If you are a fan of down-to-Earth, gritty fantasy tales, then no doubt you will already have heard of the writer Joe Abercrombie. This writer released his first novel ‘The Blade Itself’ back in 2006 and has gained thousands upon thousands of fans ever since.
But as with a lot of fantasy writers, the chronology of his novels shifts back and forth in time. This makes for compelling reading, but some readers might be confused as to which order you need to read these novels. Well, I’ve done some of the sifting for you.
Because there are 2 ways to read Joe Abercrombie’s novels: either in order of publication or in order of chronology. I’m going to go through both of these ways of reading these books to see which one you prefer and how each method will affect the story.
Who Is Joe Abercrombie?
Joe Abercrombie grew up in England during the 70s and 80s and has always been a fan of science fiction, devouring books such as Lord Of the Rings, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and fantasy video games.
He tried writing the First Law of fantasy books during the late 90s and early 2000s but dismissed this first attempt as pretentious. However, a few years later he revived the characters and started work on the first novel ‘The Blade Itself’ in earnest.
Since then, this fantasy series has reached great acclaim and sold over 5 million books all over the world. Readers love the cynical take on the traditional fantasy genre and praise it as a refreshing subversion of their traditionally positive outlook.
2 Ways Of Reading Joe Abercrombie Books
You can either read Joe Abercrombie’s books in the order they were published or in the order of their narrative chronology. We would recommend reading them the first way, as you will still understand the novel as it shifts in time.
However, if you are rereading the series, then you can get a clearer idea of the story by reading it chronologically.
The First Law Series (Publication Order)
Here we get into the first trilogy called The First Law series. This contains 4 characters that we follow over the course of the series: the barbarian Logen Ninefingers, Captain Jezal Dan Luthar, the torture master Glokta and the wizard Bayaz.
These characters are not your traditional fantasy fare and all of them are very ethnically ambiguous, exhibiting extreme selfishness and maliciousness as well as good humor and the occasional heroic act. The main books are as follows:
The Blade Itself (2006)
This first book is where Abercrombie introduces the central characters listed above. The barbarian Logen Ninefingers has almost run out of his nine lives, having battled with so many enemies, he is on the verge of dying.
Then there’s the nobleman Captain Jezal, who wants nothing but to drink and play cards, but soon he hears the drums of war calling.
Also, there’s the crippled torturer Glokta, who is killing his way to the center of government, but can he live long enough to exact revenge?
Finally, there’s the fraudulent wizard Bayaz, who’s looking for some excitement, so decides to meddle in the lives of the other 3 characters. This novel first garnered praise for the depth of the characters, especially their cynical humor.
This novel rose quickly to the top of the bestseller list, with readers clamoring for more adventures in the series.
- A collection of dastardly characters you will fall in love with instantly
- A great adventure that will appeal to Tolkien fans
- An exciting and intense narrative
- A New York Times bestseller
- Might be too dark for fans of classic fantasy
Before They Are Hanged (2007)
Now we move on to the second installment in this trilogy. With a war raging outside the city walls, Glokta is finding it hard to defend his home when he doesn’t know who he can trust.
Meanwhile, Bayaz the wizard is leading a task force through a dangerous mission, but will he be able to make it to his destination in time to save the human race from the Eaters?
This is a gory novel with not a little bit of dark humor, having you grimacing and laughing within the space of a page. This is a novel with vivid depictions of bloody battles all told at a frenetic pace. You can be sure you won’t be bored when you are reading this novel.
This novel has received over 5,000 reviews on Amazon, most of them being extremely positive of the whole series. Readers have praised the complexity of the characters and how they all relate to each other in a grander narrative of all-out war.
- Further adventures of Glokta and the anti-heroes of the first book
- A tale of treachery and forced comradeship
- Great reviews from thousands of readers
- Dynamic and funny fantasy storytelling
- A very gory novel, not for the faint-hearted
Last Argument Of Kings (2008)
Finally, we have the climax of this particular trilogy, with the battle-scarred Logen gearing up for one last big fight. Meanwhile, Glotka has finally retired, yet he still uses his verbal wits, as well as a little bit of bribery and treachery to get what he wants.
