I read this trilogy a few years ago, around the same time as I read Scott Lynch, and I was totally excited about the new voices in fantasy at the time. I remembered that much, and also that this was very much “grimdark” and gritty and portrayed a not-so-pleasant world. But I knew I’d have to reread it, at least for my own personal satisfaction, before I finally get round to other works in the same world. With the vague memories I have of the first time I read this trilogy, it’s apparent just from reading The Blade Itself that this is better crafted than I realised at the time. Things I didn’t notice before are popping up and demanding my attention.
The whole world is… not very pleasant. And every character seems to have their flaws — battle rage, abusive tendencies, the simple fact that they take joy in their work of torturing people, the fact that they’re spoilt, drinking, anger issues… And yet at the same time, they’re very compelling to me. They’re real, because Major West (one example) is a good man who works hard and wants the best for his sister, as well as being the guy that lashes out at her because she doesn’t act the way he wants. Jezal dan Luthar learns to care about people other than himself, to see women as more than decoration, because of his interest in Ardee. They’re flawed and yet they’re changing, growing; there’s hope. You can even find moments of sympathy with the torturer Glokta, because he’s been twisted and broken by other people. Because his anger and pain are justified and honest.
The world is also interesting, because it feels lived in. There are ruins, monuments, old places where no one has gone. There are things each country doesn’t know about the others.
You do have to read the whole trilogy to get the real satisfaction of this book, I think; the ending isn’t a cliffhanger, but it also isn’t a resolution, either.