Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

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August 12, 2012 by McDowski

We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.

(This review is written with the assumption you have read The Blade Itself. If you haven’t… well, you probably shouldn’t be reading a review for the second book in a trilogy, should you?)

We last left our protagonists on the cusp of some very interesting (and unplanned for) developments. Jezal dan Luthar has been offloaded from the ship he thought would take him to war in Angland, and instead sent on a mysterious mission with Bayaz, the First of the Magi. Accompanying him – much to his chagrin – are Logen Ninefingers, Brother Longfoot, Malacus Quai and, perhaps worst of all, Ferro Maljinn. Together, they will journey to the Edge of the World to seek something Bayaz claims will prove to be the difference in the war with the Gurkish.

The long and arduous journey sees the group passing through the forgotten lands of the Old Empire. Along the way, we learn more of the history of the land, and of the conflict between Juvens and his brothers that sowed the seeds for the wars of today. The journey threatens to change our opinions about some of the characters by raising some intriguing questions: why do so many of Bayaz’s Brotherhood seem to hold him in such contempt? Is being forced away from his cocoon of luxury making a better man of Jezal? And what is going on Quai and his brooding silences?

Over in Angland, Colonel Collem West has teamed up with Logen’s former band of cutthroats and warriors, led by Rudd Threetrees, in the war against Bethod’s forces. After all, who would know more about killing ruthless, cold-blooded Northmen than a group of ruthless, cold-blooded Northmen? But can he focus on the bloody battle ahead while having to keep an eye on Prince Ladisla, who gives useless a bad name?

Meanwhile, Superior Glokta’s unenviable promotion in the Inquisition comes with perks like being shipped off to Dagoska just as an overwhelming force of the Gurkish Emperor is making its way over to conquer and enslave. Glokta knows what it means to be captured by the Gurkish, and he has no intention of taking the invasion lying down (painful as that is). But in a country where half the people hate each other, and everyone hates him, is there anybody he can trust?

With just his second book, Abercrombie already shows growth as a writer. The pacing in the novel is top notch; with the characters and their motivations already established, Abercrombie gets right to telling the story. Where The Blade Itself was set almost entirely in the confines of a city, Bayaz and companions’ journey through the Old Empire gives us a true feeling of the epic, letting us know that there is a lot more to the story than Adua, or even the war. The book, though, belongs to Glokta. While he was already an interesting character, here he truly shines, even if it is frequently in the dark. Rarely does any character do such a spectacular job of vacillating between compassion and ruthlessness while staying true to himself. It is with this book that most fans will have cemented Glokta as among the most memorable characters in Fantasy.

Before They Are Hanged is an excellent book, and accomplishes a fairly rare feat – the middle book of a trilogy that does a hell of a lot more than provide a stop gap between the beginning and the end. A rousing 4½ / 5.

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