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VINE VOICEon 9 August 2017
It’s several months after THE BLADE ITSELF.

Bayaz is leading Jezal, Logen, Longfoot, Ferro and Quai across the Old Empire in search of the Seed. As Logen tries to build trust among the mismatched group, they run into old friends and old enemies of Bayaz and in doing so, learn more of the war against Kanedias and Bayaz’s own role in it.

Major West is in Angland assisting Lord Marshall Burr in leading the campaign against Bethod but Bethod’s men are battle hardened and ruthless whereas the Union has sent poorly trained, poorly equipped men and are hampered by the useless Crown Prince Ladisla and his foppish retinue. But maybe an encounter with Dogman, Threetrees and the other Named Men could turn the war in their favour?

Glokta dan Sand has arrived in Dagoska with his Practicals, tasked with discovering what happened to the previous Superior and holding out against an advancing Gurkish army intent on capturing it for the Empire. Glokta smells conspiracy within Dagoska’s elite and the city’s defences won’t hold for long. Who will kill him first and how quickly they will do it?

The second in Joe Abercrombie’s FIRST LAW TRILOGY is a gripping, action-packed novel that builds on Bayaz’s backstory, develops the conspiracy elements and subverts the traditional fantasy tropes (I particularly like the growing humanisation of torturer Glokta) but I am disappointed by the lack of rounded female characters and diversity.

Abercrombie intercuts his storylines well, moving between the three plot strands to keep the action going and subverting Bayaz’s quest storyline, which may otherwise be slow. I enjoyed the interaction between Bayaz’s team (especially Logen’s attempts to win their trust, his developing relationship with Ferro and the events that help to make Jezal grow up) and the introduction of people from Bayaz’s past (notably Mage Cawneil who hints that Bayaz’s history is darker than he portrays). I also enjoyed the scenes between the Named Men and West but the introduction of Cathil only served to illustrate the lack of female characters in the book and her role seems to be purely to serve as a potential romantic interest for West. Glokta remains my favourite character and I loved his fatalistic cunning and ruthlessness as he deals with the Dagoska elite while trying to save his own neck.

Ultimately this was a strong sequel and I look forward to reading the concluding novel.
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on 31 December 2016
Logan Ninefingers often reminds us that "you have to be realistic", and normally in life that's fine advice especially when starting books that are getting such massively positive reviews. Sorry Logan, there are just some special occasions when you can forget realism and just escape it for a while. Judging by this series so far listening to an audiobook with the names Abercrombie and Pacey on it is one of those all too rare occasions.

There are few series out there that manage to deliver such incredible depth of characters, genuinely exciting storyline and yet still find ways to make you laugh regularly. Off the top of my head I can only think of one that has done this quite so well albeit with a very different storyline and in a completely different genre. Pacey here is the obvious link to Jussi Adler-Olsen's wonderful Department Q series but there's so much more to it than that.

The characters like Glokta for example, a twisted cripple, a husk of a man in constant pain, in turns deliciously evil and yet so human. The mingling of his thoughts with the main dialogue is a pure delight and no-one could do him much better than Pacey. He is portrayed so differently to the usual clichéd, pompous inquisitor types. He sees things for what they are and doesn't feign ignorance of things like the effects of rough treatment on a people. His assessments of the city of Dagoska and the people there demonstrate how well he is written.

The other characters too are richly drawn and I think that they are characters I will take to the grave with me, remembered long after others have faded back to the mud. Logan himself, Ferro, Giselle, so many to choose from and they take part in a much faster-moving and action-packed storyline in this instalment.

As for that comedy I mentioned, the sardonic and intimate thoughts of the likes of Glokta and Logan will keep the corners of your mouth twitching throughout. However something like two thirds of the way through the book is possibly my favourite ever "romantic encounter" scene of all-time. They aren't something I often remark upon but this is genuinely something a touch remarkable. I'll say no more but you'll see what I mean when you get to it!

Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie he writes a good book. Say one thing about Steven Pacey, he reads a good book very well.
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Before They Are Hanged is the second book in The First Law Trilogy and the sequel to The Blade Itself. In this middle volume of the sequence, Before They Are Hanged picks up the storylines left dangling from the first novel and develops them further. As with the first book, this volume often feels like a 'standard' fantasy novel with lots of standard tropes in use, but Abercrombie successfully continues to put a subversive spin on events which keeps things fresh and interesting.

There are three main plot threads in the book. In the Northlands, the Union Army prepares to face the forces under Beothed. They have enlisted the aid of Threetrees and his band of cutthroats and warriors, but Marshal Burr and Colonel West find their hands full with just keeping their feuding generals from each others throats and babysitting the preening, useless Prince Ladisla.

