This is the first book in a trilogy called The First Lawand I should stress that it is not in itself a complete story. In fact, in many ways it readsThis is the first book in a trilogy called The First Lawand I should stress that it is not in itself a complete story. In fact, in many ways it reads more like a prologue. A coming together of the cast and setting the stage before the story itself gets going.
That’s being a little harsh perhaps, but I didn’t find it a satisfying experience to read just this book so it’s worth noting. Be prepared to invest in all three books. And it is probably worth your time reading all three because this one has a lot to recommend it.
Now right before reading The Blade Itself I had just finished a re-read of The Lord Of The Rings (my first in a while) and so I couldn’t help comparing the two books while I was reading this one. And it’s quite a contrast.
While The Lord Of The Rings deals in heroic figures who are larger than life and better than the average man, The Blade Itself is populated with mean, petty, broken people. Aragorn and Frodo are the sort of people we might aspire to be, while the characters here are the sort we would look down on and judge wanting.
And yet, throughout the book and despite the horrible things that some of the characters do, there is a thread of hope of redemption running through Joe Abercrombie’s story. The suggestion that regardless of what they have done they can do something good. A detail that I think actually rings true in Tolkien’s work as well.
While unquestionably modern fantasy with all itsgrimdark trappings there are moments here where wondrous buildings are described and events are narrated where it sounds like just the sort of thing we might see in Middle-Earth. So we have an interesting melding of the classic high fantasy with the new gritty realism.
And the characters are very interesting and quite complex. You may well not like them very much and in some cases you may find that characters you thought were likeable turn out to be very flawed indeed. But for all that I found myself captivated by their lives and wondering how things were going to turn out for them.
Which is of course why it was so damn annoying that the book just ends. It’s not even a cliffhanger, it just ends.
There are clearly bigger elements being set up here. Corruption in the “Union”, Shanka (humanoid, apelike, goblin creatures) massing on the borders of the north; The Empire restive in the south and Eaters (people who have eaten men’s flesh) causing havoc for their own reasons.
None of this is resolved or even really clarified for us. It’s a big, epic, story and clearly you have to read the whole thing for it to make sense. But it’s a story I very much want to read all of now....more
Before They Are Hanged is the second book in Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy. As such it would make sense to start with the first book in the ser Before They Are Hanged is the second book in Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy. As such it would make sense to start with the first book in the series. You can read my review of The Blade Itself right here if you wish. The book picks up almost directly from where The Blade Itself left off and concerns itself with largely the same set of characters.
I remember reading, many years ago, the criticism that a trilogy structure almost invariably resulted in a middle book where people were "going somewhere." That is certainly true in this case. The book threads between three major storylines using several different viewpoint characters. These three storylines barely intersect at all during the course of the book. You can see that they will eventually impact each other, but to all intents and purposes at this point you're reading three stories set in the same world at the same time.
Of those three I found Sand dan Glokta's storyline the most compelling (whereas in the previous volume it was that of Logen Ninefingers). Glokta is a fascinating character being crippled and cynical yet with a strangely honorable core to him. His role as Superior of Dagoska in charge of the defense of the city and his interactions with the political leaders make for some entertaining scenes. Glokta also seems to be perpetually nosing around the edge of some larger conspiracy that is happening in the Union.
That's not to say that the other storylines are disinteresting. The battle between The Union and the northmen in Angland has some very tense moments to it but neither Colem West or the Dogman are as interesting characters to read. And the bickering of the "main" party gets a bit repetitive at times, particularly since they are the ones essentially doing a tour of the world in their quest to find The Seed which, naturally, is at the end of the world.
On the one hand Abercrombie is clearly telling an epic fantasy tale here. We have powers in play that can destroy cities. I mentioned in my previous review that there are moments where you get echoes of Tolkien. Here for example we get the idea that these same battles have been played out on a larger scale before. That what we have now is a mere shadow of the power and majesty that this world once knew.
And yet every time we get one of those moments, Abercrombie deftly flips things around to show us that what might seem like majesty is little more than arrogance and selfishness. That the golden past, wasn't really so golden.
He does the same thing with characters. There really isn't a noble one amongst the bunch. They are arrogant or selfish or cruel or flawed in some other way. Many of them do, or have done, horrible things. Yet, in most cases, he keeps them sympathetic.
