The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

It’s tricky to know just how to review The Blade Itself, because, I must confess, I didn’t exactly come to it expecting just a novel. I came to it expecting what’s widely considered a foundational text for the (relatively) new subgenre of Grimdark. I have read the occasional book that might be considered to be within that area (like Hurley’s God’s War, though that’s science fantasy rather than straight fantasy), but the big names of the movement – Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence and company – I’ve never gotten around to. So in reading this… yes, of course I wanted an enjoyable experience, and to see what this popular author was like, but I also wanted to see what grimdark was really like in the flesh, outside of the polemica and caricature for and against. What is grimdark? What makes it different from non-grimdark?

And, to be honest, I come away a little puzzled.

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Øynduyska – diachronics of declension

Sorry for the lack of updates in recent months. You know how it is – stuff. Also, I’ve been working at two massive blog projects that will probably never see the light of day. And I have two book reviews I need to do.

For now, though, it’s just a snippet of Øynduyska again – this time, how its noun declensions have developed over time. And yes, this does contradict (and supersede) the information in my last series about the language. Sorry!

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Tough Travelling: Assassins

Thought I’d have another (typically belated) go at Tough Travelling. This week, we’re dealing with Assassins:

Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

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Tough Travelling – Beginnings

Tough Travelling – the fantasy-trope-based blog challenge, is back! I only took part once or twice in the individual version, and I don’t see this being a weekly thing for me. But what better time to join in than for the inaugural edition of the new version? (now operated by Fantasy Faction)

This week, the theme is “beginnings”, and refers to the common trope of fantasy novels beginning: “in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that ‘you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.’” (the inner quote is from Diana Wynne Jones).

I’m largely going to ignore that. Well, I’m not, but for my response to that, see the bottom of this post.

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Øynduyska – some examples (1)

I’ve finished for now with Øynduyska, at least in the sense of posting a sketch on this blog. But I’m still translating some things and fiddling with some details, so I thought I’d share four very small (one line) translations, with explanations.

Yes, a couple of things are slightly different from in the foregoing discussion, and represent minor changes I’ve made since then. [or mistakes, of course…]

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Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances; by James Branch Cabell

No soul may travel upon a bridge of words


In 1919, the year of the publication of Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, few people knew who James Branch Cabell was. He had, for some time, been quietly accruing a small but passionate brigade of die-hard fans – people like Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and Scott F. and Zelda Fitzgerald – but his work had not yet broken through even into the general awareness of the U.S. literati, let alone onto the bestseller lists.

In 1921, the year of the publication of Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances, quite a lot of people knew who James Branch Cabell was. The two-year prohibition of Jurgen at the behest of the Society for the Prevention of Vice, the associated highly-publicised trials, the subversive allure of the samizdat copies of the book that had been circulating at sky-high prices in the interim, the chorus of intellectual voices in his support and the thundering denunciations of the popular press all ensured that Cabell was – if still not exactly widely-read – at least widely known about. An audience, ready-made by the misfiring PR campaigns of his enemies, waited with bated breath for his next opus, begging to be seduced…

…and that’s probably where things began to go wrong.

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Øynduyska- XVI (Questions, Imperatives, Catenatives)

Near the end of this first phase of Øynduyska.



Formal polar questions, like negations, generally require a modal auxiliary. This modal verb takes the inquisitive suffix -a, and is fronted: machta ðu ðam bylda? – “are you building it?” (lit. “might you be building it?”). Leading questions – less appropriate in formal speech, but common colloquially, additionally employ the Wackernagel particles ay (for positives) or ney (for negatives): machta ay ðu ðam bylda? – “you are building it, aren’t you?”

The chief exception to this pattern is the questioning of adverbs and of prepositional phrases. Such questions may follow the general structure – machta ðu ðam lawli bylda? – “are you slowly building it?” – but where they are the particular focus of the question it is also possible to front the element, and add an interrogative element to it directly. In the case of adverbs and some prepositions, this element is the particle an, directly following the adverb or preposition; for other prepositions, it is simply the suffix -a attached to the preposition. In the case of the preposition an, the preposition is entirely replaced by the interrogative preposition, . Thus, ina ða hussa, machta ðat ligga? – “does it lie within the house?”; ná ða bóka, machta ðat ligga? – “does it lie on the book?”; lawli an machta ðu ðam bylda? – “is it slowly, that you build it?”

Modal auxiliaries are not required, however, with copulas, which instead are fronted themselves, and themselves take the -a suffix: isa iss cąld? – “is ice cold?”

In colloquial speech, but rarely in formal contexts, polar questions may simply be formed from indicative statements, followed by a subordinate clause: typically an is? for present events, an was? for past events, or an są? or an bia? for certain requests. Thus, byld ðu ðam, an is? – “you’re building it, yes?” or byld ðu ðam, an są? – “build it, if you would?”

