Continued Thoughts, or, Why I’m Not Fond of The Blade Itself

This past week has been rather tough when it comes to my reading. I think I mentioned a few posts back that I had tried to read Brent Weeks’s The Way of Shadows and just could not get into it. I have to admit that of the five books on my plate, the only one I have enjoyed is volume 49 of Naruto. The Way of Shadows just annoyed me (and I didn’t care for the characters), Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover is, despite its lyricism, not very good fantasy or science fiction. I wanted to like it, but Jane’s problem is so silly and idiotic that I just could not get into it. And that brings me to Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. Lee and Weeks can take comfort in that I got further in their novels than I did with Abercrombie’s. Why is that? Why did I not like it?

The question of Abercrombie’s artistic merits, style, and vision have been talked about enough lately. I’ve participated in the debate and I find that I may be forced to reassess my position.

I still disagree fundamentally with Leo Grin’s take on Abercrombie (okay, his royally stupid insertion of politics into the essay), but I find that Theo over at Blackgate may have more points than I had originally given him credit for.

My own personal take on the matter is that I generally dislike medieval secondaries (secondary worlds with a medieval European culture/ civilization). I’m  more enamored of new weird works rather than the traditional fantasy.

That and character. I just didn’t find any of Abercrombie’s point of view characters interesting at all. In the end, The Blade Itself is a big meh (all of the thirty eight pages I read).

Even though I can’t be said to have really read the book, I think I can see more of what the attacks on Abercrombie’s work is about. He’s writing in an ironic mode in Northrop Frye’s formulation of the term.

The ironic mode is a form in which the characters are weaker than, less powerful than, more pathetic than the average reader. These characters are debased, cowardly, silly, and have little hope of redemption. I think this is what Abercrombie is writing, and I don’t like it much. Morgan writes in this vein too in his The Steel Remains, but I think that Gil and his comrades are greater than the average reader. They are genuinely heroic in a horrific world. Or it could be that Gil’s character captured my interest from the start while Abercrombie’s left me cold.

I can also see Theo’s objection to much of this type of fantasy. If you are going to utilize a medieval setting, use as much authenticity as possible. From history, religion, culture, psychology, etc. be as authentic as possible. The problem with this approach is that unless the writer (and the reader) is passionate and even a scholar of the period, then being completely accurate may not be the best option. A professor of mine said that most readers prefer the Romantics because their way of writing, their psychology, is closer to ours than those of other periods. And I think that is true of fantasy. I know I don’t want to read a novel of five hundred pages about Julian of Norwich, Margery Kemp, or any of those others. And I suspect most fantasy readers don’t either. That’s why so much of these novels are being written with “modern” point of views, I think.

I admit that I may be wrong about this. It could just be I don’t like Abercrombie’s style nor Weeks’s nor Rothfuss’s. So I may revisit this later (maybe). But for now, I have research to do.

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Posted on March 16, 2011, in Books, Manga and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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