on February 15, 2008
I'm an avid reader - in fiction, specializing in science fiction and fantasy. However, while I tend to try to find the more cerebral, cutting-edge or challenging SF, I've often treated fantasy as a guilty pleasure.
Not so with Before They Are Hanged or its predecessor, The Blade Itself. There is no escapism here, no dialog that would be found only at the Elizabethan court. This is rough-and-tumble fantasy, only earning the label because there are swords and sorcery.
And this sequel is not fluff or a fond return. Abercrombie, if anything, has fit 1000 pages of story into one-half of that, as the architect of an amazing tale that builds on the solid foundation of the first novel. The story is tight, exceedingly well-written, and has one of the most realistic and believable (if dark) worlds I've ever seen created. The same goes for the characters.
There are no knights-in-shining armor. If you prefer flawless heroes and damsels in distress, this book is not for you. However, if you want a well-written story full of insights into human nature, the world at large, and the art of storytelling, I can think of few other books that deliver like this one has.
These books have the capacity to redefine and revolutionize the fantasy genre. Abercrombie, while young, is an amazing and innovative writer that I look forward to reading more of in the future.
on June 18, 2008
"Before They Are Hanged" is the second volume in the First Law Series by promising young British writer Joe Abercrombie. The first novel, the wonderful "The Blade Itself" was a fantastic introduction to a series featuring brutal, hard-boiled characters, excessive profane language and copious amounts of violence. It was dark fantasy at its best--nasty and brutish.
Well I am here to say that "Before They Are Hanged" is an even bigger, meaner and better story as things get kicked up here to another gear.Inquistor Glokta and the barbarian, Logen "The Bloody Nine" Ninefingers are anti-heroes for the ages. Abercrombie turns all of his characters, who are filled with violence, maliciousness and machinations, into guilty pleasures. You know you should feel shocked and offended at some of the things the characters say or do, but it is just too damn hard not to enjoy it. While it may be good to be the King, it is also good to be bad.
As the novel begins, the Union finds itself at war on its Northern front against Bethod and his massive horde of battle-tested barbarians. Impending war with the Gurkish also threatens the southern city of Dagoska.
Inquistor Glokta has been dispatched to Dagoska to solve the mysterious disappearance of the previous Inquisitor of Dagoska. He finds he must overcome the corrupt and incompetent leadership of the city in order to achieve his objective, and defend the city from the impendingGurkish attack. Deadly backroom political intrigue ensues as forces within and without battle for their own agendas, causing Glokta to use his wits in order to keep control.
Meanwhile operating under his own agenda, the wizard, Bayaz, has gathered a party of his own, the mindless and arrogant Union officer, Jezal dan Luthar, the mysterious hate-filled Ferro Maljinn, and Logen. They have set out to recover an apocalyptic artifact from the past which Bayaz covets, the Seed. This device supposedly contains a destructive force so powerful and otherworldly that it will be able to save the Union from the invasions of both theGurkish and the North. But will Bayaz' group be able to recover the Seed and harness its power in time to save the Union?
Like "The Blade Itself", Abercrombie's writing here is hard-edged and relentless. Like a nail-chewing, steroid-popping beast of a fantasy novel, the story's pace flies at breakneck speeds, flexing its considerable muscles during well-conceived battle sequences. The action pounds, the dialogue cracks, and the humor oozes through, combining into one of the most enjoyable reading experiences of the year. I find that I cannot wait for the conclusion.
Better than the first novel, "Before They Are Hanged" is a fast-paced, gritty bit of brutality and fantasy that grabs you and doesn't let go. Dark, well-conceived and enjoyable, this is one not to be missed.
on March 3, 2008
Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie is the second book in the First Law trilogy, the first being The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One). The third, and final book, Last Argument of Kings is scheduled for release in the United States in September, 2008. The First Law Trilogy is not your run of the mill, cliché ridden fantasy series. It is dark, twisted, and unlike most of the `traditional' fantasy books being published.
