Book Review: Before They Are Hanged (First Law Trilogy #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Before They Are Hanged (The First Law Trilogy #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Publisher: Pyr

Publication Date: March 2008 (first published March 15, 2007)

Edition: Paperback, 543 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

Say one things for Joe Abercombie, say he’s one hell of a character writer.


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.

I enjoyed this book much more than first; the development that all of our characters went through, and each of their arcs were amazing. The battles this time had ever more blood and gore, were longer, more intense, and had a greater impact on the characters. The plot is still not grabbing me, but it doesn’t matter. I had a great time with this!

As in The Blade Itself, we have multiple plots lines going on at once. Superior Glotka is now in Dagoskta to try and prevent the Gurkish from the invading. That alone will be no easy task, and having to deal with the locals and the Ruling Council there, only make matter worse. And of course, there is the little fact that his predecessor mysteriously vanished in the night to never to seen again. Glotka will have to deal the pressures from Lord Sult about handling the Gurkish while trying to figure out who was behind the pervious Inquistor’s disappearance before it is too late, and he faces the fate.

Over to the west Bayaz, Logen, Luthar, Ferro, Quai, and Longfoot are all off the edge of the world in search of the Seed. Over this journey our array of different personality will come to clash, resistance will be met, and what exactly Bayaz is up to, will be brought into question.

Finally up in the North, The Union is preparing for a battle with Bethod. To raise Prince Ladisha‘s resume, it has been decide to give him his own command (out of the way, of course), and it is up to West to babysit the Prince to make sure nothing happens. West does find some help from the group of Named Men looking to attack Bethong themselves. However when it comes times, will West and the Named Men be enough to hold of Bethod?

The development of our main characters, their arcs and their transformations were amazing! I mean ab-so-lutely amazing! Every one of them! Some of the decisions that Glotka made, left me speechless. We get to see what kind of a man Logen is at his heart. Going into the mind of Ferro, and feeling her pain, gaining an understanding, and feeling sympthing and so hopefully for her. But the development of Luthar and the arc of West… just wow! Luther learns some serious life lessons. This as a major coming-of-journey for him. West’s character arc was my favorite this time around. I don’t know how to go into detail about explaining West without spoiling anything, but the events he faces, the actions he takes, his thoughts and reactions to everything he goes through… his POV chapters alone would make this worth reading. I was proud, mad, confused, and sympathetic for the man throughout his story. I don’t even know if I can define him simply as a good or bad guy anymore. Utterly blown away by his character, and are extremely eager to witness what happens next.

Speaking of all these great characters, my favorite part was with our group going on that quest in the west! Not because the quest for the Seed excited me, but because we got to the shifting POVs between them. We were able to see not only how their actions toward each changed, but how their thoughts about each other evolved over time.

(Was anybody hoping that some would just kill Longfoot and shut him up? XD)

Just as great this time, were the fighting scenes. I thought the fights were very good in THe Blade Itself, but nothing particular that really put them ahead of others. This time though, I thought they were some of best fighting scenes I’ve read. First off, there is a lot more battles this time around, and they all felt longer to me (in a good way). I think maybe because of the connections I felt to characters in them? Because down Dagoska (since Glokta himself, can’t sword fight) I wasn’t super into them. I still thoughts they were very good – and better than before – but the fights up North, with West and the Named Men, and over to the west with our journeymen – I was glued to the pages. I took in every detail of the action. All the blood and gore (which was a lot greater this time around, and I now see where Lord Grimdark comes from), and the implications each of these had to the characters – all this added to impact theses fights had on me.

I hate to say it, but the subs plot of the story still aren’t catching to me. Glotka trying to solve the murder mystery and all the political intrigue should have interested me, but all I cared about was seeing how would talk to other people, and what his inner monologue was saying. Over in the west, I couldn’t have cared where they were going. Even sitting around the campfire, listening to Bayaz’s history lessons of the Old Empire didn’t spark anything. All I cared about there was seeing more fighting, and watching the group dynamic interactions. All of that is identical for the North. I wanted to see how all the Named Men got along, and I wanted to see what West would do next. I just wanted to see the next fight! I didn’t even care who they were fighting. I don’t have a connection to killing Bethos, getting the Seed, or stopping the Gurkish. It’s the character plots – their development, arc, or whatever you want to call it – that drives this fantasy. Not the plot of the story.

At this time, I feel it is safe to say for certain, that the overall story arc has to something to do with Bayaz, Juvens, all the Magi, and the Seed and the Old Empire. Yet again, it doesn’t interest me. I do not considered it bad, but it’s just that nothing is catching my attention. I am more than confident now to say this is a heavily character-driven fantasy. Maybe if in book 3 when all gets explained I can look back and appreciate things I may have over looked, but as of right now, I’m still wondering why everything has happened, what the point of all this is, and why I should care?

All that being said though, despite my lack of interest in the story and plots, I still thought this was a great book! These characters and fights are among the best I’ve ever read. I would go off and rant-and-rave about them, but I did that last review, so I don’t see the point in repeating myself. If the story could just catch my attention a little bit, these books would easy be a 5, and up there with my favorites of all-time.

I said this before, and I’ll say it again, these characters alone (and now the fighting for certain) makes these books worth reading. Honestly, I could care less what the story was about. As long I get these characters, there is now way I wouldn’t enjoy these books.

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he’s one hell of character writer!

4/5 Rating


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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Before They Are Hanged (First Law Trilogy #2) by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Kaja says:

    Abercrombie sure does write some great fight scenes! Although I could sometimes survive with less blood and gore.
    I liked this book best of all the trilogy – I wonder what you’ll think of the last one.
    West and Glokta were my favourite characters here – I honestly couldn’t stand Luther 🙂 I wish he’d give more thought to the role of women in his society, though I heard he changed that a bit in the three books that follow this trilogy.
    Great review!


    • Thanks for the comment, Kaja! I actually like the last book a bit more than this one best. Everything finally started to makes sense then and I started to understand the (lack-of?) meaning to the story.
      I actually had a hard time deciding if I loved or hated Luther in book 1, but in the end I leaned toward liking. (But I think that was because I have a major crush on Ardee). Overall, I’d probably pick Glotka as my favorite character.


  2. […] MYLIFEMYBOOKSMYESCAPE                        Drunken Dragon Reviews […]


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