“Glokta was surprised to find the General had stepped up close beside him and was speaking softly and urgently, looking earnestly into his eyes. Like a man proposing marriage. Or treason. I wonder which we have here? “
– Before They are Hanged, Joe Abercrombie (First Law #2)
Before They are Hanged picks up right where The Blade Itself left off. It’s a good instalment in the trilogy, although it does drag in parts and the ending was a bit of let down. Still, it was good to spend more time with these characters – getting to know them more, and seeing their characters develop. That was what mostly stood out to me about this book.
There were two things that bugged me about the last book that were thankfully resolved there- the first being a piece of information one character had that they seemed to have waltzed off into their quest without informing the necessary parties of it. Thankfully, the necessary parties were informed of it by other means fairly early on in the book. The second being that I found Ferro an awful, annoying character and she still is, but she’s slightly more sympathetic here. I wasn’t certain about her loveline, but it was OK.
In the case of Jezal it was great to see him finally realise what a repulsive person he was and to start to move past it- even if I still find him obnoxious at least he is trying. I couldn’t help but wonder though – was Jezal a reflection of what Glokta used to be? If so, you cannot help but think of how easily Jezal was able to grow up/realise his errors, in comparison to Glokta. The image of Glokta being dragged, screaming and crying from the bridge is one that will remain with me. Abercrombie has a way of writing painful things in a way that is starkly detached from it, which only makes it more horrifying. He doesn’t gloss over it but presents it as it is. I thought a lot about Glokta – he is my favourite character still and still by far the most interesting. Here we are handed more scraps of his past, as everyone seems to have been in Colonel Glokta’s regiment, as well as through his thoughts and of course, Jezal seems to represent who he was, even if Jezal was lucky enough to be given a different quest, and a different ending. You cannot help but feel for Glokta – if he was once so young, so full of himself, and so unprepared for what was to come. And completely without the support Jezal has. He shows his softer side here though, some facets of him that may have survived his horrific ideal, in his interactions with a couple of characters, and the way he resolves certain situations. It’s in stark contrast to the way he handles other situations. It’s these contrasts that make him so fascinating. West also turned out to be an interesting character – its quite horrifying to see him degrade, and begin to break. Like Glokta, he goes to war unprepared and without support, and ends up changed irreversibly. He seems to be paralleling Logen with his rage, and I wonder if he will be given an easier way to realize how damaging it is, compared to the years it took Logen to realise it. Another image that stood out to me, which I thought was brilliantly subtle, was when West went to sit by himself as he did when his father got angry. Just a throw away line, but it says so much. I continue to enjoy Abercrobmie’s minimalstic, to the point writing style. (And his sense of humour remains on point too.)
I was however disappointed with the characterization of Quai. I adore the apprentice – but we don’t really know him at all. Thus far all we know is he’s maybe a seer, he has some knowledge of the ancient stories of the world and he is handy with a frying pan*. I really want to know more. Where does he come from? How did he get into the service of Bayaz? Is he actually a magician? He never actually does any magic. Most of what he does in this book is sit and stare into space. It leaves me feeling nervous, praying he won’t be the quiet traitor in the end. I love his quirky character and would rather keep the mystery surrounding him than have him be a traitor. But more than that I want him not to be a traitor and to have a larger part of the story. (*I had to put the book down I was laughing so hard at the scene where it is revealed that Quai bashed in an enemies head with a frying pan. I recalled tangled and its wimpy hero with his pan and oh – I loved it.)
There was also a huge twist at the ending which I wasn’t sure to feel rage at, or be utterly delighted that Abercrombie had the gall to go there. I think sadly I mostly feel frustrated by it. I admit the whole ending of this book kinda petered out. For some reason, I don’t feel quite so excited for the third book, just a little worried. I’m going to keep going for Glokta though.