Joe Abercrombie hailed as a master of modern fantasy, has crafted immersive worlds steeped in gritty realism and complex moralities. His character-driven narratives are known for their grim-dark style, evoking vividly realized settings and memorable personalities.
From his renowned “First Law” trilogy to standalone novels and series in the same universe, Abercrombie’s work is engrossing, thrilling, and compelling. This blog post aims to guide both new and seasoned readers through Abercrombie’s oeuvre, detailing the best reading order to fully appreciate the depth of his world-building and character arcs.
Prepare to delve into a realm of gripping intrigue, ruthless power struggles, and unforgiving justice.
Do you need to read “The Blade Itself” first?
While Joe Abercrombie’s works can technically be read as standalone novels, it is generally recommended to start with “The Blade Itself,” the first book in the “First Law” trilogy. This novel lays the foundation for Abercrombie’s universe, introducing readers to key characters and the intricate political and social dynamics of the realm.
Joe Abercrombie Books in Order of Publication:
1. The First Law Trilogy
- “The Blade Itself” (2006)
- “Before They Are Hanged” (2007)
- “Last Argument of Kings” (2008)
2. Standalone Novels in the First Law Universe
- “Best Served Cold” (2009)
- “The Heroes” (2011)
- “Red Country” (2012)
3. The Shattered Sea Trilogy
- “Half a King” (2014)
- “Half the World” (2015)
- “Half a War” (2015)
4. The Age of Madness Trilogy
- “A Little Hatred” (2019)
- “The Trouble With Peace” (2020)
- “The Wisdom of Crowds” (2021)
The First Law Series in Chronological Order:
The chronological order of the First Law Series remains the same as the publication order. The standalone novels follow after the initial trilogy but occur in different locations and feature different characters, though some familiar faces make appearances.
Are there any adaptations of Joe Abercrombie’s books?
There were no film or television adaptations of Joe Abercrombie’s books His intricate, character-driven narratives would certainly lend themselves to compelling adaptations, but the decision to do so ultimately lies with the author and potential production companies.
The First Law Trilogy:
“The Blade Itself” (2006):
“The Blade Itself” introduces us to a richly detailed fantasy world teeming with complex characters. We meet Inquisitor Glokta, a tortured man turned torturer, whose cynicism is as sharp as his interrogation tools. Then there’s the infamous barbarian, Logen Ninefingers, also known as the Bloody-Nine, haunted by his violent past and seeking redemption.
And finally, Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a vain and self-obsessed nobleman, who’d rather be fencing than get embroiled in political intrigue. Their paths cross in a realm on the brink of war, as they grapple with personal demons, political machinations, and dark magic.
Quick Fact: This first installment lays the groundwork for an epic narrative brimming with brutal battles, gritty realism, and Abercrombie’s signature morally gray characters.
“Before They Are Hanged” (2007):
The second book in the First Law Trilogy, “Before They Are Hanged,” finds our protagonists in dire straits. Glokta, relegated to the city of Dagoska, must defend it from the Gurkish forces laying siege while navigating dangerous political waters.
Logen, Jezal, and the wizard Bayaz embark on a perilous quest to the ends of the world, facing trials that test their characters to the limit. Meanwhile, the Northmen prepare for a massive battle against the invading southern king.
Abercrombie expands his universe and delves deeper into the hearts of his characters, showcasing their development amidst a backdrop of war, intrigue, and adventure.
“Last Argument of Kings” (2008):
The trilogy concludes with “Last Argument of Kings,” an epic finale filled with climactic battles, plot twists, and deep revelations. Glokta finds himself in the capital, utilizing his ruthless skills to unravel a conspiracy that threatens the realm. Jezal, forever changed by his journey, must step up to responsibilities he never desired. Logen thrust into the brutal politics of the Northmen, must decide what kind of man he wants to be – a hero or a killer.
Abercrombie masterfully ties together multiple narrative threads, delivering a conclusion that is both satisfying and thought-provoking, revealing the deep-seated corruption and moral ambiguities of his world.
Standalone Novels in the First Law Universe:
“Best Served Cold” (2009):
Set in Styria, a continent rife with bloody feuds and opportunistic mercenary companies, “Best Served Cold” follows the story of Monza Murcatto. Once a feared mercenary leader, Monza is betrayed and left for dead by her employer, Grand Duke Orso. Miraculously, she survives and vows revenge against those who wronged her.
Assembling a motley crew of killers and rogues, including a poisoner, a convict, a drunkard, and a Northman with a past as bloody as her own, Monza embarks on a path of vengeance that leaves no room for mercy or conscience.
