Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Before They Are Hanged Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Orion
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
Series: First Law Book Two
Pages: 570

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(Spoilers for The Blade Itself are below).

The Blade Itself introduced readers to a cast of characters who had redeemable traits, but at the end of the day the evils of those characters would still triumph.  For some characters in the sequel, the good actually does start to persevere, but for most, it doesn’t.

If The Blade Itself was focused on turning fantasy characters tropes on their head, then Before They Are Hanged is focused on turning fantasy plot tropes on their head.  The epic quest, the monumental defensive stand, and the fighting of an unfamiliar foe in unfamiliar territory are the predominant plots of this book, and all of them are turned on their head in one manner of speaking or another.
This is an unconventional fantasy, and Joe Abercrombie thrives on keeping readers guessing. Before They Are Hanged is just as good as its predecessor.


Before They Are Hanged Plot Summary


The Union has now found itself engaged in two wars on two fronts.  The Gurkish are looking to take Dagoska in the South, and the Northerners now united under Bethod are looking to attack from the North.  Different characters find themselves involved in different parts of the conflict.
  • Superior Glokta has been charged with the defense of Dagoska.  He is given supreme command over a small council that was involved in killing the predecessor in his position.  He must root out the conspirators if he is to even begin defending the city from the planned large scale Gurkish invasion.
  • The violent Logen Ninefingers, mysterious Bayaz, hateful Ferro, and smug Jezal are now embarked on a traveling quest together. The characters couldn’t be anymore unlikely traveling companions, and only Bayaz knows their objective.
  • Collem West is charged with helping the Union army battle the North.  With terrible generals, poorly trained and equipped soldiers, and the ignorant Prince Ladisla at its head the Union is looking at an imminent disaster.

Before They Are Hanged Analysis


The Blade Itself looks to capitalize on meshing some of its most distinct and conflicting character personalities together for the first time.  While the first book focused on the individual exploits of Logen, Ferro, and Jezal now these three characters must work together along with the Bayaz and his two companions.  This quest is a dark parody of the typical fantasy journey. They are constantly fighting amongst themselves, and when they do have to work together, you have to genuinely wonder will they help each other out in a difficult situation.

One of the most distinct changes from the previous book is the change of Malacus Quai’s personality.  Right from the onset he’s become an angrier and shadier character.  And for that matter so has the Navigator, who seems to disappear and reappear whenever its convenient.  The Navigator’s optimism also turns out to be a great clash with the other characters – watching him tell stories about heroic people to this group of travelers has a nice touch of deadpan to it.

Glokta’s got himself in a hopeless situation as he has to defend a city against overwhelming odds.  His task to unmask another conspiracy means more torturing. As a character, Glokta gets to show readers more of his brains as he looks to uproot this conspiracy. A huge moral dilemma comes with defending a city that would rather just surrender to the Gurkish, than see it laid siege to and its inhabitants brutally slaughtered.

I thought Jezal dan Luthar was the most arrogant and ignorant character in this series, at least until Abercrombie started writing about Ladisla.  The Crown Prince will have you shaking your head in dismay, and beating your head into a wall.  He is a shining example of what happens when the ignorant are in charge.

There are more revealing back-stories that provide more information about the characters and the history of civilization in this world. Character development is really elevated. Nearly all of the major characters undergo critical changes, and some of them I like even more as people by the end of the book.  That’s something I couldn’t say at the end of The Blade Itself.

Joe Abercrombie is aware of fantasy’s major tropes. While he engages them playfully, he does things with them that the genre hasn’t really seen before.  This makes for an unconventional fantasy story, and with great characters this is truly a trilogy for people who are looking for some atypical fantasy stories.

Score: 9.5

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