Meanwhile, Jezal has settled down and found love, but there are forces and desires within him that simply won’t go away and threaten to destroy everything he has.
Finally, the wizard Bayaz must save the crown from falling into the wrong hands, although he might have to perform the one act that nobody thought possible… break The First Law.
This is the epic finale of a series that has been labeled by George R.R. Martin as ‘bloody and relentless’ and Junior Diaz as one of the best epic fantasy novels in recent years.
If you like fantasy novels with some real blood and guts as well as a dollop of humor, then this is the book for you.
- A great end to the original trilogy
- Tense and fraught with action
- Loveable and compelling anti-heroes
- One of the standout fantasy trilogies of the 00s
- Amps up the gore from the other two books
First Law Standalone Novels
Once the original trilogy was completed, fans were still desperate for more. So, Joe Abercrombie decided to revisit his world, but this time with different characters and different adventures. Thus the First Law standalone set was born.
These all contain short stories that are set in the same universe as the First Law trilogy. Some readers have praised this series for taking the story in a different direction, whereas others have not been happy with some of the plots and characters. Here are the standalone novels in order of publication:
Best Served Cold (2009)
With cities aflame and so-called noblemen and crooked bankers fighting for the throne, Grand Duke Orso really has his work cut out for him.
Trying to make peace between the League Of Eight is a difficult job, but it’s something he has to do if he is to save the kingdom from almost certain destruction.
However, the mercenary Monza Murcatto doesn’t want the war to end as it is the best way for her to make plenty of money. When she is beaten and left for dead on a mountainside, her first thought is revenge on the seven men who tried to end her life.
This is another sprawling tale from the First Law universe and one that has earned praise equal to that of the original trilogy. This has gathered great reviews from George R.R. Martin and The Times, who have praised the interweaving plots and the gripping story.
- Looking at a popular series from a different perspective
- New characters that are just as duplicitous as those in the original story
- More female-centered narratives
- Great for fans of gory fantasy and fiction
- If you’re looking for the same characters in the original trilogy, we would suggest rereading them
The Heroes (2011)
Becoming the King of the North is no easy task, but Black Dow has done it quicker and easier than anyone else, leaving a hefty death toll in his wake.
However, the King of the Union wants to stop him in his tracks and assembles a huge army to prove that he means business. This is another tale of a world on the brink of a climactic war.
At the bottom of a small valley that nobody pays any particular interest to, there will be a clash of a lot of sharp metal and much blood will be spilled in a skirmish to end all skirmishes.
This is another thrilling episode in the World Of The First Law series. What’s great about this series is that you can dip into it without having read any of the other books.
Readers have been amazed by the level of gore in the novel, describing the prose as thrilling and the characters as believable and likably flawed.
- This novel accurately demonstrates that there are no heroes in war
- Great for fans of bloodthirsty fantasy
- This novel is full of witty and laugh-out-loud turns of phrase
- Abercrombie has received praise for his three-dimensional characters
- Might be too vividly bloody for some readers
Red Country (2011)
Now we finally have what some female fans of Joe Abercrombie have been waiting for: a woman in the lead role. This is a story about a woman seeking vengeance after her house has been burned down and her brother and sister have been kidnapped.
She vows to get her family back and murder anyone who gets in her way. This is the start of an epic journey for Shy South and her scheming stepfather Lamb, who hides plenty of secrets from his past.
There are plenty of amazing locations in Red Country, including a town ravaged by a gold rush and mountains that have yet to be mapped. There are plenty of uneasy alliances that they form along the way.
This is a great novel for female readers, with a butt-kicking heroine that doesn’t conform to the weak woman stereotype one little bit. This also features some alluring side characters such as the untrustworthy lawyer Temple and the swashbuckling war hero Nicomo Cosca.
- A great installment in this standalone series
- A compelling female main character
- An epic journey that will have you gripped from the first page
- Mixes elements of fantasy, science fiction, and the western
- This generic turn might not appeal to old-school Joe Abercrombie fans
Sharp Ends (2016)
Now we have something that will slake the thirst of the fans of the original, with a novel that features a character from the first trilogy: Colonel Sand Dan Glokta. However, this novel covers side stories and wayward characters who have their own tales to tell.