The plot, or should I say plots, of this book pick up right after The Blade Itself. There are three separate plots, that center on separate characters or a group of characters. There is the plotline of a character trying to hold a city under siege and the measures he undertakes to keep the city from falling. There is a plot revolving around a group of characters seeking an artifact to aid them in a greater task, I won't say anymore about that because of spoilers. Lastly, there is a plot about the pending invasion by the Northmen and how the Union soldiers can combat the attack. These are the three plot lines that essentially tie the book together, however, there are countless subplots woven into the book as well. There is a great deal of political underpinnings in two of the three plot lines as well as betrayal and other manners of one-up man ship between a couple characters.
The characters in this novel are essentially the same characters that were present in the first novel. Some of the returning characters are Glokta, Logen Ninefingers, Bayaz, Ferro, Jezal, and Colonel West among others. They are all complex characters and most, if not all, go through a great deal of character development in this novel. One of my complaints of the previous novel was that a couple characters came across as forced or contrived. That notion never crossed my mind with this novel. Rather, a couple of the characters go through quite an overall transformation due to their ordeals, such as West and Jezal. The characters in this book are top notch, they are gritty, rough, crass and real. If you are looking for light, happy characters that you can laugh with, look at a different book. I was rather impressed by the amount of character development in this book. Granted, some characters do not get a lot of character progression, but they all grow in some way or another. Whether it is a character realizing something about themselves due to an injury the incur or a character growing a backbone, to a character beginning to show a softer side of themselves to a select few people.
In The Blade Itself, it seemed Mr. Abercrombie had a few, shall we say growing pains. However, in this novel, there seems to be an exponential growth in both his writing and his overall story. If this type of growth continues with the next novel (and any future stories after that) I think readers will be more than pleased.
The only criticism I have of this novel is there is one particular character, Glotka, who has a great deal of what can only be described as internal dialogue. This holds true to the first book as well, but when I read the internal dialogue it just doesn't work very well for me. This may be a personal bias of mine, since I do not care for first person books. Some of the internal dialogue is fine, but there are points in the novel where it seems over used.
Where The Blade Itself seemed like a setup for future events, in Before They Are Hanged events occur at almost a frenetic pace leaving the reader little time to stop and catch their breath. Mr. Abercrombie seems to almost dare the reader to try and put down the book. The prose in this novel seems more refined and polished. The flow and pacing seem more natural and, at least to me, seemed easier to grasp and understand. This could very well be due to having the first novel under my belt already.
The First Law trilogy seems to be taking on the mantel of a fine painting. Taken piece by piece each book is solid. However, taken as a whole, as the entire trilogy, the true beauty of this work begins to stand out.
Overall, I think this is a marked improvement over the first novels minor flaws. If you are a fan of the fantasy genre and are seeking a solid adult fantasy novel, then by all means look no further than this trilogy. Although, you really need to start with the first book if you are to understand the events in this book. With Before They Are Hanged, Mr. Abercrombie has established himself as one of the new voices of the fantasy genre that will be around for many years to come. I can easily see myself recommending this trilogy to many people in the future.
on May 24, 2008
THE BLADE ITSELF was excellent (readers should start there, with the first book, not here), and though it was basically the set-up of the plot, it established the characters wonderfully. Here, the plot moves into high-gear as the Union Armies move to Angland, where Major West attempts to keep the spoiled and useless Crown Price from leading his troops to disaster. West meets up with the hardened Northmen warriors, the renegade Named Men: Threetrees, Dogman, Black Dow and Grim, who have been battling the inhuman Shanka as well as King Bethod's well-trained, magically aided army.
Instead of facing the cold and death and incompetence in the North, pampered nobleman, Captain Jezal, finds himself instead on the far side of the world with the First of the Magi, Bayaz, the legendary Northman, Logen Ninefingers and Ferro, the tireless former-slave who only desires revenge. They are on a quest in the Old Empire, replete with grand ruins of an ancient civilization, to recover a magical artifact that may change the balance of power among the Magi and the warring Empires and many hazards stand in their way.
