Both Sides of the Coin

August 5th, 2009

More opinions on my writing pour out into the ether with every exhalation, it sometimes seems, and some over the last few weeks from notable sources too. We begin with a review from Lisa Tuttle in no less historic organ than The Times:

“Joe Abercrombie is probably the brightest star among the new generation of British fantasy writers”

Probably? How dare you, madam?

“Abercrombie never underestimates the horrors that people are prepared to inflict on one another, or their longlasting, often unexpected, consequences. I am not the target audience for this sort of story but it hooked me. Abercrombie writes a vivid, well-paced tale that never loosens its grip. His action scenes are cinematic in the best sense, and the characters are all distinct and interestingly different.”

Closely followed by a review from Time magazine’s book critic and geek supremo Lev Grossman:

“Abercrombie writes dark, adult fantasy, by which I mean there’s a lot of stabbing in it, and after people stab each other they sometimes have sex with each other. His tone is morbid and funny and hard-boiled, not wholly dissimilar to that of Iain Banks … Like Fritz Leiber he has a gift for describing hand to hand combat — you can see in your head where the blades are going, what is clanging off what, the sweat, the blood, the banter. And like George R. R. Martin Abercrombie has the will and the cruelty to actually kill and maim his characters … Volumetrically speaking, it’s hard to think of another fantasy novel in which this much blood gets spilled.”

There you go. I am like all the best bits of Iain Banks, Fritz Leiber, and George RR Martin combined. Honest. Lev Grossman says so, so it is fact. I’m reading his book at the moment, as it goes, and muchly enjoying it, of which more in due course. Best Served Cold has also been perused by the star of Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, The Guild, and much more, Felicia Day, also a connoiseur of all things geekly, who tweets:

“OMG Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold is out today and its great! LOVE his “First Law” Trilogy. Hard-edged, gritty fantasy at its best!”

Seems like a throwaway line, but I am shocked to be informed that whenever she twitters it reaches over a million people. That is some internet muscle right there. Probably that’s more people even than my blog reaches, if you can believe it.

But it’s not all champagne and oysters over here, oh no. I have always undertaken to provide the world with both sides of the coin, the rough with the smooth, the bad reviews with the good, and so to a consideration of The First Law trilogy from Jonathan Goodwin, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. I will quote its searing conclusion:

“A book, presumably written during this decade, which seems to specifically invoke various doctrines of power and the exercise thereof, and which prominently features torture, might be said to be a political allegory malgre lui. To extend this would take me to into the type of quasi-Zizekianism that I warded away earlier; but I think it’s there. I hear echoes of the Drurian Strauss in some of the discussions of power and (not to) the people, and what popular revolt there is in the novel is eaten or led by the Eater. Vaguely pregnant with meaning, this.”

Oh, man, he made mincemeat of me! Or, at least, he might have, if I had the foggiest clue what the hell he was talking about.

Posted in reviews by Joe Abercrombie on August 5th, 2009. Tags:

17 comments so far

  • innokenti says:

    Good going Joe! I'm preparing a review of Best Served Cold now that I have finished reading it (my start having been delayed by every devilry imaginable). I assure you that it will not be short of praise.

    On a more amusing note, I was in Waterstone's today and glanced upon one of those 'I love this book' thingies they have. It was under your book, 'The Blade Itself'. I though 'excellent' and proceeded to read it… whereupon it informed me that the author of this little note absolutely loved this book, that was a fantastic sequel to your debuting 'Before They Are Hanged'…

    Oh how I laughed. If they're going to be lying, they should at least try to get the verifiable facts right.

    Mind you, it's great to see your book linger around the Charts and Bestseller bookshelves of big booksellers like Borders and Waterstone's – it undoubtedly deserves to be there, not only as a fantastic book, but as an ambassador of fantasy. Yeah. Ambassador of the whole genre. How's that for you?

  • Jonathan says:

    By "Marcusian," I was referring to Aurelius, not Herbert Marcuse, if that clarifies things.

