Tag Archives: The First Law

BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED – Joe Abercrombie (2008)

Before They Are HangedAs you can guess from my review of The Blade Itself, I thought the first book of the First Law trilogy was okay. Just okay. I was eager to read the second installment though, since the story held some promise. Sadly, the series took a turn for the worse… This book only fully fueled my smoldering impression of the fact that Abercrombie is a crummy writer.

Before The Are Hanged is filled with unnecessary repetition. Really, it’s filled to the brim with things repeating: characters discussing stuff that is already clear to the reader because it was shown in the narrative 2 pages before that, characters repeating each other’s words in lifeless dialogue, descriptions with 3 times more or less the same adjectives, et cetera, etc., and so forth.

  1. It’s also filled with clichés. One might call them tropes, sure, sounds fancy, but there’s not enough meat on the bone to say Abercrombie does something interesting with them. On top of that, the language is bland, unimaginative and clichéd as well… E.g. “Never in his life had West seen such an evil-looking man” after which follows a typical description of some brute. As a reader though, I never felt this utter evilness. Or how about this: “The cell beyond was tiny, windowless, the ceiling almost to low to stand. The heat was crushing, the stench appalling.”? Sure, prison cells are probably unavoidable in fantasy, but the part from which these sentences was lifted didn’t convey claustrophobia or fear at all. Just a yawn.

The only interesting character of the first book, the torturer Glokta, sadly doesn’t deliver anymore in this volume. The rendering of his ironical thoughts in a cursive font just becomes a tiresome gimmick. It’s never much more than irony 101. Creepy? Unusual? Morally complicated? Nah. Just a cripple turned cynic with nothing left to lose.

The best thing in this book is the quote by Heinrich Heine in the title pages. (“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”). I didn’t come across any sentence or part of the storyline that lives up to the atmosphere this sets.

I finished about 300 of the 580 pages and I quit.  Too much else to read. I won’t be reading Last Argument of Kings. I’m going to read volume two of The Long Price Quartet instead, and be truly uplifted.

originally written on the 4th of March, 2015

THE BLADE ITSELF – Joe Abercrombie (2007)

The Blade ItselfThe Blade Itself is a quick, fun read. The story isn’t complicated. The world building is nothing special nor awesome: there’s hardly any sense of wonder, not much detail, the magic just works, there’s no real justification for it. Language-wise there’s not really that much there either, and it features rather plain images (“his heart was beating like a hammer on a smith’s anvil”). It’s easily read in a couple of days and doesn’t need a whole lot of concentration investment.

Still, it’s a fun read, mostly because of some interesting characters: especially Glokta, the inquisitor/torturer and Bayaz, first of the Magi. Most of the rest of the cast is rather clichéd as well – a barbarian that doesn’t have table manners nor has ever seen a toilet, etc. – , but that doesn’t really spoil the fun. Still: don’t expect Glokta to be a Severian (of Gene Wolfe fame).

Some reviewers talk of the book capturing the “darkness” of the human mind, but in my opinion, it’s more a cartoon form of darkness. The story could easily be made into a 2-hour Hollywood-script without losing a lot of its nuance, so that says it all.

This novel also suffers from first-part-of-a-trilogy-syndrome: in a way, it’s all set up and build up, and only that. It can’t stand on its own, since it feels like the actually story will start with book 2 – which I’ll read, because I’m interested in how things will work out, and as I said, I had fun reading part 1.

It’s no surprise Abercrombie turned to Young Adult writing. In a sense, the lack of depth makes this kind of YA as well.

Conclusion: the book deserves a chance and has its merits, just don’t expect your socks to be blown off. My hunch is that part 2 and 3 will be better, maybe much better even.

originally written on the 14th of September, 2014