Book Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Before They Are Hanged

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick. Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem – he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world. And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much. Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged. –Goodreads

The Review:

The first book was good, with flashes of brilliance… this one was better.

I’ve heard so much about this series. When talking to normal people (those who don’t read more than just casually), Abercrombie’s name comes up a lot. It’s a mainstream series that, for the most part, lives up to all the hype. It’s credited as one of the first Grimdark novels, and that sentiment is much more apparent in this second book than the first. Authors these days are taking things a lot further, but you can definitely see the base influence here. I held off on reading it for several years because said normal people kept talking about how hard the torture scenes were to read. As it happens, almost every other Grimdark series I’ve read so far has been worse (much worse), so don’t let that scare you if you’re holding off for similar reasons (or don’t let it overly entice you haha).

The Blade Itself (book #1) came across very much like a setup novel. The characters were worth spending time with and the overall story was interesting, but when it came down to actual plot-progression, not a whole lot happened. That’s where Before They Are Hanged improved: pivotal moments happened left and right and the story finally caught up with all the other brilliant story components. I loved it. There were a few moments in particular that I’m still thinking about weeks later, which says a lot about the content. I’ll be reading everything I can get my hands on from this author.

My only criticism at this point is the lack of relatable female characters. The women are either conniving, simpering, or so hard they might as well be men with breasts. And so far their contributions to the story has more to do with what they can offer the men rather than instigators of plot advancement. It’s a minor criticism because I still enjoyed the hell out of this book, but it did affect my rating, so that’s why I’m highlighting it. When compared to Brian McClellan (a writer I’ve been reading alongside Abercrombie who has incredibly similar components but ALSO manages to give satisfying characters of both genders), you can see why my current reading experiences would lead me to believe the lack of relatable female characters is was a missed opportunity worth mentioning. However, Glokta might be good enough on his own to compensate tenfold…

Recommendations: Before They are Hanged was a fantastic continuation to the First Law Trilogy – removing all reservations I had about the series from the first one. It has one of the best characters in fantasy (Glokta), some gritty action, and a lot of substance. I’ll happily recommend it as a staple of the genre.

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by Niki Hawkes

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