2 Ways to Read Joe Abercrombie Books in Order | First Law Series

If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, gritty atmosphere, and morally grey characters, then it’s no wonder you’re looking for a list of the Joe Abercrombie books in order. Whether you’ve been a fan since his debut novel back in 2006, are eager to learn more following the Best Served Cold announcement, or anywhere in between, this will be your ultimate guide on Abercrombie’s books.

Who is Joe Abercrombie?

Joe Abercrombie is the self-appointed and fan-applauded lord of grimdark fantasy, as demonstrated with his stylized Twitter handle: LordGrimdark. Abercrombie is credited as establishing the grimdark subgenre of fantasy, which has maintained a chokehold on fantasy fans over the years.

This grittier take on fantasy is often softened with a more humorous tone. However, it remains dark with its primary focus on war or battle.

When Abercrombie first sat down to write a fantasy story he didn’t begin with grimdark. However, with his second attempt years later he found his writing voice. His thrilling scoundrel lit fantasy has now become his trademark.

He was born in England in 1974. Abercrombie’s mother was an English teacher and his father had classic science fiction tomes on their family bookshelves, but young Abercrombie was always drawn to the fantasy genre. He grew up reading Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, and Dragonlance; playing video games; rolling dice; and drawing maps of places that didn’t exist.

When he sat down to write the first iteration of The First Law, Abercrombie wasn’t happy with it. He even went so far as to declare it pompous. But, a few years later, he returned with the same characters and began crafting a new take on their story.

The result was Abercrombie finding his writing niche with a darkly humorous, cynical tone. The First Law became the antithesis to the optimistic heroic fantasy Abercrombie read as a teenager.

The trilogy has now been published in 30 countries. Collectively, Abercrombie has sold more than five million copies of his books.

He currently lives in Bath, England with his wife Lou and their three children.

Do you need to read The Blade Itself first?

While you don’t necessarily need to begin with The First Law trilogy, it is arguably the best place to start.

In a 2009 interview, Abercrombie said his intention with writing the first standalone set in this world, Best Served Cold, was for the book to work either as an introduction or a continuation. Therefore, it is possible to begin your Abercrombie reading journey with one of his standalones, or with the second trilogy, since the books were written with that possibility in mind.

However, if you have the choice and inclination, starting at the beginning of the series is your best option.

If you begin with The Blade Itself, you will experience this world as Abercrombie initially intended. You will also be able to enjoy Abercrombie’s development and progress as an author, which he is very open about.

In that same 2009 interview Abercrombie spoke about how he challenged himself more when he wrote the second trilogy set in this world. The Age of Madness features a notable uptick in female representation. The main character in this series is female, and it was Abercrombie’s first time writing from this perspective.

In an interview a decade later in 2019 Abercrombie acknowledged that it’s easy to write women into any story if you just stop to think about it. He acknowledged The First Law was very male-centric, because that is what he was most comfortable with. He tried to rectify that with the second trilogy set in this world.

As well, another bonus to reading the books set in the First Law world in publication order are the Easter eggs for long-time readers. While the standalones and second trilogy feature a new cast of characters, there are recurring characters from previous books that appear to the delight of fans.

Joe Abercrombie Books in Order

But now let’s finally dive into the books. We’ve organized all of the Joe Abercrombie books in order of series. Most of Abercrombie’s books take place within the same world of The First Law and there are two ways to read these books.

In the lists below we’ve kept the First Law world books together in order of publication and chronology, before including his young adult series at the very end.

#1 – First Law Books in Order of Publication

The First Law Trilogy

This trilogy sets the tone for Joe Abercrombie’s dark, grim writing style with an undercurrent of macabre humor. The trilogy follows the paths of four main characters: Infamous barbarian Logen Ninefingers, nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, torturer Inquisitor Glokta, and the temperamental wizard Bayaz. In this world of grey morality war is constant and we follow these characters as they carve their path through it.

  1. The Blade Itself (2006)
  2. Before They Are Hanged (2007)
  3. Last Argument of Kings (2008)

First Law World Standalone Books

Following the completion of The First Law trilogy Abercrombie wasn’t quite ready to part with this world. The below books are standalones that take place within this same world following new main characters. The final book on this list, Sharp Ends, is a collection of short stories set within this world.

  1. Best Served Cold (2009)
  2. The Heroes (2011)
  3. Red Country (2011)
  4. Sharp Ends (2016)

The Age of Madness Trilogy

The next series on our list of the Joe Abercrombie books in order also takes place within the First Law world. However, The Age of Madness takes place some 25 years after the conclusion of The First Law trilogy and around 15 years after the last standalone book, Red Country.

During this time there has been a significant shift in atmosphere within this world. The change is palpable, similar to the shifts between eras in Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, the technological advancement between Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, or the social upheaval throughout the Ender’s Game books by Orson Scott Card. Instead of the reminiscently medieval ambience in The First Law, A Little Hatred introduces a more Victorian environment.

