The Blade Itself

Before They Are Hanged

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Pages: 448 pages
Publisher: McArthur & Co / Orion Con Trad
Release Date: April 12 2007
ISBN-10: 0575077883
ISBN-13: 978-0575077881

Joe Abercrombie’s first novel, The Blade Itself slipped under my radar for a long time. Somehow I had missed a novel that many named 2006’s best debut novel. I rectified this mistake recently by tracking down the novel and proceeding to read it, love it and write it a rather glowing review.

So it was with much excitement that I picked up the sequel, the recently published Before They Are Hanged, eagerly looking to dive back into Abercrombie’s world. A world full of despicable, charming, dastardly, funny and downright evil characters. Before They Are Hanged, and especially those aforementioned characters, didn’t let me down… too much.

As with the first novel, Abercrombie’s characterization is top notch. As we spend more and more time with characters such as Logen Ninefingers, Sand dan Glokta and Jezal dan Luthar we find ever more intriguing facets to their personality. I stated in my review of The Blade Itself that I felt closer to some of Abercrombie’s characters than I ever have before in reading a novel and this holds true to his second outing as well. The most surprising aspect of the novel is with whom some of this empathy and connection lies. Abercrombie once again creates characters who, by the hand of almost any other author, would be hated and despised, and makes the reader care for them, to empathize with them and realize that the despicable things they do are not necessarily a product of who they are, but rather a product of the world they live in and the circumstances under which they find themselves.

Abercrombie accomplishes this by giving equal screen time to each of his characters and this is where the ultimate strength of his novel lies. The concept of a motley group of travelers embarking on a quest is something that has been done to death in the Fantasy Genre. Usually I find that the biggest failing in most of these “Fantasy Quest” plots is that you often see the events of the story and the other characters in the group through the eyes of only one central character, leading to a group of characters who, ultimately, feel expendable. Abercrombie avoids this by letting the reader experience the events of the story through the eyes of the majority of the group, settling on multiple POVs (Points of View). This allows us to not only relate to and get to know each of the POV characters in a more intimate manner, but also allows us to see how they respond internally to each of their traveling companions. This is especially interesting because, unlike the groups generally found in “Quest Fantasy” (brought together under noble circumstances, each of whom has a virtuous cause for their participation in the quest to save the world), this group of anti-heroes is forcibly brought together for reasons that they are entirely in the dark about… and on top of this they hate eachother with a passion. A group of questers has rarely been handled this well before.

So, I’ve raved and raved and raved about the characters in the novel, but said little about plot and story-line. Unfortunately this is where I feel the book loses some steam. Once again, the pacing of the story (with the exception, perhaps of the storyline taking place in The North) could be called methodical by some and just plain slow by others. This did not bother me as much as it might bother some readers, I felt that the pacing of the plot allowed the character development to really shine, but it is definitely something that a potential reader should consider before picking up the novel. If you found the pace too slow in the first novel, you won’t all of a sudden change your mind with its sequel.

Similar to my thoughts on Tad William’s Shadowplay, it is somewhat troubling that the second book in a trilogy leaves me feeling as though not a whole lot has changed, plot-wise, since the end of the first novel. That being said, I’m assured that Abercrombie has a heck of a concluding volume planned as he brings together all the loose strings and he finally brings to light the true reasons for the events of the first two novels.

Regardless of any misgivings I had about the plot, Before They Are Hanged is still a strong second effort by Abercrombie filled with intriguing anti-heroes who rarely fall into any cliches of the genre. I will be eagerly awaiting the final volume in the trilogy, tentatively titled Last Argument of Kings, if only for the simple fact that I already miss Logen Ninefingers, Collem West, Brother Longfoot and the rest of the broken, despicable but ultimately lovable cast of characters.

Before They Are Hanged
Canada | UK

  • The Book Swede July 17, 2007 at 3:43 am

    I also felt much the same way about Before They Are Hanged. Last Argument of Kings should be one hell of a book!

    Thankyou, also for your kind words on my blog and for adding me to your blogroll :) I’ve been much enamoured of your blog for quite a while, but for some reason I hadn’t added you to mine. Mistake rectified!

    That was a very interesting post of Pat’s.

    ~Chris Hyland

  • Lawrence July 17, 2007 at 7:27 am

    Sounds good, that’s a great review you posted here. Seems like after I check out ‘The Blade Itself’, I certainly have to move on to the second installment.
    Oh by the way, I just ‘discovered’ your blog, great quality of writing of here, so I will add yours to my blogroll and RSS feed. ;)

  • aidan July 17, 2007 at 10:11 am

    RE: Chris
    I fully expect that Last Argument of Kings to be the best in the series. As Joe’s ideas and concepts come together and start finding conclusions I can only begin to imagine how epic it will be. He seems very confident (over at The SFFWorld forums) that he will be able to knock our socks off with the final novel!

    I’m tickled that you’re “enamoured” by my blog! Those’re some strong words! I’m glad to see you added me to your blogroll! I look forward to following your blog!

    RE: Lawrence
    Glad you’re enjoying the blog! I’ve been having fun doing it, so I’m glad people are having fun reading it! Do you mind if I ask how you found out about the blog?

    I’ve gone ahead and added your blog to my blogroll and RSS feed as well! Looking forward to all your upcoming content!

  • Lawrence July 19, 2007 at 2:00 am

    I found out about your wonderful blog, actually becauce of the few comments you made over at other popular blogs that I frequent. I noticed the ‘A dribble of Ink’ link you put under a few of them, that caught my attention. Apart that, I am always looking for more reviews and blogs, just to add to the various recommendations I get by reading these blogs. Since it was my first time dropping by, I thought it would be nice to leave a comment.
    Keep op the good work, mate!