Meanwhile, in the South, the city of Dagoska falls under siege from the army of the Gurkhal Empire. Inquisitor Glokta, in the city to investigate the disappearance of his predecessor, finds himself orchestrating the defence of the city against a vast and powerful foe, but is also forced into making alliances with suspect agents in order to ensure the city's survival.

In the West, Bayaz and his band of unlikely companions continue their journey to the edge of the Circle of the World, to recover a weapon of tremendous power. Their journey will take them through the fallen remnants of the Old Empire, an ancient city and a towering mountain range before their goal can be achieved.

Abercrombie's story rattles along at a fair old pace. With the characters introduced, there is no more need for scene-setting and the plot explodes with vigour. More happens in this 450-page novel than some writers struggle to squeeze into an 800-page tome, and it's all invigorating, page-turning stuff. There's a lightness of touch and plenty of humour in the writing which makes reading the book all the more pleasurable. The characters become more interesting, with Glokta particularly becoming a morally ambiguous person whom the author gives real character to, his decisive ruthlessness coming as quite a shock in some parts of the book. Meanwhile, in other parts of the story other characters undertake unexpected transformations. Meeting other people who know Bayaz from earlier in the world's history forces the reader to reconsider their opinion of him, whilst another character undergoes a startling personality transformation which is kept quietly in the background, hinting at some darker force moving in the storyline which will be explored further in the final book of the series.

The only criticism that comes to mind is, once again, the lack of a map. This is even more of a problem in the second novel as much vaster areas of territory are covered. One of the problems of not having a map in the book is revealed by the fact that, until an offhand comment made in this volume, I was unaware that Midderland (the Union homeland and location of its capital, Adua) was an island. A second, even more minor problem is that a skirmish in an ancient, ruined city threatens to feel like the use of one standard fantasy idea too many. Luckily, Abercrombie's writing is strong enough to avoid this problem, especially as it provides some of the most memorable imagery in the novel.
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on 30 August 2014
‘Before they are hanged’ is the second volume in the First Law Series, by Joe Abercrombie. Directly following ‘The Blade Itself’, the fantastic introduction to the series; it continues with the same hard-boiled, brutal, and realistic characters with the same amounts of brutish violence. Dark fantasy at its best, it succeeds in being amazingly better than the first book.

‘Before they are hanged’ continues with the same characters as its prequel, though with a story that is even bigger and meaner than that of the first book. The book begins with the Union finding itself at war on its northern front against Bethod and his barbarians, with an additional impending war against the Gurkish also threatening the city of Dagoska on the south. Inquisitor Glokta is dispatched to Dagoska to solve the disappearance of the previous Inquisitor, and also must somehow overcome the corrupt and incompetent leadership of the city in order to manage to maintain and defend the city against the Gurkish forces threatening it. Deadly political intrigue ensues, and Glokta must manage to waver through the different forces in order to achieve something that isn’t thought possible. All whilst avoiding the being killed.

Meanwhile, and at the same time, Bayaz has gathered a party composed of Jezal dan Luthar, hateful Ferro, Maljinn, and logen. They have to go to the far south to recover an apocalyptic artifact from the past – the seed – which supposedly contains a destructive force so powerful that it would be able to save the Union from the invasions of both Gurkish and North. The big question through their whole storyline is, however, will they be able to even reach the artifact?

Just like in ‘The Blade Itself’, the writing in this book is absolutely astounding. It is relentless and hard-edged, and brings in all the brutality of the world created by Abercrombie in what is definitely the best way possible. Each of the characters is individualized in a way that highlights their own personality and goals, everything about them. The action is extremely well written, as is the dialogue and the dark humour. The book succeeds in being even better than the last (even though such a thing seemed impossible with how good the first one was, in my opinion), and was a complete joy to read from start to finish.

Something which made me enjoy even more the book though, was the fact that in this one the there was more interaction between characters; mainly with Jezal, Ferro, Logen, and Bayaz. If the last book felt a bit empty in this regard, the feeling isn’t present at all in this one, as by having them travel with each other it makes their respective characters grow and interact with each other in ways that really completed the novel, and made it an even better read.

