‘“Strange, isn’t it,’ mused Glokta as he watched him struggle for air. ‘Big men, small men, thin men, fat men, clever men, stupid men, they all respond the same to a fist in the guts. One minute you think you’re the most powerful man in the world. The next you can’t even breathe by yourself.”’
It’a been some time since I read the first book in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, The Blade Itself, and I can remember enjoying the book, but not being 100% blown away. However now that I’ve finally got round to reading Book 2, I really wish I’d done it earlier, as I absolutely loved it!
Before They Are Hanged picks up where The Blade Itself left off, with Bayaz, First of the Magi and his rather odd crew heading off on their epic quest to the edge of the world, Dogman and the other Northmen trying to figure out what to do next, now they are essentially exiled, and Inquisitor Glokta on his way to Dagoska, to try and hold the city against the attacking Gurkish. Meanwhile, war is brewing in the North, and Major West finds himself charged with trying to rein in the foolish Crown Prince Ladisla as he leads one of be most ragtag armies in history into battle against the ferocious Bethod and his army of savage Northmen.
One of the things I liked so much about The Blade Itself was the vividness of the characters, and that was doubled in this second book. For starters, I loved the reluctant alliance within Bayaz’s group, and the interactions between Logen Ninefingers, the cocky and selfish Jezel dan Luther, and the feral and distrustful Ferro were fantastic. Even more than their early sniping, I loved the friendships that began to grow between them, and Jezel for one, definitely became a far more likeable character than he was in the first book.
The uniting of Major West and Dogman’s crew of Northmen was also something I loved, as they are so completely different, but come to have a grudging respect for one another (largely through their agreement that Ladisla is a moron). West is an especially interesting character in my opinion, because whilst for the most part he is quite a measured, sensible person, his sudden rages (that give him the nickname ‘Furious’ amongst the Northmen) are completely out of character, and hint at a lot more going on underneath. It’s this kind of complexity of character that I love so much about Joe Abercrombie’s writing, and Before They Are Hanged takes this to a new level.
Glokta, the crippled torturer, continued to be one of the most fascinating characters as he reluctantly takes up his position as Superior of Dagoska and must discover what happened to his missing predecessor, as well as defend the city against the Gurkish siege. Whilst he is undoubtedly a bad man – he tortures several more people throughout the book, not to mention executes an ambassador on a peace mission – you start to see shreds of compassion within him in this second book, and his dark sense of humour keeps him oddly likeable. I also really liked the new character of Cosca, the notoriously treacherous, but otherwise cheerful mercenary who aids Glokta in the defence of Dagoska.
I also really loved getting to see more of the world of the story in this book, as Bayaz’s group pretty much crosses the entire globe, whilst West spends considerable time in the bleak North, and Glokta ventures to the warm climes of Dagoska. I especially liked the quest aspect of the book, with Bayaz and his companions passing through a variety of interesting and dangerous landscapes, and through Bayaz we get a constant history lesson on the different places they visit.
I continued to like the darkly humorous tone of this book as a whole, and I feel like the plot picked up a lot in this second book. As I said at the beginning of my review, I enjoyed the first book, but didn’t find it overly memorable, whereas I absolutely loved every minute of Before They Are Hanged. I really can’t wait to find out what happens next! Here’s hoping whoever has borrowed Last Argument of Kings from my local library brings it back soon!