Joe Abercrombie is an author name that needs no introduction in the fantasy space. He’s a name that is often brought up as one of the best in the genre and most certainly the best at grim dark fantasy (where it’s all swearing, dark humour and gore etc). Before They Are Hanged is the second in the The First Law trilogy. I have read and enjoyed The First Blade which I enjoyed the characters of but said that the plot was slightly lacking. Does Before They Are Hanged improve upon this or is it much of the same?
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Read my review of The Blade Itself first, that’s the first book in the series.
Before They Are Hanged continues on our story with our favourite characters from the first book: Logen Ninefingers, our barbarian warrior, San dan Glokta, our dark, sarcastic torturer for the Union’s Inquisition, Jezal dan Luther, our young and naive swordsman, Bayaz our old mysterious mage and Collem West our experienced Union army officer. All of them brought their own personalities and stories to the first book and they’re all back for the second with the addition of some new characters too (or some that were in the previous book but have been more fleshed out now).
Before They Are Hanged plot – 4/5
I think once again, Before They Are Hanged struggles a little with not having the most exciting plot. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you disliked the first book because of its average plot and you weren’t into the characters, then you can stop reading this review here as the second doesn’t get any better.
However, I’m not going to sit here and write that I didn’t enjoy the story that I read. Due to the interesting characters, their deep personalities and the interactions they have with one another, I found myself more engrossed in their goings-ones and happenings than I did in the first book.
For example, I was fascinated to find out what happened to everybody’s favourite Glokta and how he’d end up. There’s an interesting romance that also perks up between two incredibly unlikely people that makes you laugh and also vouch for them at times.
These mini stories going on throughout the book made the fact that there’s not much of a vast sweeping story or twists and turns not to feel like much of a problem.
There are some elements of this second book that do take the stakes to another level and give us something more to learn about in the world Abercrombie is filling but you’re not going to be blown away by a tense, fast-paced action story like some fantasy books will offer you.
I’d say about 80% of my enjoyment of this book is the brilliant characters.
Before They Are Hanged characters – 5/5
I rarely give anything a five out of five rating. In fact, I’ve given nothing a five out of five now that I am rating everything in .25 increments. However, the characters in Before They Are Hanged are some of the best you will ever read in a book.
Let me explain. Sometimes in books, you’ll get one character that everybody loves because they’re the funny one or because they have a redemption story that makes you admire them. In other stories, you’ll have a group of great friends but there isn’t really much depth to them other than personalities that help progress the story plots (the bad one, the good one etc).
However, Before They Are Hanged has a whole host of characters with multiple layers to their personalities. Glokta (everybody’s favourite) has a dark sense of humour, but he’s also incredibly intelligent and uses this to his advantage. However, there are moments of weakness and thoughts he has that show his sadness and desire not to be a cripple.
Logen Ninefingers is portrayed outwardly as this dumb brute who is one of the most dangerous and feared warriors there’s ever been. However, everybody he gets to know befriends him, finds his company enjoyable and often ends up shocked by his sense of humour.
In this second book, Jezal goes from being a scared, naive young warrior who thinks winning a sword content in his hometown is enough to grow an understanding of what it really means to try and survive in the wild with the likes of Ninefingers and Collem West.
Joe Abercrombie is one of the best character writers I’ve ever read. Yes, I’ve read books where there may be one character whom I’ve enjoyed, but never have I read a book series where I’ve genuinely been fascinated to be reading each person’s story and their personality arcs and what they’re going to do next.
Before They Are Hanged final rating – 4.5/5
Before They Are Hanged feels very similar to the first novel – the characters are incredible and the plot was a little lacklustre. However, having grown more attached to these phenomenally-written characters, their layers and depth and having a plot where Abercrombie is introducing us to more of the world mean this is a better book than the first in almost every way. Abercrombie is one of the greatest character-writers I’ve ever had the joy of reading and this makes the stories he writes so much more interesting because you genuinely care about each of the journeys these characters are going on. If you enjoyed The Blade Itself you’ll absolutely adore Before They Are Hanged.
If you liked my review of Before They Were Hanged, you’d likely also like my reviews of these books: