Before They Are Hanged (2007): Joe Abercrombie

★★★½

The First Law: Book 2

Wow, that got dark very quickly. The second instalment of the First Law trilogy spreads our characters out across the world, many of them facing insurmountable odds, and all of them, at various points, encountering an awful lot of violence. There is a lot of blood. This is not one for the faint-hearted, but Abercrombie’s sense of irony prevents it from getting too crushingly miserable. In her comment on the last post, Heloise noted that he undermines the conventions of the fantasy genre throughout the series, and I noticed more examples of this here: not so much in terms of characterisation, now, but in the plot itself. And yet this does feel very much like a ‘middle book’: while it begins with the feel of a new chapter, taking our characters away from the debatable safety of Adua and into foreign climes, it finishes with many storylines still in progress. Nevertheless, it manages to keep up the pace with aplomb, and raises more questions than it answers.

Continue reading

The Blade Itself (2006): Joe Abercrombie

★★★★

The First Law: Book 1

I bought this book in 2013 and have started it several times over the years but, for some reason, kept getting distracted after a few chapters. Now, however, the stars have aligned, and I raced through from the first page to the last, happily captivated. In fact, it’s remarkable that it’s taken me this long. I’ve read and enjoyed other works by Joe Abercrombie, and his First Law trilogy seems to be widely regarded as a modern classic of fantasy. I should have come to it much earlier. It blends elements of sword-and-sorcery with court politics and, though it does little but lay the foundations of the plot for the rest of the series, it introduces us to a series of deliciously complex characters. This first instalment drops us into a world peopled by fantasy tropes, who gradually develop into rounded, complex individuals before our eyes, treated both with wit and compassion. For those who’ve read the series, I wonder: can you guess who my favourite character is?

Continue reading

Half a War (2015): Joe Abercrombie

★★★½

The Shattered Sea: Book III

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s young-adult trilogy, which I’ve used as a way to ease myself into the considerably grimmer and darker world of his adult novels. This concluding instalment of the Shattered Sea trilogy already breaches some more troubling themes than its predecessors. This is a tale of blood and senseless slaughter; of moral decisions taken by the immoral. It’s a story which represents the truly brutalising force of war: not that men and women lose their lives, but that they lose their honour and their humanity in thrall to weapons more powerful than themselves. Inventive to the last, Abercrombie’s world turns established fantasy on its head and left me grinning at its impudent audacity.

Continue reading

Half the World (2015): Joe Abercrombie

★★★★

The Shattered Sea: Book II

Yarvi may have found his way home to Gettland, but his trials are far from over. With his uncle Uthil installed on the throne, and in Queen Laithlin’s bed, Yarvi has finally been able to join the Ministry as he always dreamed. And yet dreams have a horrible habit of turning out to be rather different from how one imagines. The Ministry may claim to be interested in peace, but the powerful Grandmother Wexen pulls strings across the nations of the Shattered Sea and beyond, while Yarvi must engage all his wits to prevent Gettland being sucked into a war against the High King.

Continue reading

Half a King (2014): Joe Abercrombie

★★★★

The Shattered Sea: Book I

When I found this book in the library, I decided to spend some quality time with Joe Abercrombie. I’ve meant to read his novels for ages and now, having enjoyed my first taste of alleged ‘grimdark’ thanks to K.J. Parker, and savoured Abercrombie’s short story Two’s Company, I think the time has come. I’d always intended to start with The Blade Itself, but this story caught my imagination right away. A king murdered in strange circumstances. A prince robbed of his throne by a wicked uncle, and sold into slavery. And a ragtag band of galley-slaves stumbling into the wilderness, dreaming of freedom… and revenge. Oh yes. This was definitely my kind of book.

Continue reading

More Short Stories from Tor.com

Tor.com

I’ve really been enjoying reading short stories from Tor.com – it feels decadent to sample one or two different authors during my commute – and so I decided to continue working my way through their treasure-trove of original fiction, each story presented with its own specially-designed cover by one of various talented artists. This selection includes all manner of fantastical sub-genres, taking in horror, romance, morality tales and epic fantasy with a comic twist. Find the first batch here. More coming soon!

Continue reading