And in the South, Superior Glockta of the Inquisition is charged with holding a city, an outpost of the Union, against an overwhelming force, the vast armies of the Gurkish Empire who are besieging it. He must also find out who is responsible for the disappearance of his predecessor and who may be plotting treason against the Union. And in a city that is virtually doomed to fall to the enemy, almost anyone could turn traitor.
If you liked the first book, you should like this as much or better. The characterization continues to deepen and grow in a satisfying way that makes the book worthy all on its own. The action is fast and furious with battles in the North and in the South and smaller but no less dire actions in the Old Empire. The blood and gore and torture and treachery continue as much as ever--or even more so as whole armies are slaughtered and the fates of Empires are at stake. As before, this is only a part of a continuing tale so not much is tied up at the end, although some story arcs are completed. Still, it remains an amazing read.
on March 8, 2012
Hey Joe Abercrombie, are you playing games with my mind? Yeah... I think maybe you are.
What's up with page 524? You dropping an Easter Egg in this thing?
On page 524, Mauthis says to Glotka, "You may dispense with the pleasantries, Superior." Ahhhh... that's the same line that Vader says to the Commander of the Death Star in Retrun of the Jedi. "You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I am here to put you back on schedule."
Then Mauthis says, "I have no ego to bruise." Ahhhh... that's the same line that Spock says to Kirk in Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan. "Jim, you proceed from a false assumption. I am a Vulcan, I have no ego to bruise."
Say one thing for Moondonkey, say that his knowledge spans the galaxy.
Brilliant analysis aside, I'm giving this book 3 stars. I gave The Blade Itself 4 stars, but I don't think the second book is quite as good as the first. Frankly, I expected to gain a little more understanding of where the series is going, the goals of the people in it, etc. I can't say that I did for the most part. Therefore, I'm giving the book 3 stars. Hey - that's still good though. I'm not one of those review zombies who gives everything they like 5 stars because "it was the best book ever" or some such nonsense. 3 is good. 4 is exceptional. 5 is off-the-charts awesome.
However, the overall series taken as a whole is what really matters here. It strikes me that the three books are really just one large novel split into three parts - so it is somewhat premature to rate each separately.
on September 5, 2014
The Blade Itself was a complete character study without a lot of plot, Before They Are Hanged has a little more plotting involved but for me it was still all about the characters. I travelled with them, I worried for them, I hoped for the best even in the midst of the worst and at the end I’m left wondering how they will ever get out of the complete mess they are all in.
-- "Strange how, with time, even the most terrible suffering of others can become . . . tedious"
Glotcka has proved again what a complex character he is. It he the misunderstood hero or is he the villain? I’m never quite sure myself. He can torture better than anyone but still it seems that he has a conscience and I love the inner dialogue he has. I look forward to his chapters because even though in so many ways he is awful he is also extremely clever and knows the true score. He might be dead as soon as the other players in the dangerous game he is playing if he can’t keep on the right side of the people in power. So he plays his part of the game better than anyone else and proves that just because you are horribly crippled the mind is a dangerous thing and being smart will save your ass more than a solid sword arm.
Logen and Ferro + the rest of the travelers (Bayaz, Jazel, Quai and Longfoot)
I ship Logen and Ferro so hard. Both are fierce warriors with horrible pasts. Again we get to see Logen and the burden he has carried by having Ninefingers as a traveler in his head. Logen is calm, smart and collected. He hands out great advice and seems like the true leader of the pack. But when Ninefingers comes out to play no one is safe, even his allies.
Ferro, I just want to hug you, but you’d probably slit my throat if I tried. Learning about her past made me feel so much for her character. She is a feral beast to be sure but I loved the time she and Logen spent together and how close they became.
Jazel surprisingly has grown on me, all it took was a near brush with death and some real pain to make the boy grow up a bit. He might be a decent person after all and it just make me wonder what is Bayaz grooming the boy for.
