricant between realities, allowing them to coexist without too much friction. Certain actions can put stress on the veil, for example attempting to punch a hole through the universe. As the veil hardens, veil sign is produced.

Veil Sign

Veil sign can be many things, but in all cases it is an observable manifestation of stress on the veil. Often this will appear as a burnt smell or an optical illusion that distorts reality.

Veil Residue

If the veil is stressed enough, the result is veil residue. This is the flaking of the veil where literal flakes of reality will appear in our world as the veil attempts to repair itself.

Base Layers

A base layer is any layer of reality that exists “below” our own. As you travel down the layers, life becomes more primitive. If we were to visit the layer directly beneath our own, the most complex organism would be like the simplest in our reality.

They’re behavior, however, might be incredibly beguiling to us. Some organisms might be driven by an urge to no longer exist, others might invade empty spaces and attempt to build a consciousness into them. There are some, though, the may present a truly great threat to our world with their insatiable drive to multiply. 

Go past the first base layer to the next and what you find will be truly mysterious and unfathomable. The laws of the universe shift as you go down, with forces that behave one way in our layer of reality (like gravity, dark energy, dark matter, etc.) behaving in quiet different, unpredictable ways in another.

Higher Layers

As you might guess, if you were to somehow go up a layer in this stack of universes, organisms get drastically more complex. Consciousness behaves radically different, and a creatures ability to manipulate things like matter, time or space would be considered god-like to us.

James even extends the Layered Universe Theory to include the possibility that gods as we know them live in this layer. Any god who may have affected our world could simply be a being from a higher plane who’s pressed up against the veil and greatly affected our world.

Move up more than one layer, and the complexity will become so great that your mind could not comprehend it.

Concessions

There are some concessions in the Layered Reality Theory. For example, James has only collected evidence of two layers apart from our own. Those may be the only layers in existence, but it’s impossible to say unless we were to visit a layer up or down and seek evidence for the next layer there.

Also, layers beyond our neighbors, if they exist at all, may not continue to follow the pattern of Baser things going down, and greater things going up. No way to know without going there.

Theory’s Acceptance

One thing to remember, this is just a theory proposed by James and it is not widely accepted in the world of Grim Curio. In fact, many groups (such as the Naturalists and the Nihilists) are hostile to this idea because they see it as a threat to their own beliefs. Many scientists scoff at the idea, reasoning that if such layers existed they would have been fully discovered by now.

So that’s the Layered Universe Theory in a nutshell. I love it because it opens up a universe of possibilities for Grim Curio. What’s going to happen when Simon pierces the veil? You’re just going to have to wait and see.

15,000 words written – plus first look at Chapter 1

Its the beginning of my journey: writing my next novel, Grim Curio. It’s been a long time since I released Discovering Aberration, a long time since I’ve really sat down and wrote anything at all. Until recently, that is.

I’ve written 15,000 words towards a new novel, and I’m really excited about it. This is the first time I’ve been really passionate about something since Discovering Aberration and it feels good. It feels right.

So now that I’ve carved a decent chunk out of Grim Curio, I want to do something more than I’ve done before. I want to share as much as I can about the entire writing process. I’ll share critique ready chapters, change logs, and production notes.

  • Critique ready chapters – as I write, I share my writing with other writers to get their feedback on a subreddit called /r/DestructiveReaders. I share it via a Google Doc and they leave comments in the margin, as well as write full, in depth critiques. I’ll share these with you too. Because why not.
  • Change Logs – I’ll make these more interesting than the sound. These’ll be short posts that explain some of the changes I make to sections of the story, and may explain why I made those changes.
  • Production Notes – These can be plot points I’m thinking about, characters I’m developing, or it can be something as like describing an image I have in my head that I’d like to add to the story.

That’s it really. Feel free to be a part of the process. I’d love to hear what you think of this idea, as well as feedback on the writing itself.

First critique ready chapter

To top off the beginning of this journey, I’ve got something for you already. Below is a link to the first critique ready segment of Grim Curio. The first link goes to the reddit post where I received feedback. The second goes directly to the google doc. The response has been great and the feedback is intensely in depth. Crazy how deep we writers go to craft something you’ll enjoy.

So here it is. Intro to content and critiques here: Grim Curio – Chapter 1 Part 1 (3521 words) Or just skip to the google doc and read it.

I’ve already made major changes to this portion of the book, which I’ll discuss and share in my next post.