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27 November 2008 @ 08:54 pm
animadverted is a pritty word  
Before They Are Hanged, Joe Abercrombie

Second book of the First Law trilogy; follows The Blade Itself. And yes, I read them because the names are cool.



The first book in this series, The Blade Itself, was pretty snappy. Like this one, it's told through the POV of four men - because god forbid we have some gender equality, even in a made-up universe. They are Inquisitor Glokta, a duty torturer, definitely the strongest character in the book and one of the best fantasy characters I've read in a long time; Logen Ninefingers, a barbarian warrior, pretty much interchangable with any of Gemmell's you care to name but with slightly less angst (that we've seen); Colonel West, an army man and, it would seem, secret brute; and Jezel Luthar, a spoiled brat whose main function seems to be presenting an object lesson in humility.

Although nothing on the scale of ASOIAF, this universe doesn't hold up too badly. The strangest thing was the feeling I kept getting, that I'd read all this somewhere before. Angland, the Gurkish, the Union. The barbarian with hidden depths; the brat with hidden depths; the bog-standard soldier with hidden depths. The only one who doesn't seem to have hidden depths is Glokta, which is perhaps why I like him. I can even stomach the fact that Abercrombie italicises his inner monologue, which is certainly saying something. I must congratulate him on subtly differentiating the characters through the prose in each of their chapters, without forcing it down my throat or - shudder - resorting to dialect.

The gender equality sneer is a little unfair, given that his female characters are well-developed and interesting and - maybe, just maybe - people in their own right before they are female. But the world he's created is typical fantasy, a sort of amalgam of Middle Age English chivalry and the Arabian Nights, so females don't seem to have any rights or significant roles.

The main sticking point in these books is what I call the 'creation story blunder.' You run yourself aground trying to make up where everything CAME from. Gods, demons, rules, holy/evil books. BLAH FUCKING BLAH. What few writers seem to appreciate, when they create their One Books and Chosen Ones and Ultimate Fights Between Good and Evil is that none of the gods of our world have an independently substantiated existence. Theological wars are fought on the basis of words, ideology and belief, not FACT. If there were such things as gods and demons, I'd let them do their own damn fighting.

He has a witty streak that is unfortunately not often indulged:

They had some strange ideas about fighting down in the Union. If wars were won by the shinier side, they'd have had Bethod well licked

'You are terse, confrontational, slightly frightening, and impose severe restrictions on the menu [...]'

This book dragged quite a lot; mainly, I imagine, because it's the middle one and he's filling time. He's also filling space with unwarranted descriptions:

shrunken into his great robes of state like a withered plum in its furry skin

Now that's a fairly good description, but it's of a man we meet once and never more and who is not remotely instrumental to the plot. STOP WASTING MY TIME, JOE.

Logen had never seen him look so old, and thin, and weak.

UCK, this was a new and unpleasant development: the use of three adjectives separated by commas, as you see above. It plagued the book, literally plagued it, and what's worse: none of the passages beat this towering example of fresh, original description.

'I'm not proud, but I'm not ashamed either. Pride and shame, neither one will feed you. The only thing I regret is those five days of hunger, five days when I could have eaten well. [...]'

Yeah, I guess that was a pretty good thought? I kind of want the next book soon, because I forgot so much about The Blade Itself in the previous interval, and didn't like it enough to re-read. O WELL.



Previously, on Book Glomp 2008:
Middlemarch | Invisible Monsters | A Thousand Splendid Suns | Love in the Time of Cholera | Oscar and Lucinda | Kim | Breakfast at Tiffany's | Atonement | To the Lighthouse | On the Road | Brideshead Revisited | Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Bonjour Tristesse | A Passage to India | Three Men in a Boat | Vile Bodies | Prozac Nation | The Heart of the Matter | Jinx; Airhead | Doomsday Book | The Gum Thief | Choke | The Stone Gods | Beauty
 
 
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