Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The First Law (Book #2 of 3), First Law World (Book, #2 of 10)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Grimdark fantasy
Published: 15th March 2007 by Gollancz (UK) & 8th September 2015 by Orbit (US)
This is when I start to bemoan about picking up this trilogy so late. To think that I actually met Abercrombie at WorldCon last year before completing The First Law. It was such a travesty of an opportunity, and I’m repentant for it.
Before They Are Hanged is a fantastic sequel that elevated everything which made the first book so enjoyable. The story picked up immediately from the previous book and really took off from here. The Blade Itself introduced the main characters of the trilogy and brought them together in one superb scene towards the end of that book, before splitting them into three different plotlines in this sequel. And each and every one of these subplots were so engaging to read.
Firstly, and most of all, I utterly enjoyed spending time with all these characters (well, maybe except for one – I just couldn’t get with Ferro). Glokta and Logen were already well-developed in their respective roles so it was just a matter of sitting back and watching them do what they do best, in a most entertaining manner. West and Jezal, however, underwent significant development during the trials and tribulations beset on them. Saddled with the unenviable job of managing the worst possible regiment of the King’s Army in the Union’s battle with the King of the Northmen, West demonstrated what he was capable of under tremendous stress and pressure. And the person that emerged from all that surprised me on one level, and delighted me on another when he crossed a line that I’d never thought he would but secretly hoped he will. Jezal’s growth was on a whole different league altogether. Stuck on a long and perilous journey with the unlikeliest companions, the young and arrogant dandy was motivated to reconsider his priorities in life and world view. His growing friendship with Logen was the highlight of his character arc for me.
One thing I’ve not mentioned in my prior review was the worldbuilding. For some reason, I did not expect The First Law to be related to the world’s mythology as I’ve always had the impression that these books are highly military and political. Well, I was not completely wrong, especially about the politics, but was instead pleasantly surprised with the mythological aspects of the worldbuilding. As such, the journey that Logen and Jezal undertook with Bayaz and a few others, was my favourite subplot in this book. Glokta’s POV, as usual, was highly political. While politics will never be a favourite of mine, I couldn’t help but had a great time reading his chapters because he is such a compellingly complex (and darkly funny) character.
Say one thing for Abercrombie, say that he excels in grimdark humour. It’s a fine balancing act to maintain the grimdark tone in the story while incorporating just the right dose of humour to keep it fun in spite of it. Wry, sardonic humour aside, the award of possibly the funniest sex scene is undoubtedly Abercrombie’s – it’s by far the least sexy and most awkward scene I’ve ever read that was just as memorable as his characters.
At the time of writing this review, I’m already a third of my way into reading Last Argument of Kings, the final book of the trilogy. These books are immensely binge-worthy as the story flows very well from one to another. Most of all, though, is that you just cannot get enough of the characters. And that is why you would want to keep going back to them.