In today’s installment of our continuing series, Hollywood! Adapt This, we’ll talk about a trilogy of novels that has somehow managed to avoid even a conversation about possible film adaptation. The author behind the books, Joe Abercrombie, has stated that he’d be more than happy to see his fantasy novels turned into a film but “no one seems to be listening.” As a fan of the first trilogy and beyond, I’m frankly amazed that no producer has stumbled across them, especially considering how visually rich and cinematic the scenes are. With the exception of HBO’s Game of Thrones, there’s a real dearth of original fantasy projects in TV and films these days, having been shoved aside by sci-fi and superheroes. Hit the jump to see how Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself could carve out a place. Hollywood! Adapt this: The First Law Trilogy.
Like any good fantasy, The First Law Trilogy has its ample share of swords and shields, sandals and sorcery, blood, sex and violence. It’s actually got a lot in common with George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire as far as fleshed-out characters and an intricate political web are concerned. What sets The First Law Trilogy apart – and makes it perfect for a film adaptation – is the raw, realistic and so-vivid-you’ll-cover-your-eyes visualization of the world, from barbarian battles to Medieval torture and explicit sex scenes. The names of the characters alone – Logen Ninefingers, Inquisitor Glokta, and Bayaz, First of the Magi - are ones you can really sink your teeth into.
The trilogy, composed of The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and The Last Argument of Kings, tracks a number of characters through their exploits in the fictional lands of The North, The Union and the Gurkish Empire. Captain Jezal dan Luthar is a brash young leader in the Union army who is put to the test when war threatens from the North as the barbarians invade Angland. One of those barbarians, the infamous and bloody Logan Ninefingers, sets off in search of any of his remaining clan among the southern lands after a skirmish leaves him near death. Inquisitor Glokta, a soldier-turned-cripple-turned-torturer, has his own machinations that seek to depose the authorities above him and exact revenge on those who have wronged him in his past. All three and more will be drawn in by the schemes of a man named Bayaz who calls himself a wizard and demands preferential treatment.
By this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “This sounds almost exactly like Game of Thrones, so why bother adapting it?” That’s a fair assessment on a cursory examination of the two series, but to do justice to both properties, one would have to read them. I’ve read both series and I actually prefer the cinematic quality and characterization of The First Law Trilogy, though A Song of Ice and Fire certainly has the edge on far-flung political maneuverings. While Martin tends to kill off fan-favorite characters, Abercrombie keeps them alive just so that he can torture them more and more. Death is easy; everyone goes through it. Finding new ways to put your heroes and villains through the ringer is a real chore, but Abercrombie manages to do it in exciting and original ways.
There are also no cut-and-dry good or bad guys in The First Law; everybody’s at least a little bit gray. You learn to love Logen “The Bloody Nine” Ninefingers throughout his struggle and then recoil in horror as he does something unthinkable while in a berserker rage. You detest Glokta for his hideousness of mind and body and actions until you realize that he’s just caught in a vicious cycle of trying to stay alive and one step ahead of his enemies in this incredibly dangerous world. While you might either aspire to be like Captain Jezal dan Luthar or despise everything he stands for, you end up feeling a bit sorry for him in the end. And these are just the main characters. Abercrombie introduces a slew of supporting roles that greatly expand the color palette: the mage Yulwei, the savage former slave Ferro Maljinn, the barbarian Black Dow, and, later, the infamous mercenary Monza Murcatto.
While Martin’s books sprawl over a planned seven volumes, Abercrombie’s main characters are all wrapped up in a neat little trilogy – one that’s already completely written, by the way. There’s plenty of material to work with if a network wanted to turn The First Law Trilogy into a series, but I think the books work better as straight movie adaptations. They’re not overly wordy as some contemporary fantasy can be; there’s no false sense of “epicness for epicness’ sake.” Abercrombie has a very character-centric style which feeds into a story-driven plot. The Blade Itself would certainly make a great test run for an adaptation of this particular world, but the full story really does lie in completing the trilogy, much like the maligned Eragon and its ill-fated sequels. If the trilogy were to prove itself successful, Abercrombie has graciously decided to continue writing and has the novels Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country, all set in the world of The First Law.
As a huge fan of Abercrombie’s work, I’d love to see a filmmaker adapt them into features. I’d particularly like to see a director like Nicolas Winding Refn do his take on these stories, expanding his barbarian experience of Valhalla Rising to an epic fantasy adventure trilogy with all the brutality and focus on character that he’s known for. Somehow, The First Law has remained below the radar; perhaps its the brutality itself that prevents it from being made. In a time where PG-13 films draw the bulk of the financing, a bloody R-rated fantasy trilogy is probably going to have to do some creative bookkeeping to make the numbers work out. I’m not holding my breath.
In the meantime, if you want an introduction to Abercrombie’s world, characters and writing style, check out the first few editions of the digital graphic novel adaptation here. I’d highly recommend reading the books as well, whether you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, fantasy in general or just well-written and exciting storytelling.
Next week on Hollywood! Adapt This, we’ll continue with suggestions of novels – and more specifically, another trilogy – that deserve the feature adaptation treatment. The stories feature angels, assassins, giant automatons, gods and a city of chains suspended over a bottomless abyss. Fun, fun!