-- ‘Easy, now, and listen to me. It hurts, yes. Seems like more than you can take, but it isn’t. You think you’re going to die, but you won’t. Listen to me, because I’ve been there, and I know. Each minute. Each hour. Each day, it gets better.’
Bayaz is still a huge mystery to me and everyone else he is traveling with so I guess it is only fair I’m in the dark about his character as well. It seems that Quai has started to question his master a little more and the First Magi must tell stories of his past in order to convince the group that he is prepared and will not make the same mistakes again.
-- “All the great heroes of old, you know - the great kings, the great generals - they all faced adversity from time to time.” Jezal looked up. He had almost forgotten that Bayaz was there. “Suffering is what gives a man strength, my boy, just as the steel most hammered turns out the hardest.”
Wow what a journey these characters had and I will say at the end of it I was beyond surprised with how it all turned out. With all they went through to get where they were going I didn’t expect the outcome and can’t wait to see what the band of brothers + Ferro will do now.
The Northmen and West
The Named men from the north have found a common ally against Bethod, but the crafty king has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and things might just get a little bloody.
-- ”It was a bad day for men, all in all, and a good one for the ground. Always the way, after a battle. Only the ground wins.”
I was so upset with West at the end of The Blade Itself but seeing him in his new position and having to deal with the Prince and a few other circumstances I really began to like him again. He has practically redeemed himself to me and I honestly felt extremely bad for him at one point. But I like West and the Named men together and it seems they have a lot to teach each other.
The Rest of the Story
There was a lot going on in this and at the end of it and well to be honest, it seems hopeless for everyone. The deck is definitely stacked against them all and I’m not sure how they will win let alone survive the upcoming battles. There are so many players, old debts to be settled, new terrifying adversaries how many more will die???
That said I still can’t wait to see how everything plays out and I am crossing my fingers and hoping that at least of few of my favorite characters, if not all, will make it out alive.
Buddy Read of the next book cannot come soon enough.
on June 26, 2016
Middle entries in a trilogy are always complicated. You don’t get that exhilaration of a new story, nor the joys of watching plotlines end; instead, you’re watching pieces move around, setting up the finale yet to come. They’re hard books to write, and hard ones to evaluate on their own terms. And if anything, Before They Are Hanged has an even bigger problem: the lack of obvious structure of The First Law trilogy. So many fantasy series have an obvious endgame – the destruction of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the Iron Throne in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Last Battle in The Wheel of Time, and so forth. But The First Law doesn’t have any such obvious structure or endgame that’s apparent yet. There’s a country in peril of two different invaders (as well as a peasant uprising), the journey of a powerful wizard to retrieve a dangerous object, and a slew of more personal plotlines ongoing, and no immediately obvious place for them all to go.
And yet, for all of that, Before They Are Hanged works not just as a middle book, but as a book on its own terms, delivering an even better tale than The Blade Itself, outstanding character work, incredible action, great plot development, and such rich worldbuilding and evolution that you’ll be hard-pressed to stop for even a moment.
Much of that joy comes from author Joe Abercrombie’s outstanding ability to let his characters live and breathe, and more than that, to let them evolve and change. If The Blade Itself represented the setup for the series, Before They Are Hanged is the section where the characters begin to be shaped by – and shape – events around them in fascinating ways. Logen “Bloody Nine” Ninefingers begins to reveal exactly how he became the leader he once was held to be, as well as showing signs of the human being under the grizzled warrior. Sand dan Glokta, the mutilated prisoner, is still capable of brutal and horrendous acts, but also shows himself capable of incredible leadership – and surprising mercy. And Jezal dan Luthar, the arrogant swordsman, begins to see the world beyond himself for the first time. It’s all done wonderfully, with care and slow patience, and it gives the book a richness and warmth that’s often lost in the plotting of an epic fantasy trilogy.
But Abercrombie proves to be no slouch at all the trappings of the genre, either. Before They Were Hanged delivers some absolutely fantastic battle sequences, and Abercrombie shows himself equally capable of handling both the big picture as generals watch the fronts battle and the up-close and personal one-on-one combat, with the latter delivering some truly brutal and disturbing violence at times. More than that, he knows when to use it and when to leave it offscreen, allowing the incidents to occur when they matter most, and when they can impact the story or the characters as much as possible.