There is the tale of Curden Claw, who has set out with his band of bloodthirsty warriors to get an item that nobody is quite sure exists.
Then there’s the notorious thief Shevedieh, who faces both triumphs and disaster with the Lioness of Hoskopp, who she considers both an ally and an enemy.
As of 2016, there are no more standalone tales in the World Of The First Law series, but this one ends the quadrilogy on a high. With plenty of epic skirmishes and scenes of comic violence, fans of the original trilogy and the other standalone novels will not feel let down.
- Another gripping chapter in the World Of The First Law series
- Readers say this fantasy series rivals Game Of Thrones
- Plenty of exciting male and female characters
- Short and sharp tales, perfect for the casual reader
- Some die-hard readers of this series might be left wanting more
A Selection Of Stories From Sharp Ends
Here are some of the short stories that are contained within Sharp Ends:
The Fool’s Jobs
This story features Curnden Craw from The Heroes novel and is set immediately prior to that story.
Yesterday, Near A Village Called Barden
This novel focuses on Bremer van Gorst prior to his appearance in the Heroes story. This was originally featured as an extra scene in the special edition of The Heroes.
The Company Of The Gracious Hand liberates a small town, featuring as a prelude to the original copy of Red Country.
The Age Of Madness Trilogy (Publication Order)
This is another trilogy that is set around 25 years after the original First Law trilogy, although it follows the pattern of keeping the same characters throughout.
But the world of First Law has shifted considerably and there have been a lot of innovations and changes in society.
While the original First Law trilogy had medieval vibes, technology has progressed to a more Victorian style of living, with plenty of smoking chimneys and factories and industry starts growing faster than some of the characters in the First Law world can keep up with.
So here is a detailed synopsis of the Age Of Madness trilogy in the order of publication.
A Little Hatred (2019)
This novel ushers in a completely new era for the First Law universe. The machine is now king and the old ways of doing things are slowly falling out of fashion. This novel features some of the characters from the original as well as a few of their descendants.
Savine Dan Glokta is one of them. Taking after her tyrannical father, she plans to get to the top of the social ladder by any means necessary.
This novel also follows Price Orso, the son of the old king Jezal, who cannot conjure up anything but failures for him and the war hero Leo Van Brock.
This is a great evolution in a series that is always looking to innovate while still sticking to the same style that readers love so much. With magic and machinery fighting it out, this novel will have you captivated from page one.
It has gained plenty of praise from other fantasy authors as well as broadsheet newspapers.
- A great development in the First Law universe
- Takes place in a more modern setting
- Mixed fantasy and science fiction genres
- Thousands of positive reviews
- This might be too different from the original series for some
The Trouble With Peace (2020)
This novel continues on from the last as we follow the continued adventures of Savine dan Glokta, who now has to salvage her ruined reputation whatever the cost.
eanwhile, war veterans like Leo dan Brock want this period of peace to be over as soon as possible so they can return to their true bloody calling. Thus begins another desperate bid for power as old habits die hard and the past refuses to stay buried.
Meanwhile, Count Orso is having trouble negotiating the thorny world of politics as he owes more and more money to more and more unscrupulous characters.
This is another great chapter in the Age Of Madness trilogy, featuring more political intrigue than some of the First Law books that have come before. This is another story that has had praise lavished upon it for the style of writing, particularly the humor and vivid descriptions.
- Plenty of twists and turns that readers won’t see coming
- One of the more thrilling parts of the Age of Madness series
- Featuring a set of compelling anti-heroes
- This series brings a literary finesse to the fantasy genre
- Does not contain as much violence or gore as usual
The Wisdom Of Crowds (2021)
This is the final chapter of the Age of Madness trilogy and it’s one that ends with a bang.
The revolutionary Breakers and Burners want to liberate the average worker from the shackles of oppression and it looks like they might achieve that goal – not before shedding a lot of blood.
However, now that the power balance has shifted, Orso finds himself at the bottom of the food chain and struggling to survive the revolution.
Leo dan Brock is determined to put his heroic talents to good use while Savine is still trying to salvage her ruined reputation.
This is a great end to the series, with readers praising how well Abercrombie has interwoven all of the plot threads to create a multi-layered and exciting narrative.