While war is still a constant in this trilogy, Abercrombie depicts an upheaval from the middle class as chimneys of industry rise and the age of the machine dawns.

  1. A Little Hatred (2019)
  2. The Trouble With Peace (2020)
  3. The Wisdom of Crowds (2021)

#2 – The First Law Series in Chronological Order

Before we get to the final series in this list of the Joe Abercrombie books in order, there is another way to read the books set within the world of The First Law.

If you’re looking for a new way to read everything that takes place within the First Law world, or to piece everything together, here is a chronological timeline — as best we can discern it — featuring the books and the short stories that take place within this world.

It is important to note that this is not the recommended reading order if you are reading the books for the first time. If you’re new to this world, following the publication order is the best way to read the Joe Abercrombie books in order. This will properly introduce you to the world and its characters without any spoilers.

However, as previously mentioned, Abercrombie has published a collection of short stories that take place within the First Law world. We’ve included the titles to those short stories below in the chronological timeline. Each short story below is available in Sharp Ends.

If short stories don’t interest you, then the publication order of each full-length novel is also the chronological order.

  1. Made a Monster (Short Story)
  2. A Beautiful Bastard (Short Story)
  3. Small Kindnesses (Short Story)
  4. The Fool Jobs (Short Story)
  5. Skipping Town (Short Story)
  6. The Blade Itself
  7. Before They Are Hanged
  8. Hell (Short Story)
  9. Two’s Company (Short Story)
  10. Last Argument of Kings
  11. Best Served Cold
  12. Wrong Place, Wrong Time (Short Story)
  13. Some Desperado (Short Story)
  14. Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden (Short Story)
  15. The Heroes
  16. Three’s a Crowd (Short Story)
  17. Freedom! (Short Story)
  18. Red Country
  19. Tough Times All Over (Short Story)
  20. The Thread (Short Story)
  21. A Little Hatred
  22. The Trouble With Peace
  23. The Wisdom of Crowds

The Shattered Sea Trilogy

The Shattered Sea trilogy has similar themes to Abercrombie’s The First Law series, such as revenge. However, it is a Viking-inspired fantasy series and currently his only young adult series.

It follows Yarvi, the youngest son of a fearsome king. Yarvi is born a weakling in his father’s eyes; he is physically unable to grip a shield or swing an axe. His destiny is to enter the Ministry, until the unexpected deaths of his father and brother propel him onto the throne.

Upon the Black Chair, between gods and men, half a man must find a way to rule as half a king.

  1. Half a King (2014)
  2. Half the World (2015)
  3. Half a War (2015)

What is Joe Abercrombie’s Next Book?

So if all the books we’ve listed above are standalones or completed series, what can you expect to read from Joe Abercrombie next? A brand-new trilogy set in a brand-new world is forthcoming. On March 31, 2022 it was announced Gollancz secured publishing rights to the new fantasy series, followed by an announcement on April 4, 2022 by TOR that it had secured the US publishing rights.

The fantasy trilogy, The Devils, will contain elements of heist, spy, and thriller fiction.

The world is described as a magic-riddled Europe which is under constant threat of elf invasion. Therefore, the 10-year-old Pope in this world must occasionally employ services that cannot be performed by the righteous.

The secret Chapel of the Holy Expediency employs such sacrilegious services with its disposable congregation. Including a self-serving magician, a self-satisfied vampire, an oversexed werewolf, and a knight cursed with immortality. Within this congregation there is no mission that cannot be turned into a calamitous bloodbath.

The press releases slate The Devils trilogy to have a 2025 publication, but the Lord of Grimdark took to his social media to assure fans that the publication of the first book could come sooner since it is already nearly complete.

Are there any adaptations of Joe Abercrombie’s books?

After years of fans calling for an adaptation of The First Law trilogy, movement is finally happening on that front. In May 2023 it was announced that Abercrombie’s first standalone in this world, Best Served Cold, will be getting an adaptation.

Abercrombie himself has written the script for the movie adaptation. Rebecca Ferguson will star in the leading role of Monza Murcatto and Tim Miller will be the director.

The script has been written according to Abercrombie, but obviously movement on the project has hit a pause due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Further casting and scouting had been underway on the production and will start up again one actors and writers negotiate better pay, job security, and appropriate limitations of AI, among other concerns.

It is an interesting choice that Best Served Cold is the first of the Joe Abercrombie books in order to have its adaptation rights acquired first. However, it has obviously been strategically chosen as an entry point to the series.

The standalone book will allow for a single production without a cliffhanger or, hopefully, too much ending up on the cutting room floor. It will also feature the appearance of familiar characters for those who have already read The First Law trilogy.