All in all, ‘Before they are hanged’ is a fast-paced, gritty, and dark fantasy book that will not let you go. Well-conceived and most enjoyable, it is something any fan of this genre should read and not miss, and probably one of the best books I have had the pleasure to read in quite some time. It is definitely awesometacular, and reading as well as purchasing is heavily recommended.
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on 21 February 2008
I found the first in the series difficult to get into. The characters weren't over sympathetic. I persevered, and really enjoyed it. This sequel, however is instantly gripping. The characters develop interestingly, and the storyline is intriguing. I used to love Tolkien, but grew out of it. This is better by far - more realistic, if that makes sense in a fantasy, and with much more believable and less perfect characters. Excellent.
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on 14 March 2012
After making the mistake of reading book one of Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself, without having book two and three at hand, when I went on my London book splurge I made sure to not only buy those two books, but the first standalone novel in Abercrombie's world, Best Served Cold, as well. I quickly read this book, but then the dreaded morning sickness took over and well, you know the rest of this story! I loved getting back to these characters, however, and I hope to get stuck into the next book fairly soon after the baby gets here.

As with the first book there are three main arcs: one that follows Glokta, one that follow Major West, who's joined by Logen's band, and an arc that follows Bayaz whose party includes Logen, Jezal, Ferro and of course his apprentice and the guide Longfoot. And, again as in the first book, all the arcs are entertaining, though my personal favourite parts were Glokta's stay in Dagoska and Logen's crafting of bonds with Jezal and Ferro. Especially the romance thread between Logen and Ferro is at once hilarious, touching and heartbreaking. I also liked spending so much time with West, he's awesome and one of the few truly honourable men in the books so far.

Before They Are Hanged is very character driven. We see far more of the world than we did before, but even through these travels - which are mainly focused on West and Bayaz' group; Glokta moves around, but we don't see him travel - the characters and their development and interactions remain key. While most characters show growth, in my opinion, Jezal dan Luthar shows the most. Not surprising as he needed to do a lot of growing up. But it goes beyond just that. He seems to find his better side and learns loyalty to other people than himself. This is mainly done through his interactions with Logen, who in his own gruff way seems to mentor him. I really liked the group dynamic in this party of misfits and I do wonder where they'll go in the final book of this trilogy.

We finally figure out what Bayaz is up to, though these discoveries also make his "good guy" status more dubious. The further along we get in the book, the more I started to doubt that Bayaz is actually the somewhat benevolent figure he claims to be. In retrospect, I don't why I'd be surprised at this as I said myself in the review for the first book that the characters are 'grey, greyer and black' with not a speck of white among them, not even the honourable Major West. But Bayaz' turn for the darker does conjure up questions about his true intentions and where his quest will lead his party. I can only surmise it won't be good.

Before They Are Hanged doesn't suffer from middle book syndrome; yes, there is a lot of set up and moving around, but it doesn't drag at all. It can by no means stand alone, however, without having read book one this won't be a satisfying read. Yet it is a great follow up to The Blade Itself and it ramps up expectations for the final book in this trilogy, Last Argument of Kings. Abercrombie's storytelling is addictive, once you've started the first book; you'll be hooked until you've read them all, which for me is the mark of a great writer!
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on 1 February 2014
For the first 150 pages not a lot happens, and then all the battles get going - that you've been waiting the whole of the first book for, and a fair bit of the second. The middle of the book is great, exciting, strong adventure. Then the events we'd been waiting for finish and there's a bit of a lull, followed by a brief battle at the end.

It all feels unbalanced, like Abercrombie doesn't really get how to structure a story. Most of this book is actually Act 3 from the first novel, and the end of this book feels a bit added on.

The characters are repetitive. You could probably fill a few chapters just with the amount of times Abercrombie describes Glokta hobbling and sucking at his missing teeth, another few chapters of Ferro feeling angry, another few chapters of Logen thinking 'got to be realistic' and another few chapters of Jezal moaning - (although his character arc is a bit better than the others when I started reading the third book it was proved very limited)

After starting and abandoning book three I would advise against reading any of these books. They're a waste of time. The characters are all one dimensional with one main personality trait. The whole world Abercrombie creates is sick: there's no good, just evil and then slightly less evil people who are still immoral. I didn't want any character to succeed in the end.
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on 25 March 2014
Controversially perhaps, I actually think this surpasses the first book. It’s always the case that the second book in a trilogy suffers from being (or being seen to be) the ‘filler’; bridging the gap between the fresh new beginning and the climactic finale. That said, the character development so central to a second novel - and designed to make you care more about their respective endings - I found to be more interesting than their respective introductions in The Blade Itself. This is probably because it comes hand-in-hand with a galloping progression of the story.