Colem West is a good example of this. In the first book he lost his temper and violently attacked his sister. But we don't come away hating him. Instead we see someone who is struggling, desperately, to hang on. To stay in control. To keep his sister safe. He feels threatened and overwhelmed by everything around him. And from time to time he gives in to the anger that fear breeds. Flawed? Very. Evil? No.
Sand dan Gloctor is another one. On the surface he is a horrible person. He tortures people. Sometimes, he enjoys it. On occasion he knowingly sentences an innocent to death, because the alternative is his death. And yet, when given the chance, more than once he has taken a risk to save someone else. There is a strange nobility to the character. His pursuit of the truth is oddly honorable in a very twisted way.
Complexity Of Character
This complexity of character is present throughout the book and is one of its biggest strengths. The world building is solidly done but in truth there isn't that much to distinguish this fantasy world from many others beyond a certain gritty realism. The characters, however, are remarkably rich.
Take Ferro Maljinn for example. An escaped slave who was clearly treated very badly, her past has scarred her present. There's a great moment in this book where Ferror reveals that she cut her own face as an act of rebellion because then her owner wouldn't be able to charge as much for her "services." That rebellious self-mutilation is a physical manifestation of her personality. It reflects how she speaks to people and how she conducts relationships.
And the complexity is not limited to the primary viewpoint characters. While the minor characters, obviously, don't get the same time and attention even they have a complexity that you don't normally see in fantasy novels. They live lives and form relationships that aren't directly related to the needs or interests of the main characters.
Grim, Gritty And Ugly
I've mentioned elsewhere that I'm increasingly tired with the grim and gritty emphasis of modern fantasy. Not only do I think it has become a lazy way to add credibility to a book, I also think it's just plain depressing to read endlessly.
Before They Are Hanged is grim and gritty to the core. This is a brutal and ugly world. And in a brutal and ugly world people do horrible things to each other. There is also a layer of cynicism coated over everything that happens in this book. Cynicism that I would hazard a guess is informed by the British history (the Union strikes me as a fairly clear parallel to Britain), both political and military.
The book is also, at times, quite depressing to read because of all the violence and misery. And yet, Abercrombie manages to instill enough empathy for the viewpoint characters and offer out the meagerest of hopes that each of these characters may find some sort of redemption.
It's enough, at least when combined with the exceptionally skillful writing, to make me love reading these books. They aren't going to be to everyone's tastes. Some will find them just to grim and the violence too unpleasant. But they are really well written....more
Worth the incredibly long wait, but I'm not looking forward to the next interminable gap. Nice to revisit some of these characters after so long and IWorth the incredibly long wait, but I'm not looking forward to the next interminable gap. Nice to revisit some of these characters after so long and I do get the feeling that Martin is now attempting to pull all the different threads of his story together which he needs to if we're ever to get a conclusion.
Please though, there's one death that I really don't want to be a death!...more
This is the most entertaining fantasy I've read this year and probably the best from a writer new to me that I've read in years.
Locke Lamora is a scamThis is the most entertaining fantasy I've read this year and probably the best from a writer new to me that I've read in years.
Locke Lamora is a scam artist. An expert con-man. He and his band of _Gentleman Bastards_ prey on the rich in the city of Camorr (clearly styled after Venice). The stakes however soon grow higher and their plots spin out of control when they get tangled up in the schemes of the Grey King.
Lynch has a great balance between character, plot and background. The fantasy world feels solid even though very little of it is really detailed and the background we do get springs naturally from the story and while the plot starts slowly it is put to good effect in establishing the closeness of the _family_ that the Gentleman Bastards have formed amongst themselves.
Lynch is not sentimental with his characters. They suffer and some of them die. They're also not pure heroes in any way. The nobles, the merchants and the thieves are all guilty of something. The world he creates is dangerous. Magic is deadly as is alchemy in it's own way.
I'd call this one a must read and I'm already hunting down the sequel....more
Martha Wells is a sadly under appreciated fantasy author. Though she has been writing and publishing for some years somehow the success she deserves hMartha Wells is a sadly under appreciated fantasy author. Though she has been writing and publishing for some years somehow the success she deserves has eluded her.
The Cloud Roads is a great example of what Wells has to offer as an author. She writes fantasy yes, but there are no elves and dwarves here. This is a unique and remarkably fully realized world. She gives it depth and history with only a few sentences.
The characters are the same. Some we get no more than a couple of paragraphs description of and yet the feel real and I wanted to know more about them.