And then, beyond that, there’s the rich story, which manages to follow two very different martial fronts and a quest to the edge of the world, and weave between them effortlessly and yet perfectly, allowing each plot to come in at the maximum point where tension can be drawn out. More than that, Abercrombie lets each story follow its own pace, which lets the books feel less plot-driven and more driven by the characters and the world, something that so often fails in epic fantasy series. And yes, it’s all done with Abercrombie’s pitch-perfect mix of cynicism, black humor, character work, and skilled writing.
As I’ve said, I’m still not entirely sure where The First Law trilogy is going…but that’s okay. Because every storyline, and every character in them, is riveting enough on any number of levels to keep me reading, and render me excited that there’s more books set in this world, and had me opening up the third and final book within seconds of finishing this one. It’s all really become one of my favorite fantasy series in recent memory, one that draws on any number of inspirations while still feeling like its own unique, standout creation.
on November 3, 2015
Before they are Hanged is the second volume of The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. The First Law Trilogy along with a handful of other volumes are considered "must reads" by anyone who claims to be a grimdark fan. Whether or not this is the case is a matter of opinion but they are gritty, visceral, down-to-Earth fantasy with a lot of moral ambiguity as well as lack of pretension. They are the warm beer of fantasy and not the horribly watered down stuff we Americans produce, Samuel Adams exempted, but the good European stuff. The First Law Trilogy is a earthy lager with a rich working man's taste and...okay, I've wandered off topic.
I also want a beer.
In the previous volume of the series, archwizard Bayaz collected a ragtag collection of misfits to retrieve magical Maguffin which seemed deliberately designed to deconstruct as many of these fantasy road-trips as possible. This book picks up their journey where the previous one left off and allows us to reach a startling conclusion. It's a conclusion I only once before encountered in these kinds of stories, Young Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Peacock's Eye, which felt out of place there but worked here.
I've claimed elsewhere The First Law Trilogy works well as the "spiritual antithesis" of The Lord of the Rings and that's never more apparent in the Bayaz portion of the plot. It's the equivalent of Gandalf leading Conan, Red Sonja, the most obnoxious shining knight in the world, a complete idiot for a navigator, and his apprentice on a quest for the One Ring to use against an Arabic Sauron. While this is happening, Colonel West is leading an invasion of the North which is criminally under-supplied as well as poorly trained. Very few fantasy novels show invading armies crippled by disease, desertion, starvation, and poor training but these were daily parts of life in Medieval warfare.
Likewise, Inquisitor Glotka, my favorite character, is given the unenviable task of attempting to hold a poorly-defended city-state against the infinite hordes of the Gurka army. We also have Dogman and his gang which is a group of Northmen hard to describe but basically would make a wonderful television series to follow. They don't do much but damn if they're not always entertaining while they're doing it.
Much of the book's appeal is, essentially, how ruthlessly unsentimental the storytelling is about the fantasy genre. While never approaching parody, just about everyone has it made clear how awful war is and how utterly pointless the concept of causes in most of them are. Glokta is holding a city he can't hold but which he's doing so solely because it's a point of pride to the Union to hold it, no matter how many people are killed. Logen Ninefingers tries to explain how he regrets the path which lead him to become a famous warrior but might as well be speaking Greek to young Luthar. Ferro, who has known nothing but violence, wants to make a human connection with Logen but finds neither of them is capable of doing so easily.
I enjoyed the world-building for The First Law world a great deal. We get the backstory of the wizards, ancient empires, as well as some personal insight into the characters not detailed in the first book. Part of what I like about the book is Joe Abercrombie leave hints the stories we hear from Bayaz and other characters aren't the whole truth. Another thing which makes this series so memorable is there's very few objectively true perspectives.
