Review: BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED by Joe Abercrombie

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 543
Release Date: March 15th, 2007
Series: THE FIRST LAW, Book 2
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars – Really Liked It!

Before They Are Hanged

With darkness rising in the south, Logen, Jezal, and Ferro travel with the First Magus Bayaz to retrieve a powerful magical weapon that could be the key to defeating it. But while they battle against the elements and agents of darkness, Inquisitor Glotka is stuck defending the southern city of Dagoska against impossible odds. If the overwhelming army at the gates weren’t bad enough, the city faces internal strife between the ruling colonizing class and the citizens of the conquered city. If Glotka is going to stand any chance of succeeding, he’ll have to find a way to make peace between the two sides – or a least twist their arms enough so that they behave. Meanwhile in the North, Major West is tasked as being personal aide to the Crown Prince in the war against the Northmen. It might seem like a plum position, but the Crown Prince thinks war is a game and has little skill, and the military knows it. The commanding general has given the Crown Prince a boring part of the front lines to defend, far from any fight that could happen. But King Bethod of the Northmen has a nasty habit of turning up where he’s least expected….

Once again, characters reign supreme in the FIRST LAW series. Like the book before it, BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED had me thoroughly engrossed in what was happening to the various characters on the page, always excited to jump back and forth between the various adventures. Abercrombie has a knack for creating characters of questionable motives and morals that you are still invested in, even if you think they’re terrible people. For instance, after the ending of THE BLADE ITSELF, I wanted to dropkick Major West into the sun, yet his storyline was one of my favorites to check in on (with one caveat mentioned below). Jezal, who I viewed as an arrogant naive puppy dog, is forced through some real growth, and Glotka does what Glotka does best: survive. And of course, Logen is there through it all to be the moral center of this very morally gray universe, one of the few characters you can count on to try and do the right thing.

Also like the book before it, don’t come to BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED expecting any storylines to wrap up with a nice tidy bow. This is a series meant to be read as a complete whole, and this is very much a part two of a three part story. Plot lines will come to a rather abrupt end instead of being resolved. There are definitely some major story beats that happen and a definite climax, but most everything is in a state of limbo when book two comes to a close.

Where I struggled with this book was its uneven representation of women. Ferro is the only female POV character, and while she’s definitely a badass, I struggled to connect with her as much as I did with most of the male POV characters, though that might be more to do with her insistence of keeping everyone at arm’s length. Arti, Major West’s sister, is largely absent from the plot in this outing, and Vitari, one of Glotka’s inquisitors, is perfectly fine. But what really dinged the book for me was the introduction of Cathil, a character who is nothing more than a plot device. She exists solely to have bad things happen to her so that the men around her get motivated to do drastic things, and I admit, it rubbed me the wrong way. In a book that I otherwise loved, Cathil was a giant blemish.

Otherwise, however, BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED is another strong outing that makes me very glad to have finally started reading Abercrombie. As a reader who loves good characters, there’s plenty to love and be invested in, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where all the plot lines end up when I read THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS later this year.

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