In his fourth novel, Abercrombie delivers a gripping tale of revenge and redemption, exploring the cost of vengeance and the destructive cycle it engenders.
“The Heroes” (2011):
“The Heroes” takes us back to the North, the setting for much of the First Law Trilogy, where a massive battle unfolds over three tumultuous days. The story focuses on both sides of the conflict, giving readers an insight into the minds of generals, soldiers, and civilians caught in the throes of war.
Abercrombie deconstructs the glorified notion of war and heroes through the experiences of characters like Bremer Dan Gorst, a disgraced royal bodyguard seeking redemption, and Craw, a practical Northman fighting for his people. This novel is a deep and nuanced exploration of war, power, glory, and the human cost of conflict.
“Red Country” (2012):
Abercrombie takes a turn towards the Western genre in “Red Country.” Shy South, a young woman trying to escape her past, finds her peaceful life shattered when her home is burned, and her brother and sister kidnapped.
Forced into a brutal and lawless frontier, Shy embarks on a journey of rescue and revenge, joined by her stepfather Lamb, a man with a violent past he’s trying to forget. As they venture deeper into the unforgiving wilderness, encountering mercenaries, exiles, and rogue soldiers, they are forced to confront not only their enemies but also their own inner demons.
“Red Country” blends fantasy with elements of the Western genre, creating a gripping narrative of survival, frontier justice, and personal redemption.
The Shattered Sea Trilogy:
“Half a King” (2014):
In a departure from the grim-dark style of the First Law universe, Abercrombie delivers a coming-of-age tale set in a Viking-inspired world in “Half a King.” Yarvi, the younger prince of Gettland, was born with a deformed hand. Considered unfit for the throne or the battlefield, he finds himself an unlikely king when his father and brother are murdered.
Betrayed and left for dead, Yarvi must navigate a treacherous world of deceit, betrayal, and violence, proving that a keen mind can be as deadly as a sword. “Half a King” is a tale of resilience, cunning, and the relentless pursuit of justice.
“Half the World” (2015):
“Half the World” follows Thorn, a young woman striving to be a warrior in a world that prefers its girls quiet and obedient. When a tragic event gets her cast out as a murderer, her life changes when she meets Yarvi, now a deep-cunning minister. Thorn gets a chance to fulfill her dreams, but she soon finds herself on a perilous journey with an unlikely crew of misfits.
Together, they navigate treacherous seas and deadly enemies, learning that heroism comes in many forms. Abercrombie delivers another engaging tale that explores gender expectations, identity, and the true meaning of courage.
“Half a War” (2015):
The trilogy concludes with “Half a War,” a tale of power, vengeance, and the heavy cost of war. Princess Skara of Throvenland, once destined for a peaceful reign, becomes a queen in exile after witnessing the brutal murder of her family. She turns to the deep-cunning minister, Father Yarvi, for help, joining forces with his band of misfits.
As they plot their retaliation, they must navigate political intrigues, treacherous alliances, and merciless war. Abercrombie crafts a satisfying finale that examines the consequences of revenge, the corrupting influence of power, and the relentless cycle of war.
The Age of Madness Trilogy:
“A Little Hatred” (2019):
Abercrombie returns to the First Law universe with the Age of Madness Trilogy. “A Little Hatred” introduces a new generation of characters, the sons and daughters of the protagonists we knew. The Industrial Age has dawned, bringing machines and factories, incredible wealth, and appalling poverty.
But old scores remain ready to be settled. Savine dan Glokta, a ruthless social climber, finds her world upended by a wave of revolution. Meanwhile, Prince Orso struggles with the heavy expectations of a kingdom on the brink of conflict.
With old and new characters alike navigating a world in flux, Abercrombie weaves a narrative of power, revolution, and the often blurred line between the heroes and villains.
“The Trouble With Peace” (2020):
In “The Trouble With Peace,” Abercrombie delves deeper into the socio-political upheavals of the Industrial Age. Savine dan Glokta, having survived the revolution, now faces the aftermath of a city in turmoil. Prince Orso, striving to be a better ruler than his predecessors, grapples with the harsh realities of power.
Meanwhile, the revolution seeped into the North, where the common folk rise against the nobility. The characters must navigate treacherous alliances, political machinations, and their own ambitions in a world where peace is as dangerous as war.
“The Wisdom of Crowds” (2021):
The trilogy concludes with “The Wisdom of Crowds.” As revolution engulfs the city of Adua and war looms in the North, our protagonists face their greatest challenges yet. Savine dan Glokta, the once shrewd businesswoman, must reckon with her mistakes, while Prince Orso, called “The Great Man” by some, finds his realm falling apart.