This story has a gripping climax that will leave readers wanting to see where the First Law world heads next.
- Plenty of plot threads to keep readers engaged
- Thousands of great reviews
- Readers have praised the comedic style
- Lots of twists and turns in the story
- Some readers have said it does not compare favorably to the original series
The Entire First Law Series In Chronological Order
It is worth noting that if you are new to the Joe Abercrombie series you should read all of these books in the order that they were published.
Even if the chronology shifts back and forth, there are some details that are revealed in the first novel that establishes the world you’re about to enter.
However, if you have read the series through once and you want to delve once more into the First Law world, then you can reorganize the books and read them in chronological order.
This might also help give you a clearer idea of the timeline, which can sometimes get confusing if you are leaving large gaps between reading each book.
When I compiled this list of the First Law books in chronological order, I made sure to include all of the standalone novels.
Some of these novels might not relate to the original trilogy or the Age Of Madness trilogy, but the events in each do conform to a particular timeline.
I have also broken up the short stories collection into their individual short stories, as the timelines in between these tales shift around even in the space of one book. This will also be helpful in understanding the chronology of the book in question.
Here are the books, standalone novels, and shorts stories of the First Law universe in chronological order:
- Made a Monster (Short Story)
- A Beautiful Bastard (Short Story)
- Small Kindnesses (Short Story)
- The Fool Jobs (Short Story)
- Skipping Town (Short Story)
- The Blade Itself
- Before They Are Hanged
- Hell (Short Story)
- Two’s Company (Short Story)
- Last Argument of Kings
- Best Served Cold
- Wrong Place, Wrong Time (Short Story)
- Some Desperado (Short Story)
- Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden (Short Story)
- The Heroes
- Three’s a Crowd (Short Story)
- Freedom! (Short Story)
- Red Country
- Tough Times All Over (Short Story)
- The Thread (Short Story)
- A Little Hatred
- The Trouble With Peace
- The Wisdom of Crowds
If you read these stories in this order, you’ll be able to better see how the world changes as time goes on.
You will also be able to track certain relationships better, charting family histories and old rivalries as you will spot new details that you would have missed the first time around.
I would recommend that you start with ‘The Blade Itself’ first, although the author Joe Abercrombie has stated that the novel ‘Best Served Cold’, which is one of the standalone novels, can actually be read first, as it was intended to be written as an introductory piece to the First Law universe.
One of the other reasons that you might start at the beginning is because the novels change stylistically with each one.
If you are starting with a book that was written later, then you might notice that there is a jarring difference in style between that and one that was published previously.
One noticeable difference between the first trilogy and the series of standalone novels is the introduction of female characters.
This might be another reason that you might want to discover the series in chronological order so that the female characters appear more consistently throughout all of the novels.
This ultimately comes down to whether you want to find the hidden secrets of the series or not. There are plenty of surprises that run through all of the storylines, so we would suggest that you approach it from all angles.
Other Books By Joe Abercrombie
There are plenty of other books by this author, although they form a different series that has nothing to do with the First Law novels.
One of these series is called the Shattered Sea trilogy and, at first, it seems like it is set in a medieval fantasy world, whereas it is in fact set during a time and place far more real and recent to us.
This series has been equally as successful as the First Law trilogy, although we would suggest that there aren’t as many die-hard fans.
Lots of reviewers and readers have praised the characters in the novel, as they are just as crazy, flawed, and human as the characters in the First Law books. Here are the main books in the Shattered Sea trilogy, listed in order of publication:
Half A King (2015)
At the beginning of the saga we are introduced to Yarvi, born a weakling and forced to assume a throne that he doesn’t want, he can barely hold a hefty sword let alone the integrity of his new kingdom.
However, there is one thing that he has over his opponents: his mind. Being generally outcast by his own court, Yarvi comes to befriend a group of bedraggled strangers that he finds out can help him a lot easier than any nobleman in his court.
With plenty of despair, unpredictable turns, and betrayal, this is a novel that will have you gripped from the very beginning.
Much like his other novels, there has been plenty of praise heaped upon this saga, with readers describing the prose as ‘polished and sharp’ and the dialogue being typically acerbic and biting.
