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Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law Paperback – March 14, 2017
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Top Customer Reviews
Joe Abercrombie, the self-styled “Lord Grimdark” took the fantasy world by storm in the mid-2000s with his First Law trilogy. Part epic fantasy, part satirical deconstruction of Lord of the Rings, and part black comedy, the trilogy introduced us to Abercrombie’s snarky, endearing, and at times utterly horrific menagerie of characters. It will make you laugh, it will make you blanch, and in the end it will leave you with complete emotional exhaustion.
The term “grimdark” is a tricky phrase. It means different things to different people. Abercrombie writes a dark world, true, but the moments of genuine beauty and the goodness that human beings are capable of shine through that much brighter for all the muck and grit that covers things. The Circle of the World is a place where being a good man or woman is very hard. But people still try. Sometimes they fair, sometimes they succeed, but the struggle is what makes you root for them. Words like “good” and “evil” often have no place as value judgments in Abercrombie’s world. To paraphrase Logen Ninefingers, sometimes it’s just a matter of where you’re standing.
In addition to the First Law trilogy, Abercrombie wrote three stand-alone novels set in the same world, bringing his unique Tolkien-meets-Tarantino flavor to the revenge story, war story, and frontier western genres. Sharp Ends is a collection of short stories that’s pans across his entire First Law timeline, the first coming before the beginning of The Blade Itself, and the last taking place after the end of Red Country. We see some old familiar faces, and are introduced to some new ones as well. These stories have the same combination of comedy, tragedy, violence, and brutality that makes Abercrombie’s other work so brilliant. The cast of characters is diverse, and real in such a profound way that I honestly don’t know how he manages to keep pumping them out.
Sharp Ends is the best fantasy collection that I’ve read since George R.R. Martin’s cross-genre anthology, Rogues (which also featured Abercrombie’s Nebula Award winning story, Tough Times All Over). In addition to Tough Times All Over I also have to praise A Beautiful Bastard, Made a Monster, and Some Desperado, though all of these stories are worth the price, and all of them have their own sharp ends…
For me, though, it was the Shev and Javre stories that are worth the price of admission. Joe Abercrombie has stated that Shev and Javre are his take on Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but they are not mere pastiche. They are wonderful characters. The stories are funny and fast-paced and it really is time for a Shev and Javre trilogy.
Some of the stories were better than others, which is always the case with anthologies. I'd been excited to read the first story, about Salem Rews and Sand dan Glokta several years before The Blade Itself was set. It turned out to be more of a snapshot than much of a story, though. It was clear that it was about to lead into the events that turned Glokta into the man he would become, but it wasn't about that. It was just a look at what kind of person Glokta was before. Interesting, but I wanted more.
I enjoyed the introduction of Whirrun of Bligh, before anyone knew much about him. He's a fun character, and the end of that story was one of those really perfect endings.
The story of Nicomo Cosca through rose colored glasses was amusing at first, but ultimately it didn't work for me. He was one of my favorite characters to read, throughout the series, one of the more complicated, interesting characters. Reading such a delusional, deceptive view of him was funny, at first, but then it quickly just became tiresome and I found myself bored.
My favorite stories were the ones about Shev and Javre. I felt he put most of his character development effort in there. There was humor and there was introspection, and everything about them was really enjoyable. Their friendship was the best thing about the book. My one complaint is the placement in the timeline of "Tough Times All Over," which didn't make a lot of sense to me. I felt that the events in "Three's a Crowd" would've worked much better if they'd come after "Tough Times All Over," chronologically. It almost looks like a mistake, although where Abercrombie is concerned I assume that what he does is usually intentional, so maybe he meant to show the lack of character development as a comment on their personal flaws. I'm not sure how I feel about it.
I would absolutely recommend this book to any fan of the First Law setting. I would not suggest it as an introduction to his work, though. Read some of the First Law books first, and then come to this if you enjoy that.