Monday, October 16, 2017

Sharp Ends Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Orbit Books
Genre: Grimdark
Series: First Law
Pages: 290

(Spoilers for The First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country are below).

Sharp Ends is a collection of short stories by Joe Abercrombie that are set in the First Law world. A lot of these events are concurrent with the events happening in the other First Law books, and it's highly recommended that all six First Law books be read before tackling this collection of short stories.

In our review each short story is given a brief synopsis, analysis, and score.  The final score you see at the top of the review is an aggregate of all 13 short stories.

Score: 8.6

A Beautiful Bastard [Kadir, Spring 566]

Synopsis: Colonel Glokta spars with some of his subordinates to impress his greatness and ego upon everyone in or accompanying the Union army.

A Beautiful Bastard essentially looks to capture Glokta in all his arrogance and glory moments before he heads towards the ill-fated bridge that changes him forever. There's not a lot to this story, and without the heavy number of cameos from other First Law characters, it probably wouldn't succeed. But it does

Score: 7.5

Small Kindnesses [Westport, Autumn 573]

Synopsis: Shev, the self proclaimed greatest thief in Styria is trying to make an honest living, but when she takes a nearly unconscious woman into her home, everything begins to change.

Shev's story is a lot of adventure crammed into a short amount of pages. She's a likable character, and she kind of reminds me of where Shivers was at, at the beginning of Best Served Cold. But she's definitely no optimist. There's no shortage of violence either, and with an ending that really pays off, this story has the potential for plenty of expansion.

Score: 9.1

The Fool Jobs [East of the Crinna, Autmn 574]

Synopsis: Curnden Craw and his small band of followers take on a job that turns out to be much riskier than anticipated.

Craw doesn't seem as cynical as he sounds in The Heroes, but you can tell he's heading in that direction. Always determined to see things through to the end, Craw and his followers find themselves working together against unfavorable odds, as this story also finds itself getting real violent.

Score: 8.7

Skipping Town [The Near Country, Summer 575]

Synopsis: Shev wants to build a life in a town, but Javre's continued fighting is preventing that.

A couple of years after teaming up, Shev and Javre continue to move from one disaster to another, and it's taking a strain on their relationship. As their list of enemies grows, it's not long before someone from Javre's past seeks her out.

Score: 9.0

Hell [Dagoska, Spring 576]

Synopsis: Temple is a thief turned priest's apprentice and a coward. When the siege of Dagoska finally breaks he seeks out his mentor Khadia for what may be the last time.

Temple had some pretty memorable moments of cowardice in Red Country. Well, here's another character defining moment to add to the list. The siege of Dagoska was one of the most memorable parts of the entire First Law Trilogy, but we never got to see too many of the details once the city was stormed ... and now we do.

Score: 9.2

Two's Company [Somewhere in the North, Summer 576]

Synopsis: Whirrun, Curnden Craw's friend and most talented swordsman is being pursued by Bethod's agents across the North when he runs into Shev and Javre near a rickety old bridge.

A lot happens in few pages here as circumstance plays a large and oftentimes humorous role in this Shev and Javre adventure. Toxic masculinity gets a full on parody here, as Shev watches on as the voice of reason and cynical commentary. Whirrun who's almost a literal clone of Javre's personality is a potentially excellent addition to this dysfunctional duo.

Score: 9.3

Wrong Place, Wrong Time [Styria, 580]

Synopsis: At the insistence of his wife Canto must ask his boss Mauthis for a raise. Onna a whore at Cardotti's House of Leisure is assigned to serve one of the King of the Union's largest and most menacing looking guards. Predo a young man enlists in Orso's army and gets involved in his first battle as they engage Rogont and Murcatto near the Sulva river.

Three short stories within a short story. Every character here is playing an auxiliary role as Monzcarro Murcatto enacts her revenge against Duke Orso and the other conspirators that murdered her brother and failed to kill her. How Monza' s revenge effected some of the people who weren't ever involved with Orso is the theme here. Without reading Best Served Cold, there's a lot to be lost. Canto's story is the weakest, but Onna's and Predo's are pretty interesting especially as they feature cameos from Murcatto, Shivers, and Gorst.

Score: 8.8

Some Desperado [The Near Country, Summer 584]

(Originally read and reviewed when the Dangerous Women Anthology was published. This is just a copy of that review. The short story was read before having read Red Country).

