Book Review | The First Law by Joe Abercrombie | A GrimDark Fantasy Series

By Book Reviews
The Atlantis Project New Book Reviews by Jake Parrick

The Authors Summary:

The First Law

“Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

The First Law by Joe Ambercrombie A GrimDark Military Fantasy Series

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.


Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.


Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.”



Favorite quote: “Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.” –Logan Nine Fingers

If that isn’t a nugget of true wisdom I don’t know what is.

I’m a little late to this party. I’ve been hearing for years how great The First Law is and what a great author Joe Abercrombie is. I finally read The Blade Itself and wow. I couldn’t put it down, and then had to go out and buy the other two in the The First Law series. All three are marvelous.

First thing of note…the action scenes are bloody and vivid in their detail. It’s refreshing to read a chaotic action scene and actually know what’s going on and be able to picture it in my mind as well be able to feel the fear, anger, and rage that the character is feeling.

The First Law by Joe Ambercrombie A GrimDark Military Fantasy Series

The story starts like every good story should…with a little chaos. The world building is short and to the point, and you are quickly placed into the story and the world that the story is built in.

There is depth to each of the main characters and there were times when I loved and hated each of them at different points throughout the story. I’m not going to give away any spoilers but I will give a quick example to how the characters can be dynamic and a little contradictory, just like real humans: Logan Nine fingers is a barbarian warrior and he fits many of the stereo-types that we think about when we think of barbarians, but there are deeper aspects to him. We sometimes see the man that he is and the man that he wants to be. He can be brutal and violent one moment, and then quiet and thoughtful the next. The differences can be stark and jarring. We see him as a natural leader, capable of a great deal of patience, and the linchpin that holds a very dissimilar group together—this is the man that he wants to be. He becomes the man that he wants to be and then is thrown into the world of his past and the new man reverts into the old man—the man that he doesn’t want to be.

Then there is his alter-ego: The Bloody Nine. I was tempted to write a little about him, I find him fascinating, but I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read it.

When I started reading The First Law series I was expecting dark and grim fantasy, the book delivered that expectation but with a few surprises. Tragedy, bloodshed, and warfare…delivered in a surprising light tone.

There were quite a few places where I couldn’t help but laugh at something one of the characters said or did. They feel real. What I mean by that: The characters have real emotions. Some day’s suck and others don’t. So often in fantasy, a characters life sucks throughout the story, all the time, and their emotions reflect that—all the time. We don’t see that here. For all the darkness that happens in this series, the tragic things that happen to the characters—there are rays of light piecing the darkness. Life can be grim at times…there is evil in our own real world. That’s what makes grimdark fantasy so compelling to many of us, if anything, the darkness we see is the most real part of the fantasy story. I think what many grimdark fantasy authors forget though, is that darkness can’t exist without light. This is something Joe Ambercrombie obviously understands. Even evil people have their moments of compassion. Even the most downtrodden among us have moments of hope, and good things can happen to people who have lost everything and can only expect to lose more. The reverse of that is also true, bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it.

I think these things make The First Law more real and more interesting than other grimdark fantasy novels that I’ve read. The tragedies that happen in this story are just a part of the lives of the characters. It feels natural in the way its unfolded, rather than a bunch of sad dots on a board that the author feels the need to connect.

The story itself is well written and well-paced, with complex plots that the author expertly stitches together. There were a few places where I had to put the book down and just think about what had happened. It’s always a pleasure when your reading a book and a piece of the puzzle is revealed and everything just kind of clicks, this is especially true when you weren’t even aware that a piece of the puzzle was missing.

The only complaint I have is the ending between two of the characters. (No Spoiler). I won’t go into detail…but I would have wished for something different. Don’t misunderstand me, the series has a good ending, and even makes sense, in the context of the story. And by good I mean grim, of course lol. It just wasn’t what I was expecting, which is strange since this is grim fantasy.

I loved it and hope you do too. You can pick up a copy on Amazon.

If you are already a fan of the series or want to read more, you can check out the wikia for the series.


To aspiring writers of fantasy.


I would definitely recommend a study of his work. Joe Abercrombie’s blog also has a few nuggets of wisdom for us.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, you can find my blog here.

This was a review of The First Law by Joe Abercrombie | Reviewed by Jake Parrick