In the North, the Dogman’s daughter, Rikke, struggles to control her magical ability and unite her people. Abercrombie crafts a thrilling conclusion to the Age of Madness Trilogy, showcasing the effects of power, the cost of progress, and the often-chaotic nature of change.
Who is Joe Abercrombie?
Joe Abercrombie is a British author of fantasy novels, best known for his “First Law” trilogy. Born on December 31, 1974, in Lancaster, England, Abercrombie studied Psychology at Manchester University before moving into television production.
He began writing his debut novel, “The Blade Itself,” in 2002, and it was published in 2006, launching his successful career as a fantasy author. Abercrombie’s works are renowned for their grimdark style, characterized by morally ambiguous characters, gritty realism, and a cynical worldview.
What is the overall theme of Joe Abercrombie’s books in the First Law Trilogy and the standalone novels?
One overarching theme in Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy and the standalone novels is the exploration of power and morality. Abercrombie uses a grimdark lens to dissect traditional fantasy tropes, presenting a world where power corrupts and morality is complex and multifaceted.
His characters often grapple with internal conflicts and moral ambiguities, blurring the line between heroes and villains. Another dominant theme is the destructiveness and futility of war. Abercrombie doesn’t romanticize warfare; instead, he highlights its brutality, chaos, and the devastating impact it has on individuals and societies.
Quick Fact: His books also delve into the themes of identity, redemption, and the human capacity for change. His characters, flawed and complex, often struggle with their pasts and seek redemption in different ways, contributing to nuanced character arcs and engaging narratives.
Do I need to read “Sharp Ends” by Joe Abercrombie?
“Sharp Ends” is a collection of short stories set in the world of the “First Law” series. While it’s not necessary to read it to understand the main novels, it does enrich the overall experience. The stories in “Sharp Ends” delve into different corners of the First Law world, offering new perspectives and fleshing out the history and characters of the series.
It features both new characters and fan favorites, with some stories filling in background details and others providing additional layers to the main narrative.
How do I read Joe Abercrombie’s books?
It’s recommended to start with the “First Law” trilogy, beginning with “The Blade Itself,” as it lays the foundation for Abercrombie’s universe. After that, you can read the standalone novels, which take place in the same world but focus on different characters and regions.
The standalone can be read in any order, but publication order (“Best Served Cold,” “The Heroes,” “Red Country”) is often suggested. “Sharp Ends,” the short story collection, can be enjoyed at any point after finishing the original trilogy, though some stories may have more impact if you’ve read the standalone novels they correspond with.
After that, you can move on to the “Shattered Sea” trilogy, which is a separate universe, and then the “Age of Madness” trilogy, which is a return to the world of the “First Law,” set several years after the events of the standalone novels.
Is The First Law series finished?
The original “First Law” trilogy and the three standalone novels in the same universe are complete. Abercrombie also released a new trilogy, “The Age of Madness,” set in the same world but focusing on a new generation of characters. The third book in this trilogy, “The Wisdom of Crowds,” was published in 2021.
However, given the richness of the world Abercrombie has created, it’s possible he may choose to write more stories set in the “First Law” universe. For the most current information, you should check Abercrombie’s official website or social media platforms.
What makes Joe Abercrombie’s writing unique?
Joe Abercrombie’s writing is distinguished by its ‘grimdark’ style, intricate world-building, and complex character development. He subverts traditional fantasy tropes, creating a realistic world where characters grapple with moral ambiguities and personal dilemmas.
His narratives are immersive, marked by swift pacing, brutal action, wry humor, and an uncanny knack for capturing human nature in all its shades.
Why should one read Joe Abercrombie’s books?
Reading Joe Abercrombie’s books offers a profound exploration of human nature, power dynamics, and societal structures through a grimdark lens. His mastery of character development, complex plot weaving, and vivid world-building makes his work deeply engaging.
Moreover, his willingness to subvert traditional tropes offers a fresh perspective on fantasy, providing readers with narratives that challenge conventions and provoke thought.
In conclusion, Joe Abercrombie’s bibliography, particularly his work in the “First Law” universe, offers a rich exploration of human nature and society set against the backdrop of a brutally realistic fantasy world. His unique blend of complex characters, intricate plotlines, and nuanced themes have established him as a significant figure in the realm of modern fantasy.
Whether you’re a longtime fan or a new reader, navigating Abercrombie’s world promises a journey full of thrilling adventures, moral dilemmas, and captivating storytelling.