The Gurkish Empire is portrayed as a horrific threat led by a False Prophet and his cannibal wizards but this view of them is as ignorant as the view they are no worse than any other ruler. Peace-makers and warmongers are equally ignorant with distrustworthy characters manipulating events from behind the scenes. Ignorant and stupid leadership is also more dangerous than outright evil.
You know, just like in real-life.
The moral ambiguity of the series is one of its best features with heroes, anti-heroes, villains, and everything in-between existing. The heroes can't automatically make the world a better place, though, and the villains may be better for society in the long run. Hell, the heroes may actually be working at cross purposes (what a novel concept). Astute readers will appreciate the opportunity to judge for themselves about the characters' actions.
For example, Inquisitor Glokta is a torturer and supporter of a corrupt regime who doesn't even believe in his superiors but does horrible deeds in their name. Despite this, I find him one of the most fascinating antiheroes in grimdark. After all, if every way is dark, why not walk boldly in the path which appeals to you most?
Don't answer that.
In conclusion, Before they are Hanged is an excellent book. It's mostly set up for the conclusion in the next volume but resolves several outstanding plots. I suggest everyone who has an interest in dark, gritty, and morally ambiguous fantasy fiction would find the First Law Trilogy a good read. It's a story not afraid to have the heroes set out to do something epic, sacrifice everything to get it accomplished, and still fail due to circumstances beyond their control.
on August 27, 2014
Abercrombie's books are a fun read. They're fast-paced, descriptive and highly entertaining. Clearly Glokta and Nine Fingers are the best characters. Glokta's internal monologue is one of the best aspects of the books. Because they're contemporary works, it's almost impossible not to compare Abercrombie's trilogy to the Game of Thrones series. Abercrombie's writing is in many ways the opposite of George R.R Martin's. Though both have some flaws, they each have elements that more than make up for them.
Where Martin spends an exhaustive amount of time and space on backstory and history, Abercrombie is content to give those elements short shrift and focus on the action at hand and moving the plot along. Martin's dialogue can be lofty and overwrought while Abercrombie is a master of concise brevity and economy of language. If I have any criticism of these (Abercrombie's) books, it's that the history of the world created here is so sketchy and underplayed it detracts sometimes from a very solid plot. For example, it's somewhat hard to believe virtually no one in this world has the vaguest idea of its origin when a number of the key figures in its foundation are still living. The First of the Magi is still alive, living in a library, and literally no one knows this? The House of the Maker is the center of the Union's capital yet no one, it seems, has the first clue who Kanedias was or what he did?
Like I said before, if you want an exciting, entertaining adventure, this book fits the bill. It's fun, fast reading as long as you don't really think too much. If you're looking for meticulous, detailed world building like in Tolkein, Martin, or even JK Rowling, these readings may fall a little short. The fight sequences are good though and the writing is crisp and flowing. I'm looking forward to the final part of the trilogy. Definitely worth the money.
Middle books in trilogies are often bridges between the start and end of the story. This can make them weaker since the characters are moving toward the story conclusion, but have not arrived. The classic example of such a bridge book is Tolken's The Two Towers, which has been referred to as "slogging toward Mordor".
Before They Are Hanged escapes the curse of the middle book. It is at least as compelling as The Blade Itself. The plot drives forward and the characters are interesting and deeply drawn.
The Blade Itself reminded me a bit of George R. R. Martin's Game of Throws (the first book). There are lots of plot elements and I was not sure that Abercrombie could tie it all up in three books. I have not read the final book, The Last Argument of Kings, so I can't say yet how well Abercrombie does at tying things together. But after the first two books I'm looking forward to reading the find book (at least we will not have Martin's "story that will never conclude").
These books reflect the world that we live in. Some of the events are harsh. Innocent people are tortured and killed. People act through amoral self-interest. The history that unfolds in the books is multi-faceted. Different people have different views of events and the heroes are flawed.
With 400 reviews as I write this there's not much too add. This is a series that needs to be read together. So if you have not read The Blade Itself, start now. If you don't mind the harsh elements of the story, I think that you'll like these books.