“Before They Are Hanged” by Joe Abercrombie

I’m back with the boys from the First Law series. Emily of Embuhleelist (my buddy-reader in all things Hobb, and now in all things Abercrombie) and I are enjoying reading about this cast of characters and have already started on the third book — which is quite entertaining so far what with Jezal’s and West’s promotions. But anyway, this book…


Genre

Fantasy

Series

First Law, book 2

Pubbed

2007

From Goodreads

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. (Goodreads)


My thoughts

I didn’t know what to expect after completing The Blade Itself. I ended that book liking some of the main characters and just curious about what adventures they’d get into next. Upon completing Before They Are Hanged, I still had no idea, really, where the story was going, except that there’s war here, there, everywhere, and everyone’s doing a shitty job trying to prevent them. It was a good read overall, exciting in spots, intriguing in others, but some parts dragged for me because I was more interested in certain POVs and adventures than others. Well, here’s what happened with the main characters.

West was sent up north with basically the Union’s entire army to fight Bethod. While there, he serves as Lord Marshal Burr’s right hand but spends most of his time babysitting Prince Ladisla, trying to keep the Northmen (i.e., Dogman and crew) out of the Union’s way (although the Northmen end up saving them), and then trying to help Burr manage generals Poulder and Kroy and just… stay alive. In short, it’s an intense situation for West and he gets massive migraines because of it. At one point, he loses his shit and his temper throws someone over a cliff. That, but mostly his actions in battle when he bit off a dude’s nose, earned him the moniker Furious from the Northmen.

I pitied West the entire time as his situation seems impossible. There’s no escaping the responsibilities he must juggle and stress he must endure — plus the guilt he feels about how he treated his sister, Ardee, when he last saw her. But it was interesting seeing him trying to balance doing what he’s told (following orders) and attempting to do what he knows is right/most needed. I kept expecting him to just say fuck it and join up with the Northmen instead.

Speaking of the Northmen, Threetrees, Dogman, and their crew decided to join the Union’s fight against Bethod. The way they convinced Burr and West to allow them to do so was hilarious to me and became funnier the more I read from Dogman’s POV about the Union’s chances against Bethod. Basically, they’re all fucked without the Northmen’s help.

I much preferred reading from the Dogman’s POV about what’s going on in the north than from West’s. It was far more entertaining, especially the parts where the Northmen observed how silly it is to allow Prince Ladisla to hold any leadership. West made similar observations, but it’s way funnier from Dogman’s POV since the Northmen don’t have to submit to Prince Ladisla or appeal to his ego, and I also appreciated the comparisons between how the Union chooses a leader and how the North does so. I also loved seeing how Dogman develops throughout this book until he gains chief position after an encounter with the Feared led to a death in his crew and massive losses for the Union and Northmen, who had left Bethod’s side since he joined up with the Shanka. Dogman’s insecurity about leadership was humbling and his consideration of others shows that he’s the right person for the position, especially since most of his reflections on the past are about observing Logen and Threetrees lead.

Jezal had intended to head north too, but Bayaz’s plans altered that. Instead, he heads off on an adventure with an unlikely group of people he despises out of arrogance — Logen, Ferro, Bayaz, Quai, and the Navigator. The group travels to the end of the world — an island called Shabulyan — to find “the Seed,” which Bayaz said would be instrumental in his conflict with Khalul. But things do not go as planned and ends in both shock and disappointment for everyone — including me.

However, I enjoyed reading about this adventure — but from Logen’s POV because he’s one of my favorite characters. I enjoyed Jezal’s POV as well because of the massive character growth he undergoes after being smashed in the face! I loved seeing him cringe in recollection of how prideful and arrogant he was before and realize how ignorant he is. But will the lesson stick? And speaking of lessons, I’m sure none of the advice Bayaz gave him about leading will stick. It seems that Jezal instead committed the lessons Logen gave him — fear is helpful, appear less than you are, commit to your plans.

As always, I enjoyed reading from Logen’s POV and liked how he went about trying to form a crew out of his companions to ensure they stick together. It was frightening and exciting to see the Bloody Nine make an appearance again, and Logen’s entanglement with Ferro was a surprise. Speaking of Ferro, we learn that she has demon blood, which explains her yellow eyes and abilities, like not feeling pain, but I wish she had more development as well. Both her and Ardee are lacking in comparison to the guys.

I still don’t trust Bayaz. He’s too shady and I have no idea what he’s up to. While reading this book, I believed he had plans for Jezal and, so far in the third book, I am proven right. I just wonder if these plans involving Jezal are also part of the effort to defeat Khalul. I also think he’s weaker than everyone, including himself, realizes, and that might put everyone in jeopardy, in regards to his conflict with Khalul. As for the Navigator, I still find him entertaining and enjoyed him annoying the other characters. But, Quai? Something weird is going on with that dude, and I wonder if Bayaz notices. I wonder if he’s possessed.

As before, Glokta’s story was most interesting. He’s stationed in Dagoska, a country the Union conquered and now has a tenuous hold on as the merchants take over and the Gurkish plan an attack to recapture it. Like West, Glokta is in an impossible situation trying to balance following orders and doing what is right/ most needed. This has led him to make deals with shady subjects — a mercenary named Cosca and the bankers Valint & Balk — to keep the country somewhat safe.

I enjoy reading from Glokta’s POV the most. From his sarcasm and practical observations to his complaints about stairs, Glokta’s POV makes a very amusing, sometimes relatable, read. I really expected him to die in Dagoska since that seems like a hopeless situation and I thought he was sent there as punishment and to die in his attempts at saving the city. I liked his musings on the person he’s become — someone who inflicts pain and torture, doing what was done to him — and liked his moments of sincerity and surprising kindness, although that (what he did with Eider, especially) might bite him in the butt later.

Overall: ★★★☆☆ ½

I enjoyed it and am happy to have started on the third book.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

It’s a series worth getting into.


Quotes from the book

“Towering clouds loomed over the plain, dark and light swirling together into colossal spirals, sweeping over the grassland with the raking wind, shifting, turning, ripping apart and flooding back together, casting monstrous, flowing shadows onto the cowering earth, threatening to crush the six tiny riders and their tiny cart with a deluge to sink the world. All hanging over Ferro’s hunched-up shoulders, the wrath of God made real.” 

— I just really love this passage for the description.

“Friends? In my experience, a friend is merely an acquaintance who has yet to betray you.” 

— one of Glokta’s many great lines

“I have a conscience, but it’s a feeble, withered shred of a thing. It couldn’t protect you or anyone else from a stiff breeze.” 

— another of Glokta’s great lines

Logen’s advice to Jezal:

“Fearlessness is a fool’s boast, to my mind. The only men with no fear in them are the dead, or the soon to be dead, maybe. Fear teaches you caution, and respect for your enemy, and to avoid sharp edges used in anger.”

“First, always do your best to look the coward, the weakling, the fool. Silence is a warrior’s best armour, the saying goes. Hard looks and hard words have never won a battle yet, but they’ve lost a few.”

“Second, never take an enemy lightly, however much the dullard he seems… Respect costs you nothing, and nothing gets a man killed quicker than confidence.”

“Third, watch your opponent as close as you can, and listen to opinions if you’re given them, but once you’ve got your plan in mind, you fix on it and let nothing sway you. Time comes to act, you strike with no backwards glances. Delay is the parent of disaster…”

10 thoughts on ““Before They Are Hanged” by Joe Abercrombie

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