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Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie is a rising star in the Black Fantasy genre or, to be artsy fartsy, Fantasy Noir. One recent reviewer (George R.R. Martin, as a matter of fact) brought back the word splatterpunk*, which was used for an edgy type of horror story back in the 80s. His works are filled with anti-heroes, evil sociopaths, entertaining madmen, naive poseurs, greedy merchants, religious fanatics, and the rest of us cowardly, inoffensive folk who would simply like to go about our business in relative safety, but are forced at times to make the hard choice between being good and being alive.

When you are writing gore-filled stories in chillingly graphic detail, drenched in blood and guts, unsavory sexual practices, and, most appallingly, human nature stripped to the bone and bared unflinchingly to the eye, it is most important to sprinkle large, very large, amounts of humor throughout - a skill that seems to come as naturally to Abercrombie as breathing.

I find two of Joe's other talents especially endearing. By the way, let's just make it a given here that Joe Abercrombie is a top-notch, top-tier fantasy writer. He is most definitely on my "A list", along with less (far less) than ten other writers. He must be read. Do it now. No, wait, scroll down this page so you can jot down the order. I read him out of order at first, and you know how annoying that turns out to be.

Anyhoo, back to Joe's special talents. Firstly, he understands that none of us understand ourselves. One of the most amusing themes throughout his novels is the characters' complete lack of self-knowledge and the total disconnect between how they see themselves and how others see them. His insight is particularly acute in pinpointing how those without a true moral compass rationalize their actions, and how the guilt-ridden so often underestimate their positive impact on the people surrounding them. More subtly, Abercrombie is able to dig deeper into how our own self-images will reflect how others see us, even when those others are quite wrong. His understanding of human psychology, self-communication, and miscommunication is acute and his ability to write that understanding produces rich and subtle characters that will live in your head forever.

Another short digression: Abercrombie's characters are such that, while reading each new book, his readers tend to involuntarily emit squeals of delight when one shows up in a new or unexpected place. When such character is forced to use an alias, guessing correctly (and immediately) who they are provides enough joyful entertainment to last an entire lunch hour.

The second of Joe Abercrombie's special talents is the ability to drive readers absolutely mad with geography. I believe wholeheartedly that he does this on purpose. As a joke. As another jab at the conventionalities of the fantasy genre. Because most of us fantasy readers have this thing about maps. Personally, I dote on maps. Must have map. Must refer to map. Now, Abercrombie provides no maps for the first five books. In his sixth book, Red Country, there is a map. A map guaranteed to have you pulling the hair right out of your head. All Joe's book are set in the same world. People travel about. One tries vainly to get a picture in one's head of what the world looks like. Impossible. He cheats. This is a man who will base entire books on a region where there is a North and a South. Bisected by a river that runs north and south. Which, logically, makes North east and South west. You see what I mean? And I swear, he does this purposefully and with great glee.

So, if I ever meet Joe Abercrombie, I will be torn between shaking his hand and slapping his face. Since I'm a miserable coward, who has never committed a truly violent act in my life, I'm pretty certain I will shake his hand and say, "Mr. Abercrombie, you are a wonderful writer. Will you please sign this book?" Sigh. I'm completely craven and predictable. At least, I think I am.

Following is a bibliography of Joe Abercrombie's novels to date. He does other things, of course, and has a family, and is good-looking, and is really obscenely gifted overall. If you want to know about that stuff, you can go to his site at Joe Abercrombie. But, as far as I'm concerned, it's the books that matter.

*For more on splatterpunk, includes authors in the movement, so have your eReader at the ready.
Joe Abercrombie Bibliography

Joe Abercrombie's first three books comprise a trilogy called, appropriately enough, The First Law Trilogy. We are here introduced to Abercrombie's world through the Union (picture a Union Jack if you must), with much of the action taking place in Adua, the Union's capitol city. An expanding empire, bent on annexation and colonization, it comprises several once-independant countries such as Midderland and Starikland. They have recently expanded into Anglund, though the Northmen are proving troublesome. Don't let the names fool you. Really, don't. They are meant only to confuse and annoy and, as mentioned above, have nothing to do with Abercrombie's geography.

