Thursday, May 17, 2018

Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie

Today I'm looking at the second book in the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, Before They Are Hanged. I do hate to say that this book seems to suffer a lot from the issues that second installments in trilogies have. It kind of meanders and while we have some development, we're left with a lot of things unresolved because the third act needs things to accomplish. Obviously this isn't true of every second act in trilogies, but it feels particularly apt in this case.

The last book, The Blade Itself, established the setting, the characters, and the initial conflict, although what I found most interesting was the characters that Abercrombie created. There are a couple of characters who aren't terribly good people. For example, Inquisitor Glokta is an angry, ruthless, and bitter man influenced by his torture at the hands of the Gurkish and Captain Luthar is a vain, spoiled pretty boy who almost gives up the minute he starts running into a challenge. Despite their shortcomings I found the characters rather compelling, especially Inquisitor Glokta. I think the best thing that Abercrombie does in this book is work on the development of his characters, Glokta in particular. I got the impression from the first book that Glokta didn't have much of an ideology as an Inquisitor, he just tortured people as a sort of revenge against the universe. However I got the impression that in this book Glokta has become aware of the larger political struggle and is becoming more than an unthinking subordinate.

Luthar's development is a lot less subtle, to the point where Luther gets literally beaten in the face with his character development. Seriously, he gets his face bashed in with a mace that makes him try to be a better person. Granted, he's not great at being a better person, but he tries. I definitely get the impression based on how Bayaz keeps giving Luthar lessons on leadership that Bayaz is planning on making Luthar king of the Union in the third book. I say this because both princes of the Union die within this book, but it also kind of strains credulity because Bayaz in no way influenced the deaths of either princes, unless Bayaz is part of a long two man (or three man) con, which seems unlikely.

There are plenty of things that I liked in this book, though. As I said, the development of Glokta was compelling to me, personally and I thought it was the most interesting part of the book. I also really liked Colonel West's story. Granted, Colonel West's story is a pretty normal war story and I was able to predict how at least part of the war was going to go, but that didn't keep me from enjoying it nonetheless.

We also get a lot more exposition in this book explaining the history and the larger conflict which is driving the plot of the book. Now, I have much higher tolerances for exposition than most people so I didn't find it as excessive in this book as I've found it in others, but that's probably a matter of opinion. There is also some debate about how exactly events happened in the past of the book depending on who's telling the story. Personally I liked this because it makes the history of the book feel more realistic because there's always two sides (or more) to any story.

Overall I think this book had some issues because it's the middle installment. I do find myself enjoying the characters and interested in the plot, especially because I understand the stakes for the book, so I'm looking forward to the final installment. Hopefully everything gets resolved in a satisfactory manner because I am a little worried Abercrombie will try to cram too much into the last book. We'll just have to see what happens.

- Kalpar

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