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Nightgate Inn

A blog about fantasy and science-fiction books, new and old, popular and obscure. Stay a while and listen...

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The Books of Skyrim
Nate Ellis, Matt Daniels, William Shen, Alan Nanes, Shane Liesegang, Jon Paul Duvall, Brian Chapin
Before They Are Hanged  - Joe Abercrombie Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he writes amazing characters!
I'm sure some of you might cringe when you read the above first line of my review as it has been done again and again but is there a more appropriate way of actually starting a review of such a book? As always, I will avoid going into describing the synopsis of the book, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my critique of it. Since this is the 2nd book of a trilogy, I will assume that whoever reads this has already read the 1st book. Let me say this up front: If you liked the 1st book, you will love the 2nd! It is at least as good and probably even better! So what's different and what is not compared to the 1st book ?

Here's my review of book 1:
- Abercrombie's characters... well what can I say about them!!! This is certainly the novel's strongest point! His characters are truly amazing, gritty and totally realistic, at the same time heroic and shameful each in his own little and special way. Often, I found myself thinking of them as a mix between Peake's Gormenghast protagonists and Dragonlance heroes! Abercrombie makes you care for all of them in the same way GRR Martin does!
- Also, people that follow my reviews know that I have a sensitive spot for dialogues as I value them highly. This novel excels at that point! Both the dialogues as well as the internal monologues have excellent pacing, style and content which add to the general appeal and believability of the plot and characters.
- The structure is also a positive point. I generally don't prefer multiple points of view but Abercrombie pulls this out quite well and competently. You never get lost or confused and it's easy to remember where each thread is at. Also, a detail which I really liked and helps make this work is that Abercrombie alters his style a bit depending on the point of view. So from one POV you get longer and more detailed descriptions, from another you might get deeper internal monologues and from a third you might get a "lighter" language.

Not so positives:
Not really a lot of them ...
- While not bad, the pacing of the story was sometimes a bit uneven. There were parts where I felt that it dragged a little bit, as if Abercrombie was uncertain of how exactly to proceed or where to go from there.
- The above leads me to my second minor gripe which is that sometimes plot-wise the novel felt a bit aimless, as if the characters and their personal lives were left in the driving seat to take the story wherever it took them. While I understand that this was Abercrombie's intention from the beginning as he wanted this to be a character-driven novel while maintaining an atmosphere of mystery and uncertainty, I think that maybe he overdid this just a bit too much. This is more of a personal and subjective gripe however as I usually prefer a more plot-driven narrative.
- My final complaint has to do with the ending... or the lack of resolution. In my mind there are two types of trilogies, one that has 3 stories closely related and interconnected together usually in a temporal manner (i.e. Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy Boxed Set) and one that has 1 long story divided into three books (i.e. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings). The Blade Itself is the first part of The First Law trilogy which apparently falls into the second category, and thus it has no resolution at the end, no ending. I'm not sure I can blame a book for what it is but... I had to find some negatives!! :p

So what is different or new then? What are my comments?

As mentioned many times already, characterization is Abercrombie's strongest point. Book 2 excels in this as well though not exactly in the same way as book 1. In book one, we were introduced to this amazing and diverse cast of characters, learning about them and getting to love them all along with all of their shortcomings. In book 2, it feels we already know them well enough so this fascination fades a little bit but instead of taking the easy way and continuing with the exact same setup of personalities, Abercrombie introduces important and unexpected changes in most of them in different ways. The characters are forced to change by necessity, their behaviors enter unfamiliar paths for each of them and their lives are altered. As with book 1, this is still a book about characters and what happens to them and not the world.

The story picks up in book 2. While in book one, the plot sometimes felt lost and aimless, there is no such thing happening here. From the beginning we know what we expect to learn by the end; we have a semblance of quests in a more typical fantasy style. But this is Joe Abercrombie we're talking about. He takes these tropes and expectations and fulfills some of them and some others he turns them up on their heads and changes the game entirely. An intriguing plot to say the least, much much improved from book 1 in my opinion.

The pacing was definitely improved from the first book. There was always tension and anticipation for something. Even in slower and characteristically static parts, like the Dagoska chapters for example, there was a sense of urgency and anxiety that kept the pages turning.

As with book 1, there's no real resolution in this book either. Sure there are micro-resolutions, but not a larger encompassing one. One can say that all of the "quests" I mentioned earlier come to some kind of ending by the end of the book, but it's not a real closure of the plot threads but rather more like a re-configuration. This is not a book that can be read on its own or without intention of reading book 3 as it is obviously part of a unified and interconnected larger trilogy that works as a single work or story in three parts.

As I said at the beginning, if you liked book 1 then you will surely like book 2. It's more of the same good stuff though slightly better and improved in most ways! I still can't give max points as it lacks a bit in the ending and resolution but it definitely gets high marks and sure recommendation from me to any fans of fantasy!!

4,5 stars out of 5 !!