Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
MICHAEL EVEREST SAYS . . .
Joe Abercrombie’s Before They Are Hanged is the sequel to his debut novel ‘The Blade Itself’, and the second book of the First Law series. ‘Before They Are Hanged’ is a hard-fought, hard-earned story of ancient secrets, old foes, and fresh blood.
In ‘Before They Are Hanged’, the reader is plunged straight into the deep-end. Embattled on both north and south fronts, the Union struggles to keep its head above water. The plot is wide and wonderful, encompassing a journey to new-ends, a bitter fight to the end, and a charge to glory on the battlefield.
Old characters are unmistakeable in their weathered and worn guises, pumped up with the blood of a good scrap. Add to the already colourful cast an artist’s palette of pompous Princes, traitorous underlings, and a helping of sell-out Merchants, and you’re sure to be in for a rip-roaring performance.
Abercrombie set the standard with his quirky prose in ‘The Blade Itself’ and continues it into ‘Before They Are Hanged’. However, I did find parts of ‘Before They Are Hanged’ a little slower than its predecessor, something of a slog at times. Which is essentially why I’m giving it three stars. In this instance, I’m using ‘The Blade Itself’ as the measuring stick, and because the debut was just so good, this falls short – but not flat. That’s not to say this suffers from ‘difficult second book syndrome,’ not at all. I just felt that this was a little less tight in terms of plotting, a little rougher around the edges.
I’ll give it its due though, the promise of things yet to come is more than enough to keep any reader on board for the finale, ‘The Last Argument of Kings’.
LAURA M. HUGHES SAYS . . .
Before They Are Hanged follows the events of The Blade Itself and continues storylines carefully set up in the first novel. All of the major characters from The Blade Itself return here, and leap off the page just as much as they did in the first book. Cynical Inquisitor Glokta and optimistic Logen Ninefingers in particular continue to stand out, with their beloved idioms and now-familiar catchphrases making the book feel like a reunion with old friends. It’s Joe’s ability to create vivid and unique voices for each of his characters that really makes his First Law books stand out, not only in the characters’ internal monologues but also in the flowing and fantastic dialogue. In fact, it’s almost shocking when you realise how much of the novel is comprised of just dialogue . . . and yet it never gets boring. I said in my review of The Blade Itself that it was easy to overlook the fact that there isn’t all that much actually happening, because the character-focused narrative and gripping internal monologues keep the pace flowing smoothly; and the same is also true of Before They Are Hanged.
In this second instalment of the First Law trilogy, our characters are spread far and wide across the known world. Glokta is investigating the disappearance of an Inquisition representative in the besieged city of Dagoska in the South; West is on campaign against the wild men of the North; and Bayaz, Jezal, Logen and Ferro have set out on a mysterious quest to the edge of the World to find a long-lost relic of enormous power. This means, of course, that the events here are on a larger scale than those of the first book; and yet the consistent focus on a small handful of characters gives the book a curiously intimate feel. The characters themselves develop much more noticeably here, and it’s fascinating to see them change in often unexpected ways, in keeping with the darkly cynical tone of the series. Joe is a master at pulling the rug from beneath the reader in terms of our expectations of both characters and events, and Before They Are Hanged is no exception.