As always, good and evil do not exist in this world, with every character being a refreshing blend of the two.
- An excellent new series from the mind of the First Law trilogy
- Very similar in terms of themes
- Compelling characters that will keep you hooked in
- A swashbuckling Viking-themed family drama
- Die-hard fans of the First Law series might find this too dissimilar
Half The World (2015)
Following hot on the heels of the last book, this second installment of the Shattered Sea series is just as riveting. This one was nominated as one of the best books of the year by Buzzfeed.
It focuses on Thorn, a young girl who is caught up in the machinations of the nefarious Father Yarvi. This novel has a much darker tone. This is another great female-centered narrative about a girl who wants to escape the system and carve out her own path for herself.
Beside her on her epic adventure through the Shattered Seas is Brand, a warrior that loathes killing and sees himself as nothing but a failure. This is another novel that has garnered much praise and had thousands of great reviews on Amazon.
It has been compared favorably to the First Law series. This is a great read for female teenage and young adult readers who might feel slightly excluded due to underrepresentation in the fantasy genre.
- A roaring tale about a female warrior
- Plenty of contradictory and complex characters to get your teeth into
- Plenty of battles, blood, and gore
- An Alex award-winning novel
- Does not contain many characters from the last book
Half A War (2015)
This is the final part of the Shattered Sea trilogy, this time focusing on another female main character, Princess Skara. The princess has to use her wits to negotiate her way through the twisted, treacherous, and often violent royal court.
This is not helped by the fact that Father Yarvi is once again pulling the strings. Added to this are the familiar characters of Thorn and Brand find themselves on opposite sides of the brewing war, with Brand preferring peace to the battle-thirsty Thorn.
Soon the drums of war begin to beat and a mighty army of elves is summoned to overthrow the new king. This is the exciting and rousing end to the Shattered Sea trilogy and the series really goes out with a bang.
This has been described by other luminaries in the fantasy genre as ‘one of the best fantasy series of all time’. This novel has gained praise from thousands of reviewers who especially like how the plot interweaves a lot of the main characters.
- The Shattered Sea on the brink of war makes for gripping reading
- Great for younger female readers
- Plenty of the blood and violence of the first two novels
- Believable characters and relationships
- This is the final installment in the Shattered Sea trilogy
This trilogy is simply stunning and the perfect antidote for anyone who has finished the First Law series and is looking for more books by Joe Abercrombie.
The fact that you can read Joe Abercrombie’s series in these 2 ways is a testament to their quality and the dexterity with which he has crafted his world.
As stated above, I would recommend that you delve into these books in publication order, starting with ‘The Blade Itself’ and working your way through the first trilogy.
However, if you want to get more out of the series, you can sort them out using the chronological order above.
This is probably the best way of memorizing certain plot details that might be difficult to keep track of if you are reading them over a long period of time.
If you like your fantasy with plenty of blood and real-life elements like good characters and a world that slowly evolves over the years, then these are fantastic novels you can get into. But don’t just believe me, look at some of the amazing reader testimonies.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many First Law Books Are There In Total?
Altogether there are 9 books in the First Law series. The first 3 are known as the First Law trilogy, followed by a series of 3 standalone novels, and then followed by the Age Of Madness trilogy.
There is also the short story collection ‘Sharp Ends’, which contains 13 standalone stories from the First Law universe.
Have Any of Joe Abercrombie’s Books Been Adapted Into Films?
None of Joe Abercrombie’s books have been developed into films, although the author himself says that he hopes there will be offers to adapt his books and he is open to them appearing on screen and on film.
What Other Jobs Does Joe Abercrombie Do?
Joe Abercrombie first started work as a film editor. It was during this work that he found he had extra time to write the First Law series.
What Authors Are Like Joe Abercrombie?
Goodreads recommend the following authors based on their similarity to Joe Abercrombie:
Brandon Sanderson – This author is best known for creating the fantasy series based in the Cosmere fictional universe. This is the setting for his Mistborn series of novels.
Scott Lynch – This is a fantasy author who is responsible for writing ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’, ‘Red Seas Under Red Skies’, and ‘The Republic of Thieves’.