Book Review: Before They Are Hanged by Abercrombie (4 stars)

beforehanBefore They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

4 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2009

Returning to the Circle of the World, where Auda was the hub of activity in The Blade Itself, this middle installment of the trilogy spends most of its time on the fringes of the world.

The Union deployed nearly all its military resources to retaining and regaining Angland from Bethod in the North. Field promoted Colonel West strains to breaking, first by being saddled with Prince Ladisla, who charges his troops into Bethod’s trap. West, the Prince, and a handful of others survive the massacre, but barely survive the flight back to the Union army. The Northman, including Dogman, spurned by the Union army when they offered to assist, lead the refugees roughly ahead of Bethod’s scouts to report the debacle to Field Marshall Burr.

Meanwhile, ignoring the axiom that you should never fight a war on more than one front, the Closed Council send Superior Glokta to hold Dagoska at all costs and to the last man against the Emperor and his legions (eight of them at one point) in the South. While investigating the disappearance of his predecessor, Glokta finds the assassin, an Eater, and discovers that torture is ineffective against such paranormal beings.

Bayaz and his quest for the Seed crawls across the western continent and the Old Empire. Jezal, Ferro, Ninefingers, Quai and Longfoot round of the rest of the band of not-so-merry men. Their trek traverses across the entire continent, through the ancient, dessicated capital, over treacherous mountains and finally to a forgotten remanent of the past on the shores of the western ocean. Ultimately, Bayaz is frustrated by his clever former master, Kanedias the Maker.

Abercrombie amazes me with his ability to write heart-pounding battle scenes. The chapter “Among the Stones” stands out as my favorite from this novel. But there are many opportunities for violence to choose from. While not as grand as Tolkien, his style reminds me of Robert E. Howard, only more intense.

Characters developed apace with the circumstances they survived or overcome. Jezal learned humility. Glokta committed great evil and great good. West overcame his inhibitions. Ferro fought against hope and trust. Quai disturbed me but didn’t get much focus. I suspect he will become troublesome next time.

With Prince Ladisla dead, leaving only one heir to the Union throne, the political intrigue and corruption reach new heights and twists, culminating in the murder of the remaining an heir. Now the Open Council will be put to a vote to select a new heir and you can bet the gloves will come off in the next book, Last Argument of Kings.

I feel obliged to warn parents that this novel is not for young teens or children. It contains graphic violence, graphic language and adult situations.