Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie (The First Law: Book 2)

"We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged" - Heinrich Heine

Before They Are Hanged is Abercrombie's second entry into the twisted and grim world of The First Law. It follows on from the three story arcs that The Blade itself stylishly led towards. Bayaz, the first of the Magi is venturing to the end of the Earth with his bizarre collection of distinctive personnel for reasons unbeknown to all apart from the Mage himself. Superior Glokta has traveled South to infiltrate the politics of an allied nation, hoping to find out what happened to his ill-fated predecessor and preparing defences for the attacks soon to be initiated by an advancing and ultimately imminent rival army. The remaining narrative intertwines the stories of the rough-living, legendary warrior group of Threetrees and the Dogman with the troubles in the North where the Union is tackling the Northern King's great forces. Here we follow the action of "the worst-armed, worst-trained and worst-led army in the world".

For one of the narratives arcs, three points of view presentations are followed, often within the same chapter switching between actions and opinions. The second has two viewpoints from very different characters summarising the happenings in the unwelcoming harshness of the cold real world with battles looming. The final is presented by Superior Glokta alone. A former dashing fencer who was tortured, crippled and now is an inquisitor/torturer. Trust me, you would have to wake up pretty early in the morning to outsmart this gentleman! He is perhaps the finest creation in this series, for his tortuous past, achingly uncomfortable present and also his internal monologues which are as highly gritty as they are humorous. I mentioned he is the only POV section in this arc, but his internal thoughts are often so comically different from his statements and actions that it is like two amazing viewpoints. His character is outstandingly well written. There is also a pretty distinctive juxtaposition in his presentation of events and environments. He still sees beauty in the world in his descriptions of things and then a second later could be commanding a subordinate to cut off a traitor's body part.

I very rarely read other reviews before writing my own, but I did catch one snippet from a status update that was very apt. It stated that Abercrombie's stories are full of "bastards that grow on you." I think that that is a perfect analogy. I honestly shouldn't care about most of the people written here. Why do I truly care about vain, flamboyant, selfish officer Jezal when something bad happens to him? Perhaps he deserves all he gets for his previous outlook and analysis of existence. Why do I care about Logan Ninefingers? He seems like an average warrior guy with scars encompassing his body, who people say was pretty handy with a sword and did some damning things in the past. I really cared about the majority of the main characters. Although a few fantasy character tropes are presented, spoilt King in waiting, mages, Devils etc... Nothing at all seems cliche and that cannot be said for a lot of modern fantasy works.

My review of The Blade Itself raved about the characters and from my previous paragraph, you can see my opinions there haven't changed. If anything, my views have been reinforced and heightened about how much of a knack Abercrombie has for this aspect of his fantasy work. Although not really too negative and off-putting, I did comment on the lack of action throughout the first book. Action wise, Joe truly has raised the bar high here. Battles, sieges, and The Bloody Nine - all are expertly presented and adrenaline pumping. It doesn't all need to be full guts gory and bloody to have an emotional dark impact either, and there are a few moments here that are poignant in their effectiveness for that reason. I call this the (just made this up but is sounds cool) "pushing Bran from the Tower technique," very intricate actions that have long lasting effects even though the act in question was simple. In addition to the lack of action, my other grating issue with The Blade Itself was the world and the histories, although not hollow, did seem a bit unfulfilled. I was unsatisfied that there was still no map, but a lot of the above has been rectified here. Most of Bayaz et al's scenes are travel based (the end of the world isn't close) so we are presented with cool stories by the characters to pass the time at campfires. Bayaz talking about the history of the world, his relationships with other important, almost legendary figures and his past failings are memorable. A scene that stood out to me was very simple, perhaps twelve pages where an ensemble discusses their scars. So not only have the already complex characters become deeper, the world and its past are filled in pretty well here. There is also a bit of a "love story" here to look forward to.

I was highly satisfied with the majority of what I read here. Abercrombie is a genius is his moulding of characters and of all things "grim". Normally, the ending of a story can add a star to my rating. The finale to one of the arcs of this book had the opposite effect. I will not go into details but I will be interested in the comments to see if people agree and/or know the narrative I am discussing. I felt let down and almost like I had wasted my time waiting for that culmination. This is probably an 8.8/10 but "Last Argument of Kings" must give me a reason for the arc ending this way. If it does, I will re-evaluate what I have written in this little section. To conclude, this trilogy seems to be a character driven fantasy that is unequaled in the genre. Gripping, thrilling, gritty and pretty damn awesome.
8.8/10, James Tivendale

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 trace? It's enough to make a torturer want to run - if he could even walk without a stick - and Inquisitor Glokta needs answers before the Gurkish army comes knocking at the gates.

This is the second book in the First Law Trilogy and after an electric start in 'The Blade Itself' it does not disappoint.

