The First Law

Man, it has been a while since I reviewed a book that wasn’t a comic on here… but there is reason for that: I’ve been slogging through Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy (one, two, three).

Initially, I was going to review each book separately, but then I got to the end of the first book.  I enjoyed it, I liked what I had read, but it really felt like a good start and not a full book.  So I had a hunch, and rather than my usual running off to a new book and coming back to the second book later, I decided to run through all three.  These are big(ish) books, and I’m a slow reader anyway… but I finally did it, and now…

I really want to give this book a high rating.  Notice, I said book and not trilogy.  That’s because this trilogy reads more like a single book broken into three parts instead of three complete stories that work as part of a larger arc.  By the end of the first book you have been introduced to the characters and the world and the politics and wars and history and everything, and a number of exciting things has happened, but all those things don’t add up to anything satisfying.  Nothing is really resolved in the first book.  The second book is more of the same, and I mean that in both good and bad ways.  More people, more events, but the only real events that occur are one expected failure and one unexpected failure.  The second book did seem more rounded than the first, but it still left me wanting.  Not wanting for more, but wanting for the book to have meant something.  The third book reads like a good third act.  All the people and places coming crashing back together and lots of things coming to an end.

Overall, this trilogy would, in my opinion, benefit from some heavy editing, trimming this story down to one novel, or perhaps two.  I get the feeling that maybe the author had an idea and decided he wanted it to be a trilogy and fleshed the story out until it was.  A number of chapters could easily be cut, others trimmed and combined, and perhaps even the world itself could have been shrunk just a tad in order for the author not to feel like he needed to illustrate just how long certain journeys were.  I suppose my complaint is the same that I have for the Lord of the Rings, The First Law is like a travelogue.  We walk the world and are shown everything, but seeing that seminal work of fiction trimmed down to under 9 hours of script without losing one bit of the magic of the original, I think The First Law could be just as good at half the length.

That said, I look forward to read more by Joe Abercrombie.  The main reason for this is that after finishing this trilogy I thoroughly despise most of his characters, and yet I found myself rooting for them.  That is something hard to do, in my opinion.  To craft character that are not only flawed but flat out wrong and still get the reader to want them to survive, to be redeemed even when the character themselves is seeking no redemption.  I find myself having imaginary conversations with the author, “Hey, I really want to like this guy, could you please stop making him do horrible things?”

Anyway… would I recommend these books?  I would, maybe not to everyone, but to people who like a good well crafted world akin to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and are willing to put up with one story being told in three books and 1,500 pages.


  1. I actually got the first book as a christmas gift a few years back, but haven’t found the time to get into it, so I thank you for your review and perspective.

    Everyone wants to write something EPIC. They want it to be confusing and long. Half the time, you’ve not gotten to the meat of the story till book 2 or 3 in a 10 book series. Take Robert Jordan for instance, his Wheel of time series is fantastic, except it takes forever for anything to happen. Did you know that it takes 3 books before a year in the story line has passed? Still, great series, except I got lost somewhere around book 5 or 6 and haven’t picked it back up for fear that I’ll have to re read all the previous books just to catch up. Mr. Goodkind is another example. Great idea for the first 3 books, which is where it should have ended, but oh no, it has to be epic so it goes on and on. kind of like this post. lol

    The point is, a wonderful story can be told in as few as 250 pages or less. Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman come to mind. Excellent story tellers, but each story only takes one book, then they move on. I just don’t understand why so much has to be salad is include in a story these days when all we are there for is the steak?

  2. I loved these books bigtime, but you make some valid points. I never thought about it in that way, but you’re right…it’s not a trilogy. The first book especially is so clearly an introduction – we meet everybody and at the end the journey is about to begin. I also do think some of the travel chapters could have been cut – there were some really pointless ones that felt like filler actually.

    But all that aside, I thought this was an amazing, exciting piece of writing. The gritty realism, the incredible twists and turns (well…3rd book only), the great depictions of physical action and the fascinating characters were great. But what really got me was the totally grey morality – it wasn’t good vs. evil. There is a lot to discuss there…especially the last few chapters. And the characters: in old-school fantasy they were good guys, period. Later, we saw character development – bad or questionable characters becoming heroes. But I thought this was even more realistic as characters made progress, backslid, or improved but were slammed by fate. Or they changed but it simply didn’t matter.

    I think if you scored each book individually and separately, the average would just be okay. But if you score it as a novel split into three parts, I think it’s great.

    Oh man…I can go on about this all day as you can tell. Actually I did a review over here at my blog Always Go Right.

  3. The only caution I have for recommending the books is that caveat about it being one big story. As much as book one is introduction, book three is almost nothing but payoff. I know many people who would never get through the first book though because it is so much of nothing really happening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *