The world shown in this book is a very traditional fantasy setting with swords and (some) sorcery, although magic has faded away over the years to where most people remember it only as a fairytale told to children. The story revolves around a number of different people, but the primary character is a man named Logan Ninefingers, a battle-hardened mercenary from the northern lands with a brutal and bloody past. He becomes separated from the rest of his band of fellow mercenaries and journeys alone to the south where he eventually meets a man named Bayaz, the First of the Magi and the most powerful wielder of magic alive on the planet. Travelling together they head for the grand city of Adua, which becomes the focus for the rest of the story, and the gathering point for most of the other characters.
There’s also a man named Sand Dan Glokta, a former golden boy of the military, one of the nobility’s best fencers and destined for greatness. Until the enemy captured him during the last war and spent the next 2 years torturing him and turning him into a broken, bitter shell of a man. Nowadays he works as one of the more effective members of the inquisition, squeezing information out of criminals and wrongdoers, making them confess their crimes (depending on the wishes of the head of said inquisition). He’s become a very bitter man over the years, lost both his friends and family, and the only solace left to him is the idea of revenge on those that have wronged him over the years.
There are more characters than these which the story follows, but these two end up standing out the most in this book. The story is fairly standard, a large expansive kingdom satiated on wealth and other expensive indulgences, a neighbouring country beginning the stirrings of a long war, an old empire defeated long ago, looking for the chance to strike back and a mysterious and terrifying group of magic users with unknown motivations. Like I said, fairly standard stuff, but it’s just written so damn well that you never notice. And although Magic is rarely seen in this world, when but it is used the scenes are so well-written that you’re left in awe.
I can’t help but draw comparisons with the Liveship Traders series, the other traditional fantasy series I started to read earlier this year. While the Liveship Traders series had an incredibly imaginative and original world setting with somewhat flat characters this was pretty much the opposite. The world itself was interesting enough, but it fell firmly into the “generic fantasy” setting. The characters on the other hand practically jumped out of the pages. Considering that there were so many of them I’m amazed at how well this was done. One character (and his 5 companions) only appeared in 3 chapters, yet even then you can tell that a lot of work’s been put into them. Certainly, the world as a whole may feel fairly generic, but then how many other great fantasy books differ from this formula? Another reason which strikes me when comparing this to the Liveship Traders is that the first Book, The Ship of Magic, took over 400 pages to set up the story before finally starting up. The Blade Itself though, hits the ground running, before gradually slowing to a gentle jog as the scene is set for the rest of the trilogy. It’s arguable which of this is better, but this time around I preferred this far more. Looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy once the year is out.