While not a particularly religious empire, the Union has a very fine and very well-financed Inquisition. Their goal is to root out treasonous activity against the Crown, currently worn by a fat, doddering old man suffering from extreme dementia. Their methods are pretty much what you would expect. The Arch Lector is a member of the Closed Council (a privy council), in ardent political battle with other members for control of the Union and its King. There is also an Open Council, basically a House of Lords (Abercrombie is British, after all). When votes must come before this Open Council, the Arch Lector and his counterparts pull out all stops to bribe and/or blackmail their way to power.

Aside from internal politics and the unrest in Anglund, the Union is faced with imminent threat from their arch-enemy, the Empire. Vaguely southern, very religious in a monotheistic way, and ever-expanding, the Empire is threatening Dagoska, a trade city connected to their mainland by a thin peninsula, while yet a Union territory (Corinth? sigh. One can't help it).
The Blade Itself
The Blade Itself
The Blade Itself (First Law Trilogy Book 1) - 2006
by Joe Abercrombie

Logen Ninefingers, a Northman with a bloody repute, is separated from his comrades during a battle against the Shanka and presumed dead. In turn, he believes them dead and begins making his way to safety on his own. He is intercepted by an apprentice magus working for the great Bayaz, First of the Magi. Bayaz recruits his services, for purpose unknown, and they journey to Adua, where Bayaz begins vetting a team for a journey he plans to the far reaches of the known world. Meanwhile, we spend time getting to know a shallow and self-centered young army captain, Jezal, who is training for an annual swordsmanship competition. Winning this contest will look very good on his resume. In addition to these charming characters, we meet Inquisitor Glokta, one of the Arch Lector's most effective questioners and, by far, the wittiest and most intelligent. Who is Bayaz? Does he really possess magic? What is he up to in Adua? Enquiring minds on the Closed Council want to know. On behalf of the Arch Lector, Glokta must find out.
Before They Are Hanged
Before They Are Hanged
Before They Are Hanged (The First Law Trilogy Book 2) - 2007
by Joe Abercrombie

The Union is facing the prospect of a two-front war. In the North, Bethod has invaded Anglund. Just as Jezal is preparing to embark with his friends, he is pulled from the ship to accompany Bayaz, Logen, and Ferro on a lengthy journey across the Old Empire to retrieve an artifact that Bayaz plans to use against Khalul and his flesh-eaters. We follow the Northern campaign through Collem West and our Northern friends. Meanwhile, Glokta is despatched to Dagoska to investigate the disappearance of his predecessor. Once there, he finds himself forced to oversee preparations for an imminent seige by the Gurkish Empire, coordinating efforts with the Union forces, the Spicer's trade guild, the native Dagoskans, and a group of mercenaries under the command of Nicomo Cosca.
Last Argument of Kings
Last Argument of Kings
Last Argument of Kings (The First Law Trilogy Book 3) - 2008
by Joe Abercrombie

Back in Adua, the new king endures his tutelage under Bayaz, while the Closed Council continues its machinations to gain power and influence over the crown. The Gurkish invasion is met with force, including some help from the North, while Bayaz prepares for his own battle with the flesh-eaters. While not particularly satisfying to some readers on an emotional level, Abercrombie ties up his plot lines. A new era of leadership, perhaps more capable than the last, reigns in the Union. As in real life, some people prosper and some don't, either due to their effort and capabilities or to chance. That's how life is. Abercrombie is nothing if not realistic and practical. Personally, I found the ending satisfying and in keeping with the characters and the story. Overall, this trilogy was good for a first effort, but not as good as the following novels. He is a young writer and is improving with time.
Best Served Cold
Best Served Cold
Best Served Cold - 2009
by Joe Abercrombie

The Heroes
The Heroes
The Heroes - 2011
by Joe Abercrombie

Red Country
Red Country
Red Country - 2012
by Joe Abercrombie