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Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie | Book Review

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
Series: The First Law #2
Published by Gollancz on March 15 2007
Genres: Fantasy, epic fantasy, Action & Adventure, Dark Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 441
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased Book
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five stars - Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie | Book Review

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.

“we should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”

Before they Hanged is another masterpiece in storytelling and exemplary characterization.  The first half the book felt like a continuation of the Blade Itself – a set up story…a massive prologue, if you like.  Again, Abercrombie sets up the story with the consummate skill of masterful bard.  It’s a story of epic proportions, vivid worldbuilding and terrible treachery.  You are immediately catapulted into the world once more, carrying on from where The Blade Itself left off.  Not a beat dropped, a breath wasted, or a thought discarded. 

The Blade Itself really was a set up book, introducing us to characters, timelines and a lay of the land.  It made Before They Are Hanged as smooth as melted gold.  There is something in every character that calls out to the reader, whether that’s Logen’s thirst for home, Glokta’s pain and suffering or Jezal’s reckoning.  Sometimes it is looking into a magic mirror – you can see all your past flaws and mistakes, a figure in the background threatening to be revealed in all its glorious technicolour.  It fogs your mind; it makes you forget.  Memories feel like a freezing fog. 

Six POV’s clamoring for attention all taking place in different regions of The First Law Series.  It’s a character driven story that doesn’t divert, not even for a second.  Characters are balancing on a knifes edge, lives on the line, honor at stake and veiled threats are revealed and that’s just in the first few chapters.  I won’t lie in that I vastly struggled with Logen’s character in The Blade Itself, but he has come through in the second installment.  He has humanity and a firm conscience…well, when the bloody nine is satiated at least!  He’s a man with many regrets but he’s still striving to be better and do better.

Ah but dear Glokta.  My evil, limping, pained, Glokta.  Oh, how you have my heart and soul.  Has there ever been a better bad good guy in Fantasy?  I hear you ask why bad good guy, well in Before They Are Hanged, we can almost be witnessing a caterpillar crawling out of its chrysalis and becoming a beautiful butterfly…well as beautiful as Glokta can be…We’ve got to be realistic about these things.  In this installment we see him sparing people that have done wrong and conversely choosing to investigate the establishment instead…changed days!

A narrative that had hidden knifes everywhere…after all you can never have too many!  A story of money, politics, war and friendships.  There was so much suffering in this book, no-one was spared.  The scenes of war and destruction are some of the best in any Fantasy I’ve read.  It investigated the carnage and greed and highlighted just how war can change a person, for the better or worse. 

Before They Are Hanged reaps the rewards of flesh and blood players.  A page turner like no other.


joe abercrombie - Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie | Book Review

Joe Abercrombie was born in Lancaster, England, on the last day of 1974. He was educated at the stiflingly all-boy Lancaster Royal Grammar School, where he spent much of his time playing video games, rolling dice, and drawing maps of places that don’t exist. He went on to Manchester University to study Psychology. The dice and the maps stopped, but the video games continued. Having long dreamed of single-handedly redefining the fantasy genre, he started to write an epic trilogy based around the misadventures of thinking man’s barbarian Logen Ninefingers. The result was pompous toss, and swiftly abandoned.

Joe then moved to London, lived in a slum with two men on the borders of madness, and found work making tea for minimum wage at a TV Post-Production company. Two years later he left to become a freelance film editor, and has worked since on a range of documentaries, awards shows, music videos, and concerts for artists ranging from Barry White to Coldplay.

This job gave him lots of time off, and realising that he needed something more useful to do than playing video games, in 2001 he sat down once again to write an epic fantasy trilogy based around the misadventures of thinking man’s barbarian Logen Ninefingers. This time, having learned not to take himself too seriously in the six years since the first effort, the results were a great deal more interesting.

With heroic help and support from his family the first volume, The Blade Itself, was completed in 2004. Following a heart-breaking trail of rejection at the hands of several of Britain’s foremost literary agencies, The First Law trilogy was snatched up by Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz in 2005 in a seven-figure deal (if you count the pence columns). A year later The Blade Itself was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. It now has publishers in thirty countries.  The sequels, Before They are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings were published in 2007 and 2008, when Joe was a finalist for the John W. Campbell award for best new writer.  Best Served Cold, a standalone book set in the same world, was published in June 2009, and a second standalone, The Heroes, came in January 2011 and made no. 3 on the Sunday Times Hardcover Bestseller List.  A third standalone, Red Country, was both a Sunday Times and New York Times Hardcover Bestseller in October 2012.

The first part of his viking-inspired Shattered Sea series for young and old adults, Half a King, came out in July 2014, when it won the Locus award for best young adult novel.  The other two books, Half the World, and Half a War, followed in January and July 2015.

His collection of short fiction, Sharp Ends was published in 2016.  A new trilogy set in the world of the First Law, The Age of Madness, began in September 2019 with A Little Hatred. The Trouble with Peace followed in September 2020, and the final part, The Wisdom of Crowds is due in September 2021.

Joe now lives in Bath with his wife, Lou, his daughters Grace and Eve, and his son Teddy.  He spends most of his time writing edgy yet humorous fantasy novels…


five stars - Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie | Book Review


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