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The First Law Trilogy Review

July 9, 2015

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie11706669
—The ultimate literary blue ball experience.—

4 stars out of 5
—The ultimate literary blue ball experience.—
In my Reader’s despair, I question the purpose of art and storytelling and compare Abercrombie, Tarantino, and Kubrick in order to understand why this trilogy I loved filled me with existential rage


I started out LOVING this series. Apart from the excellent writing and immersive world, I cared about the characters – I wanted the heroes to overcome their poignant struggles and I hungered for revenge against the villains. However, near the end of the third book, I walked away with a heavy heart without finishing. Like turning away from a loved one who has let you down so many times, and you can’t bear to see them let you down again, so despite your love for them, you just have to walk away – to protect yourself from another letdown – I had to walk away from this series and save myself yet another ending without resolution, without character growth (only character death/decay), and with endless, meaningless suffering.

I WILL say that this book made me deeply question the purpose of storytelling and whether a story NEEDS resolution. Because this book serves up conflict, struggle, and climax after climax – yet denies the readers resolution and satisfaction – the ultimate literary blue ball experience.

What you’re guaranteed in this series:
1) gratuitous plot twists
2) surprise endings
3) anti-heroes

As I neared the end of the trilogy, I began wondering: what is the point of anti-heroes?

Well, there are two types of anti-heroes:
1) inherently good, but ruthless
2) inherently bad, but likable.

In denying me resolution time and time again, I was forced to ask myself if I hated these books and if these admittedly masterfully-written books were gimmicky garbage. Or was I just bitter I didn’t get the ending I deserved?

IS THE BOOK GOOD OR BAD? Well to answer that, I needed to ask
1) What is the purpose of art?
2) What is the purpose of storytelling?

What is the point of denying redemption to flawed characters? Is it a legitimate storytelling approach to set up a series of tragic characters and leave 100% of the judgment to the audience, or 100% of the resolution to “what if…” scenarios in the reader’s mind? Because in our minds and in hypothetical scenarios are the only places we can glimpse resolution.

My problem with these books AREN’T that they don’t have happy endings – but that they seem to deny the visceral joy of a happy ending without any intellectual satisfaction of a tragic, but meaningful ending. It’s THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS.

To contrast, Romeo and Juliet, a story with a famously “unhappy ending” – has very clear message about “what went wrong” and the cause of the tragedy that befell the two star cross’d lovers – what if instead we are simply given the tragedy with no message? Imagine a Tarantino-directed version of R&J where we have no prologue or epilogue, and the parents never see the error of their ways from the death of their children…They simply off themselves and then the curtain falls. Is something gained or added to the story if you simply leave out the judgement, resolution, and meaning from R&J?

Does a story lose meaning if the message isn’t explicitly stated by the artist?

Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket – how is Kubrick different from yet similar to Tarantino? I believe Tarantino is Kubrick without subtlety and without meaning, Tarantino is pure gratuity…there are messages and redemption latent in Tarantino’s stories – waiting there for us, but never delivered by the storyteller. Isn’t this simply smearing colors on a canvas and leaving it up to the viewer to construct the meaning (if any)?

Tarantino and Abercrombie are lauded for being “realistic” – but what does *realism* really offer by way of *art*? A photograph is ultra-realistic, but a great painting is art when the artist presents their unique vision of reality- whether beautiful or terrible…Art is a RECREATION of reality, not simply a depiction.

And yet I KNOW Tarantino and Abercrombie stories provide plenty of art…engaging narratives and characters- but they lack the “meta” *meaning* that ties together the artistic *elements*. And this in-completion is hailed as edgy and bold. But is it instead just lazy? Or even cowardly?

Does the story really gain by having RESOLUTION deliberately withheld by the author? I feel it does not.


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