Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

17 Jul

*******WARNING, SPOILERS BELOW***********



Ok, so we run into the second book of the First Law trilogy, Before They Are Hanged (from here on in, we’ll be calling it BTAH, which is a pleasantly Glokta-ish word.)

Anyway BTAH shows a great leap forward from The Blade Itself which in itself was a big wonderful read.   While TBI was mostly set in Adua with a claustrophobic atmosphere, BTAH is truly epic in scope, following three story threads in three different sections of the world.  We barely see Adua at all.  In fact, since all the people seemed scattered around the world I was wondering how these stories would come back together in the end.  Let me save you the tension to tell you they don’t–at least not yet, though a sharp eye can see connections between the three.

The first thread is about Glokta and how he roots out disloyalty in Dagoska–a lone city owned by The Union on the edge of the Gurkish Empire.  The Gurkish Empire wants this city back, naturally, after they had lost it in a war.  On top of that, the city counsel is completely corrupt and had the previous high inquisitioner murdered.  This is by far the best of the three tales told here (though they’re all good.)  Partially it’s because the pressure is pushed to the max here, with Glokta really being in danger through most of the book.  Actually, themes like vulnerability, being exposed, out in the open are all here throughout all the tales.  It’s fascinating watching Glokta at work.  The funny thing is the mystery is a sort of macguffin, driving the plot forward, but not really where our attention lies.   Glokta escapes just in time before the city falls.    Also we get a glimpse of the eaters and they are a thousand times more creepy than you could ever imagine.

The second thread has to do with Major West and the troops to the north fighting the northmen.  The Dogman has decided to support the Union side, and there’s a great deal of battle.  This part has the most heart wrenching scenes in the whole series yet, particularly in the battles which are short, ugly, and filled with pointless death.  In these books, wars have no real winners, and even though the fight in the north goes better than the Dagoska seige, there’s some great losses.  Major West transforms into being like the northmen when he has to join them in escape (after the prince sets up a terrible battle that was basically a suicide mission).  He murders the prince and earns the nickname “Furious.”  He bites a man’s nose off.  What’s interesting is as soon as he’s back with the troops he reverts back to his old self.  One thing about these books is that characters act according to their environment, so changes always happen, but they’re usually temporary.

The third thread is Bayez and crew going on a trek across the old empire.  Here we have the most Macguffiny of Macguffins as they go to get The Seed, and it turns out it’s not there.   Logan and Ferro get in a very uncomfortable love affair.  Jezal learns humility, at least for the time being.  This was the weakest of the three stories, though all the characters develop interestingly.   The weakness comes from Bayez’s fondness of telling the old stories, and I could not keep track of all his lore and who was who in is tales of olden times.  Not to mention that Bayez is very clearly not to be trusted, so I’m not sure how much of his storytelling is real in the first place.

I ate this book up–the gloves off feel of the storytelling really makes the risks palpable.  I have to continue my warning though, if you like your good people good and your bad people bad, this is not the book for you.  The “heroes” here are all deeply flawed, and nobody, and I mean nobody, wins.  Sound depressing?  It’s not–because what makes these books touching are the little ways that all the characters cope in such a rough cruel world.

Highly recommended, but read the first book.

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