Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself was one of the first books I reviewed back in January. Upon the completion of that book I promised myself that I would eventually get to reading and reviewing the other two books in Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy. Well, I’m glad to say that half that goal is achieved! I’ve now read Before They Are Hanged, the second entry in the trilogy, and am now reviewing it. The middle book in a trilogy is always something hard to get right for an author, but Abercrombie does it in a stunningly good way.
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 – and Inquisitor Glokta needs to find answers before the Gurkish army comes knocking at the gates.Before They Are Hanged brings a complete change of scene. Long gone are the streets of Adua and the Agriont and the forests of the North that we discovered in The Blade Itself. This time we get to explore Angland, the Old Empire and the besieged city of Dagoska. I always welcome a change like this because, especially in these books, such a wide world has been created and it would be a shame not to send the characters out into as many of its corners as possible. These changes to the setting also destabilize a lot of the characters were met in the previous book, pushing a lot of them to grow even more than before, and in ways that were not originally anticipated.
Northmen have spilled over the Angland border and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem: he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained and worst-led army in the world.
And Bayaz, First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated women in the South, most feared in the North, and most selfish boy in the Union make strange companions, but, if only they didn’t hate each other so much, potentially deadly ones.
Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged.
During my reading of The Blade Itself, I found myself most looking forward to those chapters that were Jezal viewpoints. In this book however, not just because there were less Jezal chapters, I was most often anxious to get back to Glokta and his misadventures in Dagoska. His character really is that one that grew on me. Perhaps it’s because Abercrombie puts him in the most precarious position of all the characters, or perhaps it’s the appearance of an inkling of conscience for the torturer and his masterful administration of the overwhelmed and treacherous city. Nevertheless, though maybe not as alluring as Glokta, the other characters retained extremely entertaining passages.
This book also introduces us to the first Abercrombie-written epic battles. We’d seen a fair share of brawls and skirmishes in his debut but nothing yet involving pitched armies facing off in massive battles. Before They Are Hanged gives us plenty of that with both the siege of Dagoska and the Union-Northmen conflict in Angland. Meanwhile, the semi-cliché wizard-led journey across the western continent continues with ample action and excitement of its own, though in quite different forms. This strand of the story is also the most mysterious as their destination or purpose remains either quite vague or absolutely unknown. As the blurb mentions, the evolving interactions between the characters brought together by Bayaz makes for some truly engaging reading.
Quite possibly, or actually certainly, better than the book it follows, Before They Are Hanged is an enthralling read. Compared to another Abercrombie book like Best Served Cold, I’d be hard pressed to say which is the best, but when put against a lot of other fantasy books out there, it is a clear winner. Readers that enjoyed the first book in the First Law Trilogy will revel in the awesomeness of this sequel. Those that haven’t should be getting to both of these as soon as possible, especially now that there is a new mass-market paperback edition of the whole trilogy available in the UK. As for me, I’ll hopefully get to Last Argument of Kings in the (hopefully) not too distant future. I’m also looking forward to Abercrombie’s next release, The Heroes, for which he has announced (here) the first draft finished. Look out for that one in early 2011.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Violence: Yes, lots
Sex/Language: It’s Joe Abercrombie, so yes to both…
Joe Abercrombie's website: http://www.joeabercrombie.com/
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