Before They Are Hanged (First Law book 2)

by Joe Abercrombie

“You had better stay out of sight for a couple of days.”
“Out of sight? I don’t plan to see outside of a whorehouse for a week.”
“Very wise.”

The second novel in the First Law trilogy, Before They Are Hanged follows mainly two groups of companions through their ordeals as well as the fascinating Sand dan Glokta, Superior of the Inquisition.

Bayaz, the 1st of the Magi, travels to the edge of the world with Logan Ninefingers, The Bloody-Nine. Ferro, Jezel, Longfoot, and other interesting companions are also in search of an object to help win the war.

Major (Colonel) West is tasked with accompanying and protecting the arrogant and unprepared Crown Prince Ladisla in his first, disastrous command, and is eventually joined by The Bloody Nine’s former Northman companions from book 1: Dogman, Threetrees, Tul, Grim and Black-Dow.

Last but not least Glokta, the crippled Inquisitor, is tasked with the futile defense of a doomed city.

Mr. Abercrombie has his finger on the pulse of the dark side of today’s world, and it translates wonderfully into his creation spelled out in the world of The First Law. It’s immensely quotable with phrases pointed directly at the futility of our existence, our frailties, follies and absurdities, and our occasional triumphs.

A strengthening sense of companionship makes up much of these triumphs, and it’s sparing. Again, this is not a work looking toward a brighter future for mankind; it’s more focused on the present darkness. Occasional rays of light do shine, but we mostly follow the characters through the mud and blood. Despite the mounting obstacles and pain for all involved, bonds were formed this time around, which is mostly in contrast to book 1 with the exception of the Northmen, who’ve long been brothers in battle.

It’s tough to say enough about the author. On Twitter he’s occasionally kind of an ass, but usually in a fun, intelligent and biting way. Two days back he tweeted, “I don’t like change. Or humans. Or parsnips.”

Yeah, we know, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The projection of this attitude may be necessary in order to write like this. To speak the truth without shying from ugliness, to identify weakness without glossing it over, to take us to task with no apologies for destroying ourselves like we do. Utopia this is not. It’s Earth with the soft filters removed.

“We do as we are told. We stand or fall beside those who were born near to us, who look as we do, who speak the same words, and all the while we know as little of the reasons why as does the dust we return to.”

4 stars

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