A Summary of Joe Abercrombie Books in Order

Now that you know all there is to know about the Joe Abercrombie books in order, let’s dive into the summaries. The below list of summaries is divided by series with the books set in The First Law world included first. If you have never read the Joe Abercrombie books in order before, proceed with caution as the summaries may contain spoilers for previous installments.

The First Law Trilogy

The Blade Itself Joe Abercrombie Books in Order

1. The Blade Itself

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian — leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: Cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores come to the forefront, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

Before They Are Hanged First Law Series

2. Before They Are Hanged

Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run — if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is ready to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem — he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven — but not before they are hanged.

Last Argument of Kings Joe Abercrombie

3. Last Argument of Kings

The end is coming. Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but it’s going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. It’s past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. His days with a sword are far behind him. It’s a good thing blackmail, threats, and torture still work well enough.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is far too painful, and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too, and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.

While the King of the Union lies on his deathbead, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union.

The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law…

Standalones in the First Law World

Best Served Cold First Law Books

1. Best Served Cold

It’s springtime in Styria and that means war.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll, and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests, and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular — a shade too popular for her employer’s taste.

Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers, and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world begins hunting her down to finish the job Duke Orso started…

It’s springtime in Styria and that means revenge.

The Heroes Joe Abercrombie Books in Order

2. The Heroes

They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher.

The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.

Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he’s far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it’s his own.

Prince Calder isn’t interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he’ll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn’t have to fight for it himself.

Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?

Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds, and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail…

Three men. One battle. No Heroes.

Red Country First Law Books in Order

3. Red Country

They burned her home. They stole her brother and sister. But vengeance is following.

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she’ll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she’s not a woman to flinch from what needs doing.

She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old step father Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb’s buried a bloody past of his own. And out in the lawless Far Country, the past never stays buried.

Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel, and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer, Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust…

Sharp Ends Stories from World of First Law

4. Sharp Ends

The Union army may be full of bastards, but there’s only one who thinks he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: The incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta.

Curnden Craw and his dozen are out to recover a mysterious item from beyond the Crinna. Only one small problem: No one seems to know what the item is.

Shevedieh, the self-styled best thief in Styria, lurches from disaster to catastrophe alongside her best friend and greatest enemy, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp.

And after years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left — his own lunatic champion, the most feared man in the North: The Bloody-Nine…

Sharp Ends combines previously published, award-winning tales with exclusive new short stories. Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue’s gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of The First Law.

The Age of Madness Trilogy

A Little Hatred Joe Abercrombie

1. A Little Hatred

The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever.

On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal’s son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specialises in disappointments.

Savine dan Glokta — socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union — plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control.

The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die.

With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another…

The Trouble With Peace The Age of Madness

2. The Trouble With Peace

Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune, and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will stand in her way.

For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized, and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye…before it kills her.

The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.

The old ways are cast aside and the old leaders with them. But those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever.

The Wisdom of Crowds Joe Abercrombie Books in Order

3. The Wisdom of Crowds

Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down. Now the Breakers have seized the levers of power, the smoke of riots has replaced the smog of industry, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.

Citizen Brock must become a new hero for the new age. Citizeness Savine must turn her talents from profit to survival before she can claw her way to redemption. 

Orso will find that when the world turns upside down, no one is lower than a monarch. And in the bloody North, Rikke runs out of allies…while Black Calder plots his vengeance.

The banks fall and the sun of the Union is torn down. Then, in the darkness behind the scenes, the threads of the Weaver’s ruthless plan come together…

The Shattered Sea Trilogy

Half a King Shattered Sea

1. Half a King

The deceived will become the deceiver. The betrayed will become the betrayer. Will the usurped become the usurper?

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began — in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Half the World Joe Abercrombie

2. Half the World

Sometimes a girl is touched by mother war.

Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.

Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior.

Fate traps her in the schemes — and on the ship — of the deep-cunning minister Father Yarvi. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh lessons of blood and deceit.

Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon.

Beside her on her gruelling journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill. A failure in his eyes and hers, he has one chance at redemption.

And weapons have one purpose.

Will Thorn forever be a tool in the hands of the powerful or can she carve her own path? Is there a place beyond legend for a woman with a blade?

Half a War Shattered Sea

3. Half a War

Words are weapons.

Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. All that remains are words.

But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright.

Only half a war is fought with swords.

The deep-cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace.

But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God. Bright Yilling is at its helm — a man who worships no god but Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil.

Some — like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith — are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others — like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver — would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her iron wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness.

Final thoughts on Joe Abercrombie books in order

There you have all the Joe Abercrombie books in order, complete with summaries for each book. If you enjoy gritty, violent, grim fantasy with a humorous twist, then you will adore Joe Abercrombie’s writing. With the announcement of a brand new Abercrombie trilogy, now is the perfect time to read through his back catalogue before the publication of The Devils.

Looking for more books in order?

If you’re looking for even more grimdark recommendations, check out this list of The Witcher books in order.

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