The Blade Itself is Joe Abercrombie's debut novel, and a solid first effort. Reminiscent of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, the book is filled with gritty, believable characters, and a foundation of what promises to be a broad, well-developed plot.
The plot in this installment is pretty basic: the old empire is crumbling, with "barbaric" peoples knocking at the door, but most are unaware of a greater, more sinister threat that looms.
The story is character-driven. Glotka the Inquisitor, a scarred veteran whose injuries and disfigurements make him look like an old man, is a complex character with a sharp, biting intellect. He is the most intriguing of a varied cast of characters. The dialog is particularly well-crafted, and Abercrombie draws the reader in so deeply that you find yourself chuckling or sometimes laughing aloud at the one-liners and the give-and-take between the characters.
The only areas of relative weakness for me were the anachronistic profanities (modern profanity in a fantasy novel tends to jolt me out of the reading experience) and the lack of emphasis on plot. The plotting issue is, of course, a stylistic choice. Fans of Steven Erickson and Scott Lynch will likely enjoy Abercrombie's style, while readers of mainstays like Raymond Feist and David Eddings will find the the plot sorely lacking.
The Blade Itself is an entertaining debut by a talented new author. Pick it up if you are looking for a new fantasy author who is not encumbered by the traditions of the genre.