The story itself is more familiar territory with an orphan boy and a Princess. There is danger and intrigue and of course romance. And these characters are not mere stereotypes I found myself caring how things would work out where sometimes it just feels like going through the motions.
This isn't my favorite of Martha Wells work. That award still goes to Wheel of the Infinite, but I was very happy to discover there are two further books to this series and that I will get to explore this distinctive Three Worlds setting further.
There's a lot still to be explained including the origins of both the Raksura and the Fell....more
Sequels are treacherous things. Can the author bottle lightening for a second time? Do the characters and the settings have the depth to stretch? WasSequels are treacherous things. Can the author bottle lightening for a second time? Do the characters and the settings have the depth to stretch? Was the book not actually as good as you remembered anyway.
In this case though I was pleasantly surprised. Red Seas Under Red Skies is every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor The Lies of Locke Lamora.
The core format of the story remains the same. It is shamelessly inspired by classic caper movies. The central characters jump through multiple identities and plot ever more complex double, triple and quadruple crosses. This is exactly the sort of thing that made the first book so enjoyable.
But Lynch seems to be attempting both to explore more of his detailed fantasy world and to grow his characters. I'm always happy to read more about the settings and history of these books. They are wonderfully rich and convincing. The character growth met with mixed success.
While Locke and Jean's religious training was just touched on in the first book, suddenly it becomes a central element of their moral compass. The swing is just a little bit too abrupt for comfort. Particularly early in the story before enough events have occurred to really justify it.
At first I thought the pirate elements of the story were a similarly odd story branch, but looking back the turn out to be crucial to getting the level of emotional attachment required for the punishment that they finally dish out. And more importantly perhaps those elements are highly entertaining in their own right.
I wouldn't want to be a character in this series though. The death toll is high and the living tend to suffer even more than the dead....more
Tigana has been one of my favorite fantasy books since the first time I read it fifteen or more years ago.
It has far more depth than most fantasy bookTigana has been one of my favorite fantasy books since the first time I read it fifteen or more years ago.
It has far more depth than most fantasy books, both in the the complexity of the characters it presents and in the politics of the world that it presents. But that depth doesn't in any way hinder the main plot. For all the darkness and sadness the book somehow remains a light read.
At it's core the book's plot turns on two things: pride and memory. Guy Gavriel Kay gives us example after example of pride and the things it makes people do but it is often memories that feed that pride.
There's really no hero in the traditional sense and not precisely a villain either though one of the two tyrants is clearly the more selfish, both of them do despicable things.
But so do the protagonists. Lying, manipulating, killing. They do whatever they feel they must in the service of their cause. Are they good because we are made to sympathize with that cause?
Not really. Kay plays a clever trick here and soon has us sympathizing with one of the tyrants too. Even while horrifying us with the depth his need for revenge.
And in the end there is no evidence that anyone really learned from their experiences. Right up to the end Brandon the tyrant feels that he is a victim. "See what you make me do!" he cries out.
But this is background. You can enjoy the book on the surface even while these elements play out. There is a simple and exciting adventure story overlaying the deeper elements of the plot. And if there is tragedy, there are also signs of hope.
The book is steeped in magic, but it isn't about magic. In fact we really never find out how magic works in this world. There's a depth to the culture too, much of it never fully explained. It is background that enriches the story without getting in the way.
In the end Tigana is sophisticated fantasy that doesn't need to beat you over the head with its sophistication. It's also a must read for any fantasy fan....more
It's relatively short, which makes it an easy read and it plays with form quite a bit. There are chapter illustrThis is a rather unique story/novella.
It's relatively short, which makes it an easy read and it plays with form quite a bit. There are chapter illustrations. Between chapter bits that I don't have a name for. And a few pages have only a sentence on them.
The method of telling the story is a little unusual to. We are conducted from character to character by an omniscient narrator who seems aware of past and present. And each chapter focuses on one of the 19 Dragons. It's a collection of scenes, characters and short stories that somehow comes together to tell a story.
Did I mention it's written in the present tense? I don't really like reading things that are in the present tense, yet it didn't bother me much at all here. Maybe because it's such an unusual concoction to begin with.
The setting is a mixture of steampunk and fantasy. The story has a dreamlike aura to it. Details are sketched in but many of the underpinnings aren't explained. It doesn't seem to matter. Somehow it holds together anyway.