The characters are interestingly different and plausible, full of shortcomings, but also honor and strength.
Inquisitor Glokta, the master torturer who is a torture victim himself and thus knows intimately well what sort of pain his occupational instruments can give. He shows an unusual sane insight to the insane twists that life serves him and his dark witted inner thoughts and comments are quite brilliant.
The spoiled self absorbed noble born coward Jezal dan Luthor, who thinks so high of himself he nearly reaches climax just by looking at himself in the mirror.
The barbarian Northman; Logen Ninefingers or "The Bloody Nine" as he is also called due to his ruthlessness in fights. He's surprisingly thoughtful, respectful and kind when he's not in one of his bloodrage where he kills enemies as well as children and longtime friends.
And there is Bayaz, the magus, at first seeming like a Gandalf-ish kind and wise old man, but holding and controlling all the strings like a giant venomous spider forever scheming and planning how to use people and situations for his own personal gain. He is every bit as arrogant and megalomaniac as a proper wizard should be.
There are other minor characters that are both brilliantly fascinating and brilliantly disgusting. The mercenary Cosca, the ferocious female warrior/ex slave Ferro, the female red haired torturer and mother, Vitari, the mysterious Yoru Sulfur, Dogman, Black Dow and all the other Northmen that quickly got a special place in my heart.
Bayaz takes his odd group of completely different persons on a long trip to the end of the world and back, a trip where our characters learn some new, some disappointing and a few positive things about themselves and each other. We, the readers, are taken by Abercrombie on a long trip into the ugliness of human nature. Those who are good aren't really all that good when it comes down to it and those who are bad can be fairly decent and downright compassionate at times. Life is neither fair, nor pretty and usually things go from bad to worse. It's cynical, dark and ugly, but there is room for love, compassion and beauty all the same.
I did one mistake, though. I went about it the wrong way. I read his stand alone novel Best Served Cold before I read the trilogy. It's set in the same universe and we meet again some of the characters from the trilogy in this novel, 3-4 years after the events of the trilogy.
***SPOILER ALERT*** (highlight to read)
I spent the entire last book biting my nails just waiting for Logen to be killed by Shivers - all in vain. It never happened. I dreaded it so bad I wasn't sure I could stand reading the last chapter at all. How stupid of me is that?!? The trilogy began and ended with Logan's free fall into a river. We don't really know if he survives, but I doubt he died, he's just too badass to die like that...
Oh and the best part of it all, there are more stories to be told about these characters and I can't wait to see what will happen to Logen, Dogman, Shivers, Glokta, Sulfer, Ferro, Vitari, etc