Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: Before They Are Hanged

Before They Are Hanged Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a lo-o-o-ng book. And by “this,” I mean the three combined. There’s really no trilogy here; one book leads into the next without pause. Given that, it’s hard to distinguish this middle piece from the one before and the one that’s coming. It’s a series of chapters that could, if you shifted where the covers happened to fall, fit into either of the others.

Still, fifty or so pages in, I sighed into acceptance, figuring Abercrombie had gotten lost in what he was doing and that he’d found his way into familiar patterns The different threads started to feel like slices of genre. We get it set up with Glokta as a detective, trying to figure out who killed his predecessor. We get the convention of the fellowship marching through a wasted ancient land, complete with a Moria-like lost city and with a corollary coming of age story for Jezal. And we get a campaign story through the eyes of West. Everything felt “done before,” and I pushed on over the next 100 or so pages mostly just because of momentum. (Though, to be fair, the writing was solid even in the parts that felt headed toward cliché.)

Then, to my pleasant surprise, Abercrombie redeemed things. Glokta solved his mystery. The quest resulted less in the lost mystical object and more about a reveal of Bayaz’s error-filled past. And the campaign took a strange and compelling turn with West turning into the Furious of the North. We’d moved from the generically predictable back into a story revealing itself piece by surprising piece. As I read, I heard Abercrombie enjoying things with me, working to invent his story rather than recycle it.

This is hardly the place to stop, and things could easily go otherwise, but, all told, this volume may actually be stronger than the first. Abercrombie seems to be finding his voice as he goes. Add that drama to the separate threads of the story, and there’s always something to be struck by.

This is still far short of the at times literary excellence of Game of Thrones, but it’s also vastly superior to much of what the genre has to offer. If the Wheel of Time books started stronger than these, they got lost in tangents and space-fillers. Abercrombie has a plan, and this is part of its filling out. I’m still in the dog days of the academic year, and this is a perfect, fun distraction.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment