Published by Pyr
Joe Abercrombie has done it again. He’s written another page-turner which plays with genre convention with a narrative style and pace that easily pulls the reader along for the ride. The only difference from his first book is that somewhere between finishing The Blade Itself and starting Before They Are Hanged, he became an even better writer. His plotting is tighter this time around and more focused.
Before They Are Hanged picks up where The Blade Itself left readers and characters. Bayaz and his motley crew are searching for the Seed in order to put a stop to the Eaters. The Seed is a Rosetta Stone of magic, perhaps the most powerful magical item in this world and Eaters are those mages who have broken the magical law and eat flesh. West is off fighting the war having left his sister Ardee back home. Some of the wandering Northmen who were formerly allied with Logen Ninefingers are (at the beginning) still wandering trying to find a purpose and a way to stop their former military leader, Bethod. Last, but certainly not least, Glokta the Royal Inquisitor starts the book as he is sent to the city of Dagoska with the goal of finding out what happened to its Inquisitor – murder, disappearance?. The other minor task Glokta is handed is to prevent Dagoska from being overtaken by invaders, which is an impossible task.
It is tough to say which of Abercrombie’s many unique characters I enjoy the most. When I read passages featuring Logen, I don’t want those scenes to end. Logen has continued to shed the Conan cliché Joe initially gave him. Granted, he is still an extremely strong and powerful character, but Abercombie plumbs an altogether different depth with Logen, from the brief insightful words he says to his considered interactions with the other characters. Logen’s counter, of course is the savage woman Ferro. Joe’s building of their relationship was both frustrating and endearing to watch; and in a few instances downright hilarious in its awkwardness.
Much as I enjoy Logen, well, his chapter will end with Joe jumping into a chapter focusing on Glokta. The character is more subtle, at least to those with whom he speaks. However, we as the reader get a better sense of Glokta’s true thoughts as he leaves many things unsaid to his supporting characters, whereas we the reader are privileged to see those words. This is good for us, the readers, because Glokta’s “true thoughts” provide some of the more insightful and humorous passages in the novel. So, when I read this passages and chapters focusing on the soldier-turned-inquisitor, I find him to be the most interesting character.
That said, the development of Jezal’s character from snobbish fop to a character with a more realistic view of things was also enjoyable to watch. While I enjoyed the character of Bayaz (again) the most in the book, I would have to say the interaction between Jezal and Logen proved the most satisfying relationship in the book.
All of this may lead one to believe Abercrombie is merely writing a character study set in a harsh fantastical world. Well, in some respects the characters do give the novel its greatest flavor. However, within each character interaction, Abercombie fleshes out both the story and the world. Through Glotka’s eyes, we see how war is affecting the nation of Angland and those who run the nation. Granted, Glotka may have a hardened point of view, but this makes it no less entertaining or warranted. Through the eyes of Bayaz and his companions seeking the Stone, we see the larger affects of war on the world and more importantly to their cause, the wide-spread misuse of magic. We also see the history of the world through the stories Bayaz and his protégé Quaim tell on their collective journey. Again, these snapshots of the world past are thrilling reads and enhance the already ample depth of the world Abercrombie has created.
By now, if you can’t tell that I enjoyed the hell out of this book then I guess the review wasn’t clear enough. I enjoyed the hell out of the novel and was even more pleased to see Joe’s already admirable writing and plotting abilities grow in this second book. I can see why the members of our forum who snagged the British version of the book voted it their favorite read last year.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford