Review: Before They Are Hanged (The First Law #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Rating: 8/10

Synopsis

Superior Glokta has a problem. 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 a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland 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, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much.

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

Review

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

Thank you to Hachette audio for this listening copy in exchange for an honest review. Receiving the audiobook did not influence my review in any way.

Firstly, I want to again praise Steven Pacey for the absolutely excellent work that he did in narrating this book. Not only does he make it feel atmospheric, but each character has a specific voice that is easy to recognize and perhaps because of that he is able to capture the grim, morally gray, and sometimes outright wrong nature of both side and main characters.

As always, Joe Abercrombie writes amazing, well developed characters in this one. We learned a lot about the Dogman, Logen, Jezal, Ferro, West, and Glokta. All of them were changed by the events happening around them and we even got more glimpses into each of the POV characters’ pasts. We also got to know non-POV characters more including Bayaz, Three Trees, Black Dow, Grim, and Tul. I consider Joe Abercrombie to be one of, if not the best author I know of in terms of character work and a major reason for that is that he commits to his characters. The First Law series pulls no punches and Before We Are Hanged is no exception to that rule. He fully commits to each character’s personality and flaws. This makes each character not only compelling, but realistic and makes each action taken by the characters make sense.

“There was no such thing as luck. Luck was a word idiots used to explain the consequences of their own rashness, and selfishness, and stupidity. More often than not bad luck meant bad plans.”

A huge part of what I loved about this book was time spent with Logen’s old group of warriors. The Dogman, Black Dow, Tul, Three Trees, and Grim are like a weird, dysfunctional family and I love it. They may want to fight each other and not even like each other at times, but they also always have each other’s backs when everything goes to crap, which happens often. I really enjoyed the whole aspect of being in the North and the events that transpired there were at times pulse pounding and heart wrenching.

However much I loved the character development of Logen, Ferro, and Jezal (Jezal in particular), I unfortunately was not a huge fan of what was happening around them. Don’t get me wrong, there were certain times where I was on the edge of my seat during their POVs, but for a good portion of their stories I was somewhat bored. Ultimately, these three POVs’ plot progression seemed somewhat non-existent to me and that hindered my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

“As for being a good man,’ and Glokta curled his lip, ‘that ship sailed long ago, and I wasn’t even there to wave it off.”

Glokta’s story in this one was incredibly riveting. It held political intrigue, questions, existential brooding, and the threat of death every day. That, coupled with getting information of a new threat brewing and how real and dangerous that threat is to Midderland made Glokta’s POV my favorite yet again. Glokta is a compelling character in his own right, but involve him in plots, assassination attempts, and intrigues and you have a recipe for an amazing story.

Each action scene felt high stakes and no character felt safe throughout this second volume in the First Law trilogy. Plot armor is virtually non-existent in Joe Abercrombie’s books and that is proven in this installment.

Overall, Before We Are Hanged was a good sequel to The Blade Itself and does a great job of setting up the third and final installment. Although I did not care for the plot progression of certain characters’ story arcs, I still really enjoyed this world, its characters, and the thrillling battles.

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