Sunday, July 28, 2013

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2)Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrated By: Steven Pacey
Original Publication Year: 2007
Genre(s): Fantasy (Epic)
Series: The First Law (#2)

I really really want to give this 4.5 stars. It's not quite 5 stars for me but very close and, I think, a step up from book one.

In book two of The First Law series all of the main characters embark along the new paths that were begun at the end of book one. There are three main storylines. Baez, Qwai, Logen, Ferro, Longfoot and Jezal (I apologize for any misspellings – a hazard of listening to the audio) are headed to the edge of the world on Baez’s mysterious mission. West and The North Men are with the Union’s lamest Army ever in Angland completely unprepared to fight Bethod. Glokta has been “promoted” and is tasked with getting the Union’s colony of De Gosca ready to withstand an attack by the Gherkish while simultaneously investigating the unexplained disappearance of his predecessor in the role. Things are definitely getting more complex and dire for everyone.

I found that book one took me a little while to really get into and hooked but there is no such problem here and because of that, it is even more enjoyable than the first book. It has the freedom of jumping right into the story because the first book did such a good job of set up and introductions. I was well invested in the characters and anxious to see where they were going. I was surprised when the book ended because I was so caught up in the story and it didn’t feel like I had been listening for very long.

So what’s up with our favorite characters in this middle installment of the The first Law series?:
-Jezal has killed his first two men and been seriously maimed while enduring many other hardships. These experiences serve to mature him so he’s no longer slap worthy. However Abercrombie does a great job of letting his character grow while not entirely shedding his old self – he’s still basically rather self-absorbed and a vain snobby peacock but those less admirable elements are now balanced and his cockiness is gone.
-As soon as Ferro was introduced in book one, I suspected she might be a good, if not the only, match for Logen and indeed this book shows a friendship develop and then the evolution of some romantic entanglements. They are a good, if certainly unorthodox pair. Ferro is violent enough herself that she can handle Ninefinger's brutality, while Ninefinger's folksy wisdom and surprising kindness are a balm to her damaged soul whether she acknowledges it or not.
-Baez shifts from a Gandalf-like kindly old magician who happens to be able to rip people to pieces, into a seriously crotchety and arrogant mage who reveals that his motives may not be entirely pure.
-Glokta continues to be his snarky and ruthless self as he steps into a situation where he wields more power. He also continues to be a contradiction. He is disgusted by how the Union authorities treat the De Gosca natives and in fact seems disgusted by much of what the Union does but he still pursues his job working for the Union with diligence and energy. He is a man who thinks he is without feeling but demonstrates by his actions that he does indeed still have a heart. In fact, I’m a little disturbed by the idea that I have a bit of a crush on Glokta. Abercrombie really excels at writing complex characters and Glokta is a character that you hate to love. At least that’s how it is for me.
-West faces significant trials and tribulations when he is assigned to keep the crown prince from completely self destructing while playing General of an Army. He fails and ends up going through hell with the North Men and earning his own name. The incompetency of everyone besides West and Major Burr continues to be the theme of the campaign against Bethod.
-Logen doesn’t really get a lot of development in this book besides his liaison with Ferro. By the end though, he seems ready to face home and Bethod again.

Abercrombie seems to be fascinated with the duality or contradictions in a person’s character. Logen Ninefingers is the most explicit in that he basically has a split personality. Logen is an honest and wise man who accepts his violent life and his talent with death as a burden he wishes he could put down. But there is a part of him, the Bloody Nine, which revels in savagery and blood. Glokta does horrific acts with glee but in many ways he’s a better man than his younger self who was admired by all as a hero. West is by all accounts an admirable man except that he beats his sister. It makes his characters fascinating to read and speculate about. It’s hard to know how to feel about them sometimes. They are definitely the primary strength of the book for me.

I still struggled with the chapters focused on the campaign/happenings in the North. I like West and have warmed up to the merry band of North Men but this storyline lacks the spark of mystery or complexity that the other storylines do. That being said, it did get more interesting for me further along in the book.

Stephen Pacey continues to impress me with the reading. I noticed this time around that to voice Glokta, he reads any spoken dialogue with a strong lisp because of Glokta's missing teeth but when Glokta is talking to himself in his head or writing a letter he reads him without a lisp. A subtle thing but it further enriches Glokta’s character.

This is shaping up into a favorite series!

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