Before They Are Hanged continues to follow the three main characters of Logan Nine Fingers, Jezel dan Luthar and Inquisitor Glokta and as well as developing these characters we see some of the sub characters of the first book begin to develop their own storylines.

War continues to rage in the North, with Bethod's Army fighting for Angland and the Union Army trying to defend their hold, however, Bethod seems to have help of an otherworldly kind. Glokta has been sent to the South to defend the Union strong hold of Dagoska, but just how much does the Union really want to keep this city? What has happened to the previous Superior that Glokta has been sent to replace and will he accept an offer that looks like he can't but should refuse? In the meantime Logan and Jezel have begun a quest, somewhat reluctantly on Jezel's part, at the behest of the Bayaz, First of the Magi, with some rather interesting companions to locate a missing relic of the Dark Art that could change the outcome of everyone's future.

"'You crippled worm! I should cut your fucking throat right now' her knee jabbed painfully into his stomach, cold metal tickled gently at the skin on his neck, her blue eyes glared into his, flickering back and forth, glistening as hard as the stones in the box under his back. My death could be moments away. Easily. He remembered watching her choke the life out of Eider. With as little care as I might squash an ant, and I, poor cripple, just as helpless as one. Perhaps he should have been gibbering with fear, but all he could think was: When was the last time I had a woman on top of me?"
To The Last Man: Before They Are Hanged

This second book continues to weave it's plot lines at such a thumping pace, with political intrigue, masses of humour, plenty of bloody battles with healthy dollops of gore and some real thrilling edge of your seat twists, that you'll find it hard not to try and read it in one sitting.

I absolutely love this book, it does what a sequel should and submerges you deeper into the plots and characters. You feel by now that you really know these people, you care about them and what happens to them and I love that they're three dimensional, they have moods and selfish moments, they laugh, cry and break wind, they're as real as fictional characters get. The humour is wonderful, self depreciating and funny as hell. My husband got a bit niggly as I kept laughing out loud whilst reading, which I appreciate can be a bit annoying but I fully expect him do the same when he reads it.

"The Shanka might be ever so full of mad fury, but even they had to fear him. Everything did. Even the dead, who felt no pain. Even the cold stone, which did not dream. Even the molten iron feared the Bloody-Nine. Even the darkness."
Beneath The Ruins: Before They Are Hanged

Having read The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged I can hardly wait for 20th March 2008 and the final installment in the First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings. I think it goes without saying having read this review that two books in and I'm now a huge fan of Mr. Abercrombie who has a very refreshing and most entertaining style of story telling. I would recommend these books to anyone as I think there is something for everyone and you just don't get wonderful characters like this very often. So, only three more months to wait; obviously I've already read the extract of Last Argument of Kings on, which has only served to make the release date seem an eternity away, but as it's unlikely that I'll some how manage to wangle an advanced copy.. (worth a try) I shall have to patiently await it's release and get my pre-order into Amazon without delay!
Amanda White, 9/10


Reviews by and Amanda White

6 positive reader review(s) for Before They Are Hanged

40 positive reader review(s) in total for the The First Law series

Joe Abercrombie biography

Joe Abercrombie interview

Before They Are Hanged reader reviews

from Wales

Never read fantasy before The Blade Itself was recommended by my son. It was fantastic and I look forward to Before They Are Hanged!
10/10 ()

from Oxford

I have to say that I enjoyed reading this, and finished it off in good time. Glokta was great, as were the Dogman et al and Logen. I have to say that I got slightly bored of Jezal and Ferro by the end - I didn't really see them as 3-D characters. I also felt like the love storylines felt added on and not really developed. ***SEMI-SPOILER*** The ending I felt was slightly disappointing and was what let it down - it didn't really have the climax that we spent the whole book building towards. We weren't really left with anything - a slight hint at what is to come would have been nice.
7/10 ()

from Ohio

Another ten star classic.
10/10 ()

from Filey

One of the best books I've read in the last 20 years. This author is fantastic. Miss it and you have missed a great read. Enough said. Enjoy.
10/10 ()

from Glasgow

This series is a breath of fresh air, The Blade Itself was good and Before They Are Hanged is even better. This is a remarkably inventive book, full of believable characters with a very dry sense of humour running through it.
9/10 ()

from Northampton

Read The Blade Itself, excellent, went out and bought Before They Are Hanged, read it, exceptional. When you read a book that you really enjoy and one that means a lot to you, it is with hope in your heart that you start on the second book. You want the author to give you almost exactly the same again but with a bit extra thrown in. Joe Abercrombie is the best thing to happen to fantasy for a long time, it had started to take itself too seriously and he has given us 2 books full of action, humour and great characters. Long may it continue!
10/10 ()

9.3/10 from 7 reviews

All Joe Abercrombie Reviews