This review may contain spoilers for the previous book in the series – The Blade Itself
Fast paced and relentless. Dark and brutal, but with a heavy undertone of humour, Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie is a real triumph in balancing grim realism, fantasy, humour and a tiny speck of hope. I had pretty high expectations coming into this one – after all, despite a slightly slow build up, I had really enjoyed the previous book – and I am glad to say that this book not only met these expectations, but blew past them. As a quick note, in my last review, I said that it is reminiscent of A Song of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones) and I 100% stick by that – only, it is quite possibly better, if less epic in scale.
The story, quite naturally, carries on from The Blade Itself in following Logen Ninefingers, Jezal dan Luthar and Inquistor Sand dan Glokta (or Superior Glokta, now). However, I would say the story has expanded beyond mainly following these three into three main story lines instead, including a wide range of POV characters than before. These story lines can be summarised as:
- Glokta’s struggle to defend the city of Dagoska from the Gurkish Empire while also solving the mystery of his predecessor’s murder by, want he strongly suspects, are traitors from the cities ruling council.
- Logen Ninefinger’s, Jezal dan Luthar’s, Bayaz’, Ferro’s, Malacus Quai’s and Brother Longfoot’s quest to the edge of the world in search of an ancient magical
- Major West’s and Dogman’s battles to survive the bloody war in the north between Bethod’s forces and The Union.
I’ll be straight to the point here: this is gonna be a pretty long section. I loved this book and here are some of the main reasons why!
- Characters: These really, really make this book… and this whole series so far. We started to get to know the characters in the last book, but in this book, they really came out of their shell. Again, Glokta is the real standout – his internal dialogue is just fantastic and brings all his chapters to life. An honourable mention must also go to Logen Ninefingers; I thought he was a bit bland in The Blade Itself, but really enjoyed his POV chapters in this book. This book also sees some pretty big character growth for most of the others, but I won’t say anymore encase of spoilers.
- Pacing: The last book wasn’t exactly slow, but it did meander a little in getting to where it was going. Not that that is a complaint, but in comparison, this book shoots off like a rocket from the word ‘go’. The characters are all off on the respective journeys at the start, with the vast majority of build-up occurring in the previous book, and so we really are thrown in the deep end here. Combine this with plenty of battles and lethal skirmishes, and you get a very fast-paced book that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.
- The underlying hints of humour: This really separates this book from so many other ‘Grimdark’ fantasies and elevates it up. Yes, there are lots of horrific and brutal parts in book, but it never feels oppressive or depressing or just a little gratuitous as little snippets of sarcasm and bleak humour bubble under the surface throughout Abecrombie’s writing. This is most noticeable with Glokta – and is also most needed with him due to his profession and background – but I think is also hugely evident in the way he writes Ferro and Logen’s interactions.
What can I say in here? Honestly, I’m kind if stuck. Maybe, I have one teeny, tiny nit-pick….
- The speed of Jezel dan Luthar’s character change: I’m being very picky here as this didn’t really annoy me, but Luthar’s character change pretty much went from 0 to 100 in one scene. It all trickled along pretty slowly until he was suddenly a different person. This was actually handled pretty well, and is understandable in relation to the scene’s circumstances, but yeah, it was abrupt. Personally, I think he will regress a little bit in the next book and find himself halfway between his old, selfish self and his new, more open and caring self.
Do I recommend this book? Hell yes, I do! I honestly think it maybe my book of the year so far – which considering the quality of some of the other books I have read this year is no mean feat! If you like fantasy and you like your books to be full of vivid characters (who doesn’t?), then I am pretty confident you will love this!