Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2)

Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2)

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”

I am astonished by how much I loved this book. I went from thinking that grimdark wasn’t for me to being an unapologetic convert to the genre. Whatever the cause for my change of heart, I’m insanely glad it happened, because Before They Are Hanged is absolutely fabulous. Brimming with humor and overflowing with compelling characters, the second installment of The First Law quenched a thirst for high stakes and long odds that I didn’t even know I had.

“Honour, eh? What the hell is that anyway? Every man thinks it’s something different… The more of it you have the less good it does you, and if you’ve got none at all you don’t miss it.”

First, I’m crazy impressed that Abercrombie was able to pack this much character development and engaging plot into a second installment. With so many trilogies, book two is something to struggle through, bogging readers down in overly extensive world building and an awkward trudge from the introductory plot points of book A to the concluding plot points of book C. There are exceptions, of course. City of Blades, Words of Radiance, Valor, and Bloody Rose are among some of the best books I’ve ever read, and they were second installments, though not exclusively for trilogies. It looks like I can now add Before They Are Hanged to that list, as it kept me completely enthralled from start to finish.

“People love to see death. It reminds them that however mean, however low, however horrible their lives become… at least they have one.”

Abercrombie could (and should) give classes on crafting amazing character development. Every single perspective character grew by leaps and bounds in this book. Even those whose point of view chapters were scant in The Blade Itself (Ferro, West, and Dogman) were incredibly compelling and vibrant and sympathetic. I cared about every single perspective character, and was always a teensy bit desperate for my time with them to last a little longer before the point of view shifted. Abercrombie did an amazing job of imbuing each plot line with a sense of urgency that kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration of the book. It was honestly a little exhausting, but in the best way possible. While all of the characters grew tremendously and felt almost tangibly real, the award for the most character development in this book and possibly in any book I’ve ever read has to go to Jezal Luthor. I don’t want to spoil anything by getting into how he grew and why, but I was astounded by his alteration.

“Anyone can face ease and success with confidence. It is the way we face trouble and misfortune that defines us.”

Something that is always hit or miss for me is an author’s presentation of sex scenes. Some are beautiful, like those written by Nora Roberts, emphasizing the emotion of the act more than the mechanics. Some are painfully awkward, like just about every sex scene I’ve ever read by Stephen King. (The man is insanely talents with words, but they fail him when it comes to sex. I wish he would just…not.) Abercrombie’s sex scenes are hands down among the funniest I have ever read. There was one scene in particular that was perhaps the angriest mutual sex act I’ve ever read, and it had me laughing so hard my sides hurt.

“A choice between killing and dying is no choice at all. You have to be realistic about these things.”

Also, I’m not usually a fan of fiction this militaristic; I tend to get lost in the details. However, Abercrombie excels at that as well, and really makes me care not only about the outcome but about the battles themselves. Is there anything this man can’t do?

“An open mind is like to an open wound. Vulnerable to poison. Liable to fester. Apt to give its owner only pain.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever rated another book with 5 full stars and placed it among my favorites that left me so unsatisfied. There were decisions made and outcomes reached that were incredibly anticlimactic and had me groaning in disappointment. However, I knew from the warnings of friends (Petrik and Emma in this case) not to expect rainbows and unicorns. This is grimdark, after all. The name of the genre should tell you not to hope for a happy ending. Because I was warned, that frustration that I felt at said outcomes only added to the reading experience for me. There were no neatly tied conclusions to the plot lines Abercrombie followed throughout this book. I have a feeling that I’ll feel the same except to a greater extent about the final installment. And I’m actually okay with that. While I still have my fingers crossed that SOMETHING will turn out okay for at least one or two of the characters, I have no illusions of a happily ever after. I actually think that it would cheapen the entire story if everything worked out in the end, and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that way before. I love happy endings, but such an outcome wouldn’t be at all believable in this case.

“There was no such thing as luck. Luck was a word idiots used to explain the consequences of their own rashness, and selfishness, and stupidity. More often than not bad luck meant bad plans.”

I’m so glad that I decided to give this series another chance, and that I happened to be in just the right mood for it when I picked it up. If The Last Argument of Kings is as good as its predecessors, it looks like I’ll be rearranging my already stuffed living room shelves to make room for another favorite series. Here’s hoping it blows me away!

You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!

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