    There are some discussions of political philosophy in the books, and they sound to me reminiscent of Shadia Drury's sinister reading of Leo Strauss, which emerged as an explanation of the behavior of the Bush administration during this decade. Together with the heavy (gratuitious?) use of torture in the books, this would seem to imply at least the possibility of a political allegory.

    Not all allegories are conscious, however, and Zizek has often used a strange version of Lacanian psychoanalysis to read the "political unconscious," so to speak, of various works. I feel the symbolic economy of the Eaters would play into such a reading, if you were going to do one.

    I hope that's less obscure, and it wasn't my intention to make "mincemeat" of your books. I did buy and read all three of them, after all.

  • Anonymous says:

    What? Less obscure? More obscure is more like. Bush administration? Methinks he reads what he wants to read into the story and find links to material and people from his own American slanted sphere of influence and view of the world, which is nice and all, but never the original intention. But with names like Zizek and Lacanian, which sound as if they belong in a fantasy world anyway, I think he must have made up the whole thing to taunt you!

  • David Wagner says:

    Just about finished with BSC myself. A fun, meaty read. I've been pondering some of your choices, as far as what happens at points, but the way you tell what happens is top notch. Congrats. You deserve every accolade you receive.

  • haHAha, Hell I am from america and I don't have a clue what he is saying(lol) Sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles? Maybe he is just trying to be a Big-word gunslinger?

  • enjai says:

    That coin you have is heavily worn on one side as the only way I can make it out as tails is because the other side is heads 🙂

    Maybe the guy was scared you would take offense if you understood him?

  • Susanne says:

    Haha, yeah, Felicia Day loves you. She also reviewed it on goodreads, with 5/5 stars. I won't tell you what the review says, though, so your head won't explode.

    Anyway, well done!

  • Anonymous says:

    I still don't get it.

    Isn't BSC about about the internal struggles of contempory British modern dance?

    That how I read it.


  • Colin Meier says:

    Contemporary British modern dance as contrasted with classical ballet and the prevalence of symbolic AK-47 iconography in animated interpretations of "Peter And The Wolf" since 1976.

    Now that's obvious.

  • Anonymous says:


    Goes without saying.


  • Noel says:

    Loved a Dish Best Served Cold, Joe.
    Went and started re-reading the First Law trilogy and am picking up the characters that played supporting roles or were merely metioned in passing that starred in ' Served Cold.
    If I was going to draw references, I'd say Dave Gemmell meets George RR Martin, with a very British dose of dark irony.

    Lucky for me, as both are my favourite authors.

  • Nikst says:

    hahaha, at the end of the last review (the negative one) I was thinking exactly the same thing as you Joe "What the hell is he talking about?!" I honestly couldn’t understand what he was trying to say =P

  • Davinrad says:

    Marcus Aurelius was one of the few Roman Emperors who actually saw beyond endless greed and war towards philosophical endeavours, in a world where Roman greed amd self-assured moral nepotism was widely accepted.

    So in that respect, he's complimenting you.

  • Alec says:

    First Law of Reading Reviews (pun intended):

    Never read any with French words in them, as the author is too busy looking down her nose to care what she is actually saying. Anything with swear words in it should be given extra consideration.

  • There is, of course an old saying.

    "Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach."

    Jonathan Goodwin would do well to note that he clearly doesn't know what the fuck he is talking about.

  • Isis says:

    That Johnathan Goodwin quote is fabulous. I think I may feel another t-shirt coming on. 🙂

  • I've already given Best Served Cold a rave review at my blog, but since I'm here let me tell you, Joe, that BSC is quite possibly my favorite fantasy book of the decade. I'm something of an old school fantasy reader, Fritz Leiber, Mike Moorcock, and Robert E. Howard being my top guys with some Karl Edward Wagner thrown in and you seem to have more in common with those writers than any of the elf boys. Have you read Wagner by the way? Think you'd appreciate his hero-villain Kane. Anyway, I'll be reading the First Law Trilogy soon. Looking forward to it.

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