Chris Davis's Reviews > Before They Are Hanged

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
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M 50x66
's review
Jul 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy

The first book in The First Law trilogy was brilliantly written and thoroughly enjoyable, however it is fair to say that not a lot happened. The same can be said about Before They Are Hanged. While the first book in a trilogy can be excused for being a bit slow, due to the need for character build up and the like, a slow second book is a bit less forgivable.

The book follows three main storylines. My personal favorite character is Glokta, the tortured soldier turned torturer, so I enjoyed his story. In a strange way, Glokta is perhaps the most understandable of the characters. Having been tortured and left a cripple, you can understand why he feels little remorse for those he tortures. Glokta has been sent to Dagoska to find out what happened to the previous Inquisitor and prevent the destruction of the city from the Southern warriors approaching.

The second story follows Bayaz, Logen, Jezel, Ferro, and co, as they journey to the edge of the earth to retrieve the Seed, a destructive force that could turn the tide of the war in their favor. This part of the story carefully sidesteps a lot of cliches. Bayaz is a powerful wizard, but he doesn't have all the answers and there are real limits to his power. Logen is a barbarian, but only when he rages. For the most part he is intelligent and a decent guy. It could easily have been a cheesy fantasy crew, but it is handled well and you actually forget that you are reading something that could be straight from Dungeons and Dragons.

The final story centers around West and his attempts to defeat the northern army. West is joined by Threetrees and his crew of rogue northerners and this is where we get the best battle scenes. Abercrombie's writing is tight here. He handles battle scenes well and the mystical elements are subtly introduced. Some of the more emotional moments are contained here and they will really get to you. The Prince leading the army was ridiculously one-dimensional, but other than that this part of the book reads well.

Abercrombie is a great writer and I admire his attempts to avoid some of the obvious fantasy cliches. The book is funny while also being dark. At times it felt like A Song of Ice and Fire Lite. It has some familiar themes and elements of political struggle, but everything moves along a lot faster. The political intrigue is also present, but on a reduced scale and a lot of it goes on in the background.

There are negatives, but they do not spoil the book or stop me from recommending it. They are relatively minor, but that just makes it more annoying in some ways--the story could have been easily improved with some minor changes. First, the book needed some decent female characters. One was weak and feeble and the other was simplistic and barbaric. Neither was interesting. Second, the plot lines all had weak endings and did not set up the third book well. I feel Abercrombie should have hinted more at what was to come, to get anticipation high for the final book. Finally, we need to know more about the northern and southern armies. It isn't enough to just know that they are attacking. We should have seen through the eyes of Bethod or someone in his army, and the same for the southern army. For all we know, they could be the good guys! This is the part that needs to change most in the final book. I really want to know more about the enemy, before deciding who I want to win.

Despite the negatives, there is a lot here to suggest that the third book is going to be a good one. I'm looking forward to seeing how this ends!


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Reading Progress

July 27, 2011 – Shelved
May 22, 2012 – Started Reading
May 23, 2012 –
page 44
June 6, 2012 – Shelved as: fantasy
June 6, 2012 – Finished Reading

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