Content questions meanwhile require interrogative pronouns or adjectives. The basic interrogative pronouns are fann (“who?”) and fassa (“what?”), alongside fónn (“how?”), fara (“where?”), fiðr (“to where?” and “how much?”), fása (“from where?” and “why?”), fǫffáða (“why?”), fien (“with what instrument?”), and fanna (“when?”). Fann and fassa further have the dative forms fąna and famma respectively, and the shared genitive fössa, and may be preceded by prepositions: befós fössa? – “beside what/who?” Certain prepositions however combine with the pronoun to yield special fused forms: awann (“on/in whom?”) and awassa (“on/in what?”), athann (“to whom?”) and athassa (“to what?”), and beocha (“with whom?”).

In fann and fassa content questions, the questioned element is fronted, the interrogative taking the place of an argument, and any non-copular, non-modal verb sent to the rear: fössa ðu saoch? – “who/what did you see?”; fann ði saoch? – “who saw you?” Modal verbs and copulas instead show subject-verb inversion: fann is he? – “who is he?” However, this construction is regarded as somewhat brusque, and may easily be interpreted as accusatory or commanding; a more indirect phrasing is generally prefered. In more formal contexts, this employs a modal verb: fössa dorsht ðu sevha? – “who might you have seen?”; fann dorsht ðam bylda? – “who might have built it?” In more colloquial contexts, a relative construction may instead be used: fann was, sam ðam byldi? – “who was it that built it?”

Questions employing the other interrogatives likewise relegate the verb to the rear, but otherwise leave the clause unaltered: fanna ðu henn saoch? – “when did you see him?” The indirect constructions are not required here, although they may sometimes be employed for additional politeness, formality, or disambiguation. For example, the ambiguous beocha ðu henn saoch? – “with whom did you see him?” – may be rephrased as either beocha was he, sam ðu henn saoch? (“with whom was he that you saw?”) or beocha was ðu, sam henn saoch? (“with whom were you who saw him?”).

In addition to the interrogative pronouns, Øynduyska also possesses two interrogative adjectives, filie (“which?”) and fliecha (“what sort?”). These act similarly to fann and fassa, except that they are often accompanied by the noun they modify: filie macacca is, sam ða cuppa menn hav upybrǫka? – “which monkey is it who broke my cup?”



The imperative may be conveyed simply through intonation and subject dropping: byld ðam! – “build it!” Such a command is likely to be seen as urgent, but also as uncouth and impolite.

Alternatively, the preterite subjunctive form of the verb may be employed, for a more polite and gentle request: bylday ðam! – “build it!”

However, it is also common for requests and commands to be couched in periphrastic constructions. Most prominent are the relatively cold construction formed upon a prepositional predication – lieg het á ði ðam ta bylda, “you are to build it” (lit. “it is on you to build it”) – and the more graceful construction formed with ląthalątha ði ðam bylda, “let it be that you build it”. The lątha construction may also be used in the third person (singular or plural), or in the first person plural, with jussive and cohortative forces respectively.


Embedding and Catenatives

Some Øynduyska verbs are capable of forming, in theory, chains, by taking another verb as their object, or as part of their object.

In such a situation, the embedded verb is placed into the infinitive, preceded by the preposition ta, and it is preceded by its subject and object, if any. The subject is dropped if it is identical to the subject of the matrix verb. If the matrix verb is transitive and takes objects in the nominative or genitive, the subject of the embedded verb will be placed in the genitive, if it is not also semantically a transitive object of the matrix verb, and in the nominative (or dative, for pronouns) if it is; if the matrix verb takes objects in the dative, however, the subject of the embedded verb takes the dative; if the matrix verb is separable, its preposition attaches to the subject of the embedded verb as though it were its object. If the matrix verb is intransitive, however, the subject of the embedded verb remains in the nominative (or dative). Thus, member ech av hem ta bylda, “I remember he builds” (with a separable verb demanding the dative), börr ech hem ta bylda, “I make him build” (in which the subject of the verb is also directly affected by the matrix verb), and varcweeð ech hem ta bylda, “I promise he will build” (with an intransitive matrix verb), but hóp ech henn ta bylda, “I hope he will build” (in which the matrix verb is transitive, but the subject of the embedded verb is not semantically its object, being unaffected by it).

This catenative structure is, for many verbs, contrasted with a ‘relative’ structure with sam and a subjunctive (member ech av hem sam he bylda, “I remember of him that he builds”; hóp ech sam he bylda, “I hope that he builds”). The catenative structure is generally preferred, with the relative structure typically reserved for emphasis, and for situations where more precision regarding tense and aspect is required. Also available is a ‘direct’ construction employing the cataphoric pronoun ðusmember ech av ðus: he byld – “I remember this of him: he builds”. The direct construction is even more emphatic, but commonly used in reporting speech.

An additional complication arises in the case of embedded questions. Here, the catenative construction must be employed, and employs a distinct set of pronouns, modified forms of the interrogatives: fanna and fassa become fa and fas and so forth. Thus, kną ech fa ta byld, “I know who builds” (or “I know who built”; tense and aspect are lost from embedded verbs).