Grimdark fantasy recommendations often include these two series, so why not see a battle between The Blade Itself vs A Game of Thrones?
I love gritty fantasy books and series, and I have been a big fan of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin for a while now. Only in the last few months have I gotten round to starting The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, with book 1 The Blade Itself.
I really enjoyed my first foyer into The First Law world, but now I want to see how it compares to A Game of Thrones, book 1 in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I see these on lists for people who like grimdark fantasy all the time, but how similar are they?
Is it Dark Enough?
The Blade Itself is a pretty gritty book, but A Game of Thrones is definitely darker. They both share a similar gritty realism, something that puts you on edge constantly, wondering who might get hurt or die next.
In A Game of Thrones there is beheading, incest, regicide and the attempted murder of a child. Overall, I would say this earns it the top spot when it comes to levels of grimdark.
However, in The Blade Itself we have Glokta. He is a torturer, himself crippled horribly through torture himself. When you are in his point of view you feel his every waking moment of pain and discomfort as much as you can through the text, and his callout treatment of his victims.
So, there are certainly strong grimdark elements in The Blade Itself, but A Game of Thrones is darker overall, I think.
Which Has the Best Characters?
This one is a hard one – and I think it narrowly goes to A Game of Thrones again. I am basing this purely off the first books in the two series, but perhaps my perception is skewed slightly from having read all available books in the Song of Ice and Fire series.
I don’t think we see enough of a couple of the characters in The Blade Itself to really understand them. Yes, the character work is fantastic with Glokta and even Jezal, but Logen, someone who was hyped in reviews, isn’t that interesting yet.
Compare this to Tyrion Lannister, Ned and Catelyn Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen… They are all fascinating and have interesting stories which allow them to both develop and show the reader who they really are, under whatever facade they put on.
I would say both books are pretty equal on the portrayal of side-characters who don’t get POV characters, but perhaps The Blade Itself just about wins there with Bayaz, Malacus Quai and Yulwei being very strong characters.
Worldbuilding & Plot
I have combined these two points as I believe that within book 1 of both these series, neither has better worldbuilding. They both show us what we need to see to understand the journeys the characters take and where some of the future enemies and conflicts might occur.
Also, the plots are surprisingly similar. I know that is odd to say, but to me I was reminded a lot of A Game of Thrones when I read The Blade Itself. Especially with the political intrigue plot in the city with Glokta, and then even more so when other characters arrive (no spoilers).
Overall though, purely on my enjoyment of the political intrigue aspects of the plot, I would have to say that I enjoyed The Blade Itself a little more. It was just more my kind of story, especially with the mystery surrounding certain characters and how much I wanted to know more by the end of the book.
Who Wins? – The Blade Itself vs A Game of Thrones
The Blade Itself scored 1.5 points and A Game of Thrones scored 2 points, so it goes to GoT! It was close though.
The truth is, both of these books are fantastic and well worth reading. There is a reason they are both recommended so much in the same lists – they are similar! But different enough, because their characters, worlds and plots are different and will keep you constantly guessing.