Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself is the beginning of an incredible read. As a single novel, it is not worthy of the rank 2 position, however, Abercrombie's subsequent works that occur within the universe invented in this debut are what earned this book its place.
Similar to Martin, Abercrombie has embraced the sort of conflicted characters that give great grimdark writing its depth and complexity. In stark contrast to series like The Wheel of Time, there is no ultimate evil that needs to be destroyed. Instead, there are unforgettable characters who struggle to make the correct decisions, living and dying by theirs and other's mistakes. If you like gritty action combined with harsh reality, this is a series you need to read. If you like things a bit more on the lighter side, maybe check out Abercrombie's newer novels aimed at a younger audience.
Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body - not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers.
Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men.
And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior with a bloody past, is about to wake up in a hole in the snow with plans to settle a blood feud with Bethod, the new King of the Northmen, once and for all - ideally by running away from it. But as he's discovering, old habits die really, really hard indeed...
...especially when Bayaz gets involved. 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 Glotka, Jezal and Logen a whole lot more difficult... More on Goodreads.