Synopsis: Shy is a fugitive bank robber and she’s just been betrayed by her three friends who are looking to ransom her and take her share of their most recent robbery.  As Shy’s horse finally dies, she takes refuge in an abandoned town, and must face these three men in order to survive.

Some Desparado is set in Abercrombie’s First Law world, although readers won’t need to know anything about it in order to comprehend this story.  Surprisingly this is not as cynical as Abercrombie’s other work, but it is still a dark story.  It has a heavy western flavor to it, but it doesn’t have the classic pistol wielding outlaws meeting at sunset to settle their score.  The prose is of literary quality, and the lead character provides some social commentary.  In short, and typical to Abercrombie, it is a trope breaking story.

Score: 9.1

Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden ... [Near Barden, Autumn 584]

Synopsis: The Union Army marches north to begin it's war against it's King, Black Dow. The supply line stops on a farm near Barden where they begin to scavenge for food.

Taking place shortly before the events in The Heroes, and written in a similar style, a collection of rapidly changing point of views from both the Union and Northern sides tell the story of the coming conflict. Gorst is the most notable cameo here, and he's returned with his high squeaky voice and capacity to do great violence. There's a good deal of circumstantial adult humor, as well as black humor, as you don't know whether to laugh or cry by the time all the different threads have played out.

Score: 9.0

Three's A Crowd [Talin's, Autmn 587]

Synopsis: Fourteen years after abandoning her smoke shop, Shev has returned to Styria and begun rebuilding her life in Talons with Carcolf. After working closely with Vitari, who once again is serving Murcatto, she's finally received written confirmation that her old enemy Horold will no longer be able to seek retribution for the death of his son. At long last Shev has the life she's dreamed of, or so she thinks.

Shev and Javre, although completely different characters, are going to be to the First Law world, what Dunk and Egg are to the world of Ice and Fire. There's a lot that happens here that's not directly related to this adventure, but the coronation of the King of Styria is a big moment to start this story, and the cliff hanger ending could have bigger implications in future stories going forward. This is to say the least the most substantial story in this collection, for the first First Law timeline.

Score: 9.3

Freedom! [Averstock, Summer 590]

Synopsis: A draft from the famous historical biographer Sworbreck recounts one of Nicomo Cosca's battles with the rebels in Averstock. A footnote with some suggestions and corrections by Cosca ends the story.

Another short story where Red Country is required reading. This is essentially a trumped up account of the Averstock incident in that book. Ironic in almost every way, as Sworbreck goes out of his way to turn a massacre into a glorious military triumph for all involved. 

Score: 7.0

Tough Times All Over [Sipani, Spring 592]

(Originally read and reviewed when the Rogues Anthology was published. This is just a copy of that review. The short story was read before having read the First Law standalones).

Synopsis: In the corrupt city of Sipani, Carcoff carries a mysterious and highly sought after package in a short story that resembles the children’s game button, button, who’s got the button?

This is a short story that’s like a relay race.  The plot follows a mysterious package originally carried by Carcoff as it switches hands between fourteen different narrators – the two most memorable being Carcoff and Javre.  While it’s an ambitious concept, there are only so many ways a package can be transacted: it can be given or taken, and since this happens with fourteen different characters the plot starts to get redundant.  Uncharacteristic of Joe Abercrombie the ending is also very predictable and after the first package transaction I was hoping that this type of ending would be avoided … alas I was disappointed.

Score: 6.4

Made A Monster [Carleon, Summer 570]

Synopsis: The Chieftain Bethod has conquered much of the North, but he finally has the opportunity to declare the peace he and his countrymen have been yearning for. Unfortunately his Champion Logen Ninefingers may not see things the same way.

You can't go through a story with the Bloody Nine and not have at least one super disturbing event take place. Logen is Logen and despite being the most frequently talked about character in the First Law world, he can still be used to tell an entertaining story. Bethod is painted as a very sympathetic character, which is contrary to how he's portrayed in the First Law Trilogy. Calder and Scale also make cameos as Abercrombie shows shades of the men they are destined to become in The Heroes. 

Score: 8.3

1 comment:

  1. grimdark genre is where my love for reading lies I have read almost every book on this book review list I am really impressed by your blog post though wanderer keep posting stuff like this