Things do develop, but there is also a sense of matters being tied up. The overarching story still remains, but the end of the book heralds the end of the quest, the end of another Union battle, and a full stop (of sorts) for Glokta – but all left teetering enticingly on the edge, with a whole new chapter ready to be opened, and new set of questions to be answered. My point being that you don’t immediately have to pick up Last Argument of Kings (but you will want to).

I maintain my comments from the first book about some characters you’d rather read about/with than others. Glokta remains absolutely superb, West comes into his own and develops into one of the most interesting and justifiably introspective characters, and Bayaz still annoys the hell out of me (although this is tempered by Logen, Jezal, and Ferro ,who remain close to him on their quest westward[?], which is altogether a great part of the story). I think this probably means there’s something for everybody, which may be part of the overall appeal; although I also think we can all agree on our opinion of Sand dan Glokta[?]

In short, it flows from the first book, and I will eagerly move onto the third. Good (old school) stuff.
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on 2 October 2011
*****This contains spoilers*****
I read book one and was fairly impressed that I was actually fairly excited about the second. The trip across the world to find the seed. The intrigue with Glokta. War in the north against Bethod and the Feared. Brewing to be a cracking story. Unfortunately, it ended up far too stewed and tasting of cabbage water. The dangerous trip across the world was about as scary as a walk across the park. Two battles. The rest was just building relationships between all the characters - which could have been good if it actually went somewhere. But the trip was a waste of time completely and in the end they all came back and broke apart without a single goodbye. It just filled pages. Pointless, long drawn out pages. Especially, Jazel mooning over the Collem's sister. Another pointelss plot. Wasted pages that didn't go anywhere. Some people might say - it gives realism. I read fantasy to escape realism, not to waste time of love sick pup that just fills the pages to have Glokta take her hand in the end. And speaking of Glokta - it just got tiresome. Everything was about how he was going to end up in the river. I wished he had sometimes. All the torturing became bland and predictable. Even the twist of the banks stepping in was so predictable. I guessed it when the banks first came on the scene. The other Glokta twist was so random that I actually thought it worthwhile, but still wished it has been carried out.
Ferro - a made up character - again pointless add nothing to it but being able to carry the seed. Might as well left her out and come up with another idea. Again just filling pages.
Bayaz, Collem, Logen and Dogman were all good characters. Bayaz irritated from time to time. The way he back stabbed everyone was okay, but the fact none of his group or friends had guessed it over the 1000 years he had been alive was a bit strange.

Overall, I slogged through this book (like Collem in North) and then painfully, limped (like Glokta) through book three. I have read some bad books in the past and some brilliant ones. However, none have ever prompted me to write a review, until this book came on the scene and I wasted time on it. I only kept reading in the hope it would start to follow book 1... alas it didn't. It seemed Joe had a good idea then got lost in typing and finally tried to pull it back with teh final battle - bit it was far, far too late.

So if you like wasting time. Buy this. If not go for the painted man or ragged man.
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on 6 July 2016
Imagine an ancient artefact of awesome power that will change the course of history, then imagine a company of adventurers led by a wizard
and pursued by brutish subhuman enemies.............sounds a bit like Tolkien doesnt it? But Ferro, Quai, Longfoot and Jezal are no merry band of
hobbits, Logen is no Frodo Baggins and Bayaz is a long way from Gandalf! Difficult to figure out Bayaz, he has his own agenda which may
ultimately be revealed. I'm not saying Abercrombie's writing is derivative, he may well have gained inspiration from some of the greats in fantasy writing, he's a whole lot dirtier and grittier than Tolkien, his battles are as bloody as David Gemmells, the bureaucracy of the Royal palace is as
tortuous and claustrophobic as Mervyn Peakes Gormenghast ,but ultimately he has his own voice.- the Shanka are rather like Saruman's Orcs
though! Meanwhile in the wilderness of Angland, Jezals superior officer in the Kings Own, Major West, finds himself shepherding the vain and useless Prince Ladisla after a crushing defeat be King Bethods Northmen -they in turn are rescued by Logen's old
mercenary comrades, Dogman,
Threetrees, Grim and company - big surprise here, that points to Major West being a major player in the plot.
Last but not least our anti-hero Glokta, now promoted to Superior and accompanied by Practicals Severard ,Frost and Vitali
is sent to the Southern city of
Dagoska to root out treason and corruption - Dagoska is a Union enclave surrounded by the territory of the Gurkhish Empire and it soon becomes
clear the Gurkhish have decided to take it back and Glokta finds himself in command of the besieged defenders. There are so many threads weaving through this book, so many interesting characters [some more likeable than others] that I enjoyed it even more than the Blade Itself. Top Fantasy.
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