Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

The Blurb On The Back:

How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without trace?  It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick – and Inquisitor Glotka needs answers before the Gurkish army comes knocking at the gates.

Northmen have spilled over the Angland border and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country.  Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory.  There is only one problem: he commands the worst armed, worst-trained and worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a mission through the ruins of the past.  The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and most selfish boy in the Union make strange companions, but, if only they didn’t hate each other so much, potentially deadly ones.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered.  Bloody battles will be won and lost.  Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s several months after THE BLADE ITSELF.

Bayaz is leading Jezal, Logen, Longfoot, Ferro and Quai across the Old Empire in search of the Seed.  As Logen tries to build trust among the mismatched group, they run into old friends and old enemies of Bayaz and in doing so, learn more of the war against Kanedias and Bayaz’s own role in it.

Major West is in Angland assisting Lord Marshall Burr in leading the campaign against Bethod but Bethod’s men are battle hardened and ruthless whereas the Union has sent poorly trained, poorly equipped men and are hampered by the useless Crown Prince Ladisla and his foppish retinue.  But maybe an encounter with Dogman, Threetrees and the other Named Men could turn the war in their favour?

Glokta dan Sand has arrived in Dagoska with his Practicals, tasked with discovering what happened to the previous Superior and holding out against an advancing Gurkish army intent on capturing it for the Empire.  Glokta smells conspiracy within Dagoska’s elite and the city’s defences won’t hold for long.  Who will kill him first and how quickly they will do it?

The second in Joe Abercrombie’s FIRST LAW TRILOGY is a gripping, action-packed novel that builds on Bayaz’s backstory, develops the conspiracy elements and subverts the traditional fantasy tropes (I particularly like the growing humanisation of torturer Glokta) but I am disappointed by the lack of rounded female characters and diversity.

Abercrombie intercuts his storylines well, moving between the three plot strands to keep the action going and subverting Bayaz’s quest storyline, which may otherwise be slow.  I enjoyed the interaction between Bayaz’s team (especially Logen’s attempts to win their trust, his developing relationship with Ferro and the events that help to make Jezal grow up) and the introduction of people from Bayaz’s past (notably Mage Cawneil who hints that Bayaz’s history is darker than he portrays).  I also enjoyed the scenes between the Named Men and West but the introduction of Cathil only served to illustrate the lack of female characters in the book and her role seems to be purely to serve as a potential romantic interest for West.  Glokta remains my favourite character and I loved his fatalistic cunning and ruthlessness as he deals with the Dagoska elite while trying to save his own neck.

Ultimately this was a strong sequel and I look forward to reading the concluding novel.

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