Before They are Hanged: Expect more of the same

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Joe Abercrombie The First Law 2. Before They are HangedBefore They are Hanged

Before They are Hanged begins just where The Blade Itself left off and continues the stories of Logen, West, Jezal, Ferro, Bayaz, Glokta, and company. Expect more of the same in this novel: brutal fighting, sickening torture, nasty politics, ruthless characters, and barbarian grammar.

This recipe mostly works — the plot is interesting, the pace is fast, there’s a bit of humor, and the characters are well-developed and continue to grow. I certainly enjoyed the story. There were a few things, however, that keep me from giving this novel (and the series) “favorite” status.

First, the editing needs a bit more polish. I find it jarring to read sentences which are missing antecedents or punctuation:

“He glanced sideways and caught Luthar’s eye, licking his lips nervously in the gloom, wet hair plastered to his face.” (I don’t know whose lips are being licked here.)

“Jezal half expected a string of drool to escape from his toothless mouth it was hanging open so wide.”
“Now it came to the test there was an invisible wall between them.”

Second, much of the language was vulgar and uncouth (e.g., use of “tits” instead of “breasts” in both dialogue and narration) and the sex scenes, which involved mostly grunting and cussing, seemed more like animal than human couplings. I realize that this was the tone that Mr. Abercrombie was going for, but some of it was unpalatable.

Third, some of the secondary characters’ bad personalities were over-the-top. I felt like this was a technique used to give the main characters, who have few benevolent qualities of their own, a nobility boost. I am having trouble truly liking any of the main characters (except Logen — I like him), but I do sense that they are being slowly developed and I hope I’ll like them better in Last Argument of Kings.

Last, I’ve said it before: I NEED A MAP! Why can’t I have a map?

Gee, I’ve complained more than praised, but I did enjoy Before They are Hanged for all the reasons I enjoyed The Blade Itself. I’m just explaining why I can’t give THE FIRST LAW the five stars that so many other reviewers (here and elsewhere) have. Tomorrow I will purchase Last Argument of Kings. Perhaps that is praise enough.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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