Sunday, June 14, 2009

6/14/09 Running Commentary on The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

I'm almost finished with this novel and wanted to record some thoughts. I find that daily writing about what I'm reading sharpens my perceptiveness and prevents me from saying embarrasing and stupid things in reviews (uhm, yeah, I remember the part where Frodo, Sam and Pippin have dinner at Farmer Maggots, sure do. Just because I failed to mention it in a review doesn't mean I didn’t' remember it. That one took a lot of creativity to get out of). There are spoiler's here and I don’t feel the tiniest bit guilty about it. I see this blog as more of a reader's journal that is made open for those who want to share and compare. I just wish I had thought of the idea of daily posting commentaries on what I read before I actually started this book. One of my professors used to say that reading without written reflection is like sex without the orgasm. You can have a fun old time doing it but you're missing out on the complete experience. (I think she might have had issues, she used this joke a lot)

I'm at the part of the book where Glotka, Jezal, Bayaz, and Logen are standing before the Maker's tower. They've just inserted the lock into the door and its working. The lock of runes is spinning like a roulette wheel gone insane and even the cynical Glotka can't help but wonder what's next. Intriguing place to stop I know but I have papers that needed grading. I wonder sometimes why it is that other people' education so often interferes with my own. Society expects me as a teacher to be well read and well spoken but never seems to want to allow me the time to pursue these things.

I like the characters, I like the story, I also like the cynical and smart assed handling of it all. In the interviews I've seen on Abercrombie he cites George R R Martin as an influence. And I can see it. The heroes are trying save a world in which the wealthy and affluent don’t really give a shit. They could care less whether the world is destroyed as long as they hold on to power.
If there were one overriding theme of the fantasy novels that I've read this past year I would say the theme of holding on to power for the sake of power itself seems to be a major one. Beauracratic monopolies on power that are based on privilige and wealth rather than talent, ability and a solid work ethic are a central concern to most fantasy novelists. Brandon Sanderson uses this in Elantris and the Mistborn books. Patrick Rothfuss does it in The Name of the Wind, with sometimes nail biting and teeth gnashing results. Martin of course is a master at it. The barbarians are at the gate and all Cersei cares about is getting the oafish and disgusting Joffrey on the throne.

Whence comes this? Methinks we need look no farther than Messers. Bush, Cheney and company. True, beauracracies have always been with us but since when have they been this lethal, self centered and downright inept(FEMA, 911, the Iraq War, Gitmo).

Still, Abercrombie handles it well. One of the differences I've noticed between this series and Martin's series is that A Song of Ice and Fire tends to focus on characters that are the center of power. There are minor characters but they are seldom peasants or even small land owners. Most of the characters are in some way or other among the major players for power and the throne.

In Abercrombie's book though, and granted, I'm only partway through it, the characters exist on the periphery of the central power locations. Jezal is nobility but has a snowball's chance in hell of gaining a throne, and would hardly know what to do with it if he attained it. The only thing on his mind is getting laid and fencing. Logan knows too much about power politics and is sick of that life. He wants nothing to do with power but is close enough to it that he is understands the inner workings of the barbarians power systems. Though here too he is unlikely to ever gain complete control, should he even desire it. Glotka is in too much pain to want control, and is unpopular enough that he will be continaully passed over for it. Out of all the characters his world weariness is most paplable. And Bayaz. Well, he seems to already be in power, but only in the wizard or cleric way. He handles power differently than the court officials and nobility. He uses it for a purpose, to keep peace, for protection, to serve. He does not seek to eliminate those who pose a threat to him.

If I have one criticism of the book so far it’s the myth system requires checking and rechecking to understand. J.A. seems to have a healthy fear of info dumping but I think he takes it to an extreme. I think readers will tolerate info dumping or even a glossary so they can be clear on what the mythic allusions the characters discuss constantly are about. He does do a good job as an author as making the mythic references embedded in the dialogue and internal monologue of the characters. But with so much else going on in the story it becomes tedious to flip back through the book to find the conversation which explans for example, just who juvens is and what the maker did.

I think of J.K. Rowling and how she never had a glossary but also she had written the books for a character who is learning about his world from the start. Each new piece of info he gets on his world and his story is part of the narrative, the narrative of his education in the wizarding world.

That, and there were dozens of websites devoted to the background info.

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