I'm not entirely sure I did myself a favour by reading The Heroes before starting this trilogy. Granted, The Heroes stood alone quite well and at no point did I feel like I was missing something or having something spoiled for me. The Heroes, in short, was a fantastic book. Better, it turns out, than The Blade Itself.
This is not to say that The Blade Itself is a bad book; in fact, it's a very good book. Part of my problem with it is that I kept comparing it to The Heroes, and it came up a little short, but I suppose that's to be expected. I'm basically comparing an author's first novel to their fifth, which is not at all fair. If an author is at all worth their salt, they're going to get better at their craft with each book that they write, and such certainly seems to be the case with Mr. Abercrombie. The main attributes of this novel which I would consider to be lesser than in his later book are his pacing and his action sequences. The problem with his pacing is one remarked upon by many reviewers of this novel - namely that the whole book feels like a gigantic prologue to the real story. My issue with his action scenes is one which I've probably only noticed because I read one of his later books first. While the action is this book is depicted well, I wouldn't describe it as superb. It's a comparative flaw, but it is something I noticed.
What else do you say about Joe Abercrombie? He's good at writing humorous scenes in a story that is otherwise dark and gritty. He excels at making you sympathize with characters who, if they were briefly outlined to you, would sound fairly hard to sympathize with. He's clearly very interested in writing fantasy that explores real, human elements. He's good, this guy. Real good.