Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2) by Joe AbercrombieHow did I get it: The library.

Why did I get it: I loved The Blade Itself and simply had to read its sequel. (This title will also count towards my Speculative Fiction Challenge for 2011.)

How I would rate it: 5 out of 5 stars.


Superior Glokta has a problem. 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 a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem – he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters-if they didn’t hate each other quite so much.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged.

Review: Taking up from where the awesome of The Blade Itself went off, Before They Are Hanged finds most of our not-really-at-all-heroes questing for a Seed to help them against the battles to come. Meanwhile Glokta is doing what he does best in the South and Collem West is dealing with far too many stupid people and super-cool barbarians in the North. A lot goes wrong and very little goes right for any of them.

I honestly have no complaints whatsoever about this book, its plot, or the characters in it. In fact, the only reason this book took so long is I am already having a hard time dealing with having to possibly say goodbye to any of these strange, messed-up, mostly distasteful people who are equal parts believable, likeable, and awesome. The world Abercrombie creates is just like most of its inhabitants. It is a place that, much like Westeros and other similar  Fantasy locations, I shouldn’t want to routinely visit and yet cannot imagine avoiding now that I have. The plot of Before They Are Hanged and its subplots allow very little time for emotional outpourings or mushy feelings, and instead provides bloodshed, interesting introspections, humor, and a wealth of intrigue, political and otherwise.

I really love the way the characters developed relationships with one another, but I especially liked that they grew or had their perspectives violently altered. It is never in an obvious way and who they ultimately were or had been didn’t go away or magically transform their true essence into something utterly lovely to behold. West retains his anger issues which continue to overshadow all of his hardwork, Jezal probably changes the most yet retains his inability to really understand how to help others despite wanting to do so, Glokta can’t find a way to make the truth work as well as lies seem to, and Logen will never be able to forget or take back the choices he’s already made. Even for the characters I haven’t mentioned by name –Malacus Quai, Dogman, Bayaz, Ardee, Ferro, etc.– there was a lot of complexity, plenty of selfishness, a ton of conflicting emotions, and a plethora of really fascinating motivations driving each and every one of them.

In conclusion, just plain amazing. I cannot wait to see what happens next, and at the same time I honestly dread finding out because I don’t want this trilogy to end. Mostly I just hope most of them don’t die. And that Logen sees his men again. And that West and Glokta have another conversation.

About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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4 Responses to Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Pingback: Reader’s Progress #31 | CSI: Librarian

  2. Aaa, I loved this book as well! And I have the third sitting here, but have not picked it up yet. And not for not wanting. I just don’t want it to end really, like you. I do have to know what happens. As I do look back over my shelves and wonder how Abercrombie ends this trilogy. So I will get to it one of these days. Great great review!

  3. Pingback: Best Reads of 2011 – Adult Fiction | CSI: Librarian

  4. Pingback: “Before They Are Hanged” by Joe Abercrombie | Melody & Words

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