I am pretty surprised to find that I haven’t been posting here for exactly one year. I might try to improve on that pretty soon. Today, I write not about ACG related topics, but rather about a English fantasy novel series that I just purchased and finished. The name of the series is The First Law series, by Joe Abercrombie. This review will contain some non-specific spoiler-ish comments.
To understand where this series stand on the grand scheme of things, we must first understand what is meant by a deconstruction piece. A deconstruction piece is a work that at first seems to use tropes and stereotypes coming from a genre, but later subvert audiences’ expectation of that genre completely but doing the unexpected. This is exactly what this series is, and it is quite different from the gritty realism found in fantasy works such as Song of Ice and Fire. In deconstructional works, the author relies on the shock factor of audience realizing what is happening is different from what is expected as a central plot device. Ironically, simply by understanding that this series is a deconstruction work would probably lessen that shock value. Granted, a truly good deconstruction piece will still hit you in an unexpected way, even if you were sort of expecting it.
To start off, one noticeable aspect about this particular series is that it always use multiple perspective narrative with 3 (or more) protagonists. This has its advantages and disadvantages. While it does make the story more expansive to narrate from multiple perspectives, and the author does a great job in using difference in narratives to characterize characters, the pacing of the narrative really suffers from the drag, especially because there aren’t a lot of action in this series . Moreover, it becomes considerably harder to get attached to the narrators, and in a few cases, never. Multiple perspectives story-telling usually become successful when the narratives are intertwined, telling just one event from different angles. This is decidedly not the case here.
Characters, most of them heavily flawed, are not at all what they seem. While some of the roles of main characters seem to correspond to those found in a typical epic adventure fantasy story (a guiding wizard, a boy king-to-be, a seasoned warrior, etc), one can’t help but notice subtle differences right away (non-virgin young hero’s love interest, cowardly and complacent hero, etc). I already said that this series is a deconstruction piece and defined the term for you. If you are still hanging on the hope that the story will end with typical happy endings and can’t tolerate a single main good character’s death, well, perhaps you are not ready for this yet.
So how is this series in terms of a deconstruction piece? I’d say it is a solid read, and successfully breaks apart a reader’s expectation of a classic epic hero-save-the-world-and-get-the-girl adventure story with some war, politics, and magic involved. While the story has resolved the majority of the mysteries, containing no major plot hole, I feel like the author wrote the story for the sake of writing a deconstruction fantasy work. That is, the series lacks something extra that distinguishes it from just a deconstruction story. The shock value could have been larger with more setup; the human drama could have been more gripping; the author could have planned for a couple more books as a direct sequel that further drives its characters to despair…… I suppose you get what you get.
The First Law series try to subvert some of the most popular stereotypes and tropes in the fantasy/adventure genre, and for the most parts does it successfully. Do keep in mind, though, as more and more deconstruction works are written, they themselves can create new stereotypes and tropes, and can only remain as unique series if there is something extra to the story. Personally, this series is far from the masterpiece that its fans would like to claim it to be, but at least it deserves three and half stars.
rating for the series: 7.5/10