Title: Before They Are Hanged
Series: The First Law Trilogy, #2
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Release date: March 2008
Genre: Fiction; fantasy
Source: Jack’s personal collection
Rating: 5 out of 5
Before They Are Hanged, the second book in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, takes up right where The Blade Itself (my review here) left off.
Glokta, the crippled torturer with a sense of humor as sharp as his tools, has been promoted within the Inquisition. His new post in the besieged city of Dagoska brings him dangerously close to his old friends, the Gurkish—the enemies to the South who introduced Glokta to the torturing biz years before.
To make matters worse, Glokta isn’t making many new friends. He’s been given instructions to investigate the untimely disappearance of his predecessor. Facing enemies within and without the city and a boss who refuses to accept failure, this is no day at the beach for Glokta—despite all the sand.
Meanwhile, the Union’s forces trudge North to take care of that pesky barbarian invasion. This should only take a week or so, they figure. (Wasn’t there some superpower that thought that about some skirmishes in the desert recently?)
But citizens of the Union need not fear. Heading a major unit of the armed forces is the fabulous Crown Prince Ladisla, whose battle experience was previously limited to waging war against fashion faux pas. The young prince is about as prepared for actual battle as the men he commands, and shenanigans ensue. (Except for poor overworked Collem West, who is really taking this whole “war” thing far too seriously.)
Lucky for West, he has a few battle-hardened warriors to rely upon—namely, Logen’s old band of Named Men, now composed of the Dogman, Thunderhead, Rudd Threetrees, Grim, and Black Dow. The old boys decided to stand up to Bethod, which means joining an uneasy alliance with Union men. But even these fierce warriors may not have what it takes to defeat the self-proclaimed King of the Northmen, who has someone—or something—pretty powerful on his side.
And who could forget about the mighty Bayaz? On a quest to save mankind, the First of the Magi leads an unlikely party—Ferro, Logen, Jezal, Bayaz’s apprentice, Quai, and their Navigator, Longfoot—through ancient, barren lands. Will they reach their destination and reclaim the mysterious but powerful “Seed”?
Abercrombie’s second book knocks it out of the park. He is doing what he does best—crafting complex, believable characters on a quest with everything at stake. Hilarious dialogue lifts the book above standard fantasy fare. Abercrombie gives you enough steak to chew on and enough gravy for it to slide right down.
Some have complained that the Bayaz storyline was the weakest, but I actually enjoyed it the most. I liked the world-building and history-telling aspects of a trip through the ruined past—a visible lesson of the direction in which the Union may be heading.
Others have claimed that Before They Are Hanged is a classic “middle volume,” but I thought just the opposite (and Publishers Weekly agreed in a starred review). I thought this volume was the strongest of the trilogy, and I thought it did a great job of further revealing character and plot complexities while remaining fun and irreverent.
To give you an idea of how deeply entrenched in the story I was, here is a picture of the waters surrounding Thailand’s Angthong National Marine Park:
I was so absorbed in the book, Jack had to nudge me from time to time to point out the turquoise water and expansive views around us. That’s good writing!
But don’t just take my word for it–see what other reviewers are saying:
- The James Review: Abercrombie “both meets and exceeds himself”
- The Little Red Reviewer: “There are plenty of politics, plenty of corruption, plenty of subplots, enough plenty to go around have leftovers. You’d think the book would be long, boring, heavy, and hard to follow. But it isn’t. Abercrombie works his slick magic, making nearly every subplot easy to follow and keep track of.”
- Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist: “Funny, entertaining and accessible, there’s a lot to love about Abercrombie’s style.”
- CSI Librarian: “The only reason this book took so long [to read] is I am already having a hard time dealing with having to possibly say goodbye to any of these strange, messed-up, mostly distasteful people who are equal parts believable, likeable, and awesome.”
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