I’ll be honest with you here: short stories aren’t my usual cup of tea. I read a few ones here and there, but I do generally prefer full-sized novels. It’s just usually better to get properly involved with a character and story, in my opinion. However, if Joe Abercrombie is going to write stuff, then I’m gonna read it.
Sharp Ends is a collection of short stories set in the First Law world. Some of these are based around characters that we already know from his previous books. You’ll get to meet a young Glokta, Logen Nine-Fingers while he still works for Bethod, Temple during the siege of Dagoska, and a few others. Plus, we get a new pair of adventurers in what could loosely be called a series as we follow their time together. And Shevedieh and Javre are pretty damn hilarious together, let me tell you.
Of all these stories, as is the nature of stories, some were better than others. Or I should say that I enjoyed some more than others. My personal favourites were Two’s Company because, honestly, we have all felt like poor Shev when confronted with a couple of idiots arguing, as well as Made a Monster because of the different view of Logen it gives us and Freedom because it was just a bit different. Nicomo Cosca’s little note at the end of that one was just so perfect for that character too!
One of the big challenges with short stories is building a sense of connection to your characters and making them instantly recognisable in the short space of time you have. Now, character work is famously one of Joe Abercrombie’s biggest strengths, and so I was interested to see how he handled this. In part, using previous characters kind of solved the problem here. I already knew a lot of them, even though the Logen and Glokta we meet are actually very different than the ones in his original trilogy. And with newer characters? He smashes it. He really just gets each character’s unique voice over so strongly and quickly, whether they are there for a few paragraphs or a few stories. As I said earlier, Shev are Javre are great together and they have such strong personalities that you feel like you know them after only a few pages.
One thing that was interesting for me with these short stories was that, perhaps with the exception of Made a Monster, they didn’t seem to have the true grimdark moments that Joe Abercrombie is known for. However, I think this is mostly down to the constraints of shorter fiction. Abercrombie’s ‘grimdark’ isn’t all just relentless violence and oppression as some ‘grimdark’ is. It is smarter than this. It builds the characters up, builds their hopes and their visions for the future. It lets you know all of this, before sweeping them out from under your feet or giving it to them at the price of their own morals and values. Generally, anyway. And he couldn’t do that here so much as there simply isn’t the time.
So, overall, what do I think of Sharp Ends? It is good. Very good, but it is also clearly the weakest link in the First Law books as I don’t feel short stories allow for Abercrombie to truly do what he does best. Read them, I’d say, but they don’t reach the heights of his other works.