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The First Law, Book Two: Before They Are Hanged
Joe Abercrombie
Gollancz, 562 pages

Before They Are Hanged
Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie is a freelance film editor living in London. The Blade Itself was his first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Blade Itself

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Enzinas

I was very anxious when I finally got my hands on Before They Are Hanged. The first book of this series was probably the best fiction book I read last year and it would take a lot for this second volume to meet the standards set by the first. Tentatively I started reading Sunday evening, promising myself I'd only read a little bit to see if I liked it. I finished it 4:30 am Monday morning.

The story reacquaints us with the original principles as they deal with the situations they were left in at the end of The Blade Itself. However, Joe Abercrombie chooses to focus on fewer of the characters, relegating the rest to supporting roles.

The book consists of three plot lines. The first being the story of Inquisitor Glotka as he deals with first a city besieged by the forces which made him what he is, and then, after his triumphant return, the consequences of his success in the role given him by his superior. Meanwhile he keeps finding threads of the conspiracy hinted at in the previous book. This tale was an wonderful excursion into the character of a torturer and Glotka is portrayed far less sympathetically than in the first book. In particular there are multiple descriptions of torture as well as the exploration of the professional detachment and internal excuses that allow him to do what he does.

The second is the story of the war in Angland between the Union forces and the invading Northmen. This story is mostly told from the point of view of West, an officer of the union. As with Glotka in Dagoska, it is fairly clear what the outcome will be, but the key is the effect of war and hardship on West and the other union soldiers. Thanks to his promotion to a lead character, we have much more opportunity to see West through his own eyes. I would have preferred it if the author had been a little less blunt in his revelations regarding West's lack of self-awareness.

The third and final plot line is the story of the adventurers gathered by the Bayaz, the First of the Magi to journey to the edge of the world where they will recover The Seed. This tale is mostly told from the point of view of Logan Ninefingers, but the supporting cast get a bit more time in the spotlight. Most of this thread of the plot is taken up with Bayaz giving the back story of the creation of the world and the reasons for its current situation. However he is not known for his honesty. Of the three, this story was the weakest. The world history is fascinating and the descriptions of both the settings and the fights are wonderful. The characters, however, are limp and listless, like vegetables left too long in the fridge. They've lost the crispness and freshness they had when we first saw them.

Don't get me wrong. Even with the weakness of the quest storyline, it is still a tight little piece of fiction. Before They Are Hanged grabs you and drags you along fast enough that you don't really notice the missing bits until later. It's clearly a bridging book, meant to get the characters in position for the final act, and this it does admirably. I just wish that the author had taken a little bit more time with it and maintained the level of craft that he managed with his first book.

Letting the females be characters instead of caricatures wouldn't have hurt much either.

Copyright © 2007 John Enzinas

John Enzinas reads frequently and passionately. In his spare time he plays with swords.

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