loulamac’s #CBRV review #63: Before they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie; audiobook read by Steven Pacey

before they are hanged

‘We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.’ Heinrich Heine

The second in The First Law trilogy, Before They are Hanged picks up where The Blade Itself (read my review of that here) left off, and we are thrown straight back into the adventures of the mismatched band of characters we know and love.

Maimed inquisitor Sand den Glokta has been seconded to the southern Union city of Dagoska to investigate the disappearance of his predecessor, as barbarian Gurkish hordes threaten to overrun the city. Who can he trust as he tries to get to the bottom of things and keep the city safe? Warrior Logen, ex-slave Ferro and petulant nobleman Luthar have accompanied the sorcerer Bayaz to the edge of the world on his mysterious quest that will push them to the limits of who they are, and soldier Collum West finds himself having some tough choices to make as he babysits the Crown Prince as the northmen attack.

This might all sound like run-of-the-mill fantasy fiction fare, but Abercrombie’s deft touch, knack for dialogue and eye for human nature elevates it.  As you might expect from the middle volume of a trilogy, much of the story is set-up for the final book. What pushes this forward is the development of characters you have already invested in. There are battles, murders and love affairs; loyalties are tested and unexpected allegiances form. I LOVED this book.

Steven Pacey (the cute curly-haired guy from Blake’s Seven) gives an awesome performance in reading the book. I was an audiobook virgin and I wasn’t sure if I’d like listening rather than reading, but staring down the barrel of training for another marathon with the associated three hour runs, I needed something to get me through. Pacey is brilliant, investing both the internal and external voice of each character with distinctive mannerisms and motivations. His reading is a masterful interpretation of the menacing and mysterious world Abercrombie has created.

loulamac’s #CBR5 review #4: The Blade Itself, The First Law, Book One by Joe Abercrombie

8302721 I got stuck into this at the recommendation of a friend who plays Warhammer. I was mourning the temporary loss of Game of Thrones having finished A Dance with Dragons, and couldn’t think of a better person to turn to. I must confess, despite the recommendation from a fellow Marvel Comic/Star Wars head, I went into this with low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised.

The book opens as luck runs out for Logen Ninefingers, a notorious barbarian warrior. Separated from his brothers in arms, he literally goes over a cliff as he battles and escapes from Shanka assailants in the far north. As he flees, he encounters the wizard Bayaz. Bayaz has an agenda he doesn’t share with Logen, or the other members of the motley crew he brings together. These are the shockingly disfigured torturer Inquisitor Glokta, the spoilt nobleman Jezal dan Luthar and furiously angry ex-slave Ferro Maljinn. This is the first in a trilogy, and introduces the characters as they tread the violent, dangerous paths that brings them to Bayaz. They each have a role to play in his mysterious mission.

This might all sound far-fetched and complicated, and it is. But therein lies its charm. Abercrombie has created brutal world seething with violent death, unexpected allegiances and ill-considered passions. The characters are believable, cruel and compassionate by turns; the sense of place, from the arid Badlands in the south to the barren North via the bustling city of Adua, is immaculate. This is a fast-paced, funny and shocking romp. Who cares about Westeros?

Alexis’s #CBR5 Review #4, Red Country, Joe Abercrombie

red countryShy is a hard woman with a dark past. Lamb is a giant of a man and a bloody coward. But he’s the closest thing to a father Shy and her two young siblings is ever going to have. When Shy finds her farm burnt to the ground and her young brother and sister taken, Shy and Lamb take off cross country to find them. It is a journey that will cost them everything they are.

“What do we do if we catch them?” she muttered, keeping her voice down. “Chances are they’re going to be armed and willing. Better armed than us, that’s sure.”

“Recon we’ll have to be more willing then.”

There are many detailed characters in Red Country but none is as riveting as Lamb, a quiet man who kept his head bowed for years, farming, raising children that weren’t his own. Perhaps the story of Lamb draws from too many familiar tropes (the lone warrior, ronin, etc.) but Lamb’s journey, dialogue, and challenges haunt me weeks after finishing the book.

I didn’t want no trouble,” said Lamb. “It blew in anyway. Trouble’s got a habit that way.” He pushed his wet hair out of his face, and his eyes were wide open, bright, bright, mouth open too, breathing fast, and he was smiling. Not like a man working his way up to a hard task. Like a man enjoying getting to a pleasant one, taking his time about it like you might over a fine meal, and of a sudden Shy saw all those scars anew, and felt this coldness creeping up her arms and down her back and every hair on her standing.

Elsewhere Captain General Nicomo Cosca leads The Company of the Gracious Hand, a fierce bunch of mercenary murderers and thieves, accompanied by a feckless lawyer named Temple. The Company of the Gracious Hand has been hired by the inquisition to route hidden pockets of rebels, which they mean to do by burning and pillaging their way across the country. It’s a Red Country indeed.

This is a fantastic book that spans many characters, miles of travel, and battles. No one ends the journey unscathed, definitely not Lamb who turns out to have a much richer and darker past than Shy ever suspected. Abercrombie’s Law of the Blade trilogy is also fantastic but the characters are so dark that you almost stop caring about them. In Red Country, Shy, Temple, and definitely Lamb are dark, broken characters and yet you never stop rooting for them to succeed. They are forced into many hard choices, each with a hefty price to pay, and each conflict brings an uneasy resolution. Yet the dialogue has so much sly wit and humor that the book never seems TOO dark or bleak. There is a spark of hope and warmth that keeps the balance.

Joe Abercrombie is a modern master of the anti-hero and Red Country is his best work to date. I highly recommend.