A lot has been said about Joe Abercrombie's debut, The Blade Itself. Contrary to those who found its characters lame, its dialogues trite, and its plotlines uninteresting, I enjoyed The Blade Itself. To me, it felt like a throwback book, a work which was reminiscent of what used to dominate the fantasy genre during the 80s. Okay, so it's a far cry from Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, or Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. So what? That doesn't mean that a "lighter" work cannot be a fun reading experience.
If you expect to see a masterpiece like Schindler's List every time you go to the movies, you might as well stay home and not bother. Likewise, when you sit down to read a novel, well not everything can be a GRRM read. Today's SFF market is diversified enough to allow disparate authors to have their own niche.
Let's get one thing straight: If you didn't like The Blade Itself, don't expect Before They Are Hanged to win you over. On the other hand, if you enjoyed Abercrombie's debut, I daresay you will love the sequel.
Before They Are Hanged is comprised of all the aspects which made its predecessor a good read, yet it is also a marked improvement in every department. The author moves the story forward with more aplomb, all the while maintaining the "gallows humor" which has become his hallmark.The worldbuilding plays a larger role in this one, especially in the story arc that shows Bayaz, Logen, Ferro, Jezal and the others travel to the island at the edge of the World. The imagery is more colorful and arresting than in The Blade Itself. The absence of a map is particularly confusing in this sequel, however. There is a lot of traveling around in each story arc, and the reader clearly has no idea where everything's supposed to be. Lou Anders, if you're reading this, put a damn map in the US edition!
As another character-driven tale, the characterizations remain the most important facet of Before They Are Hanged. Abercrombie also shows much improvement in this aspect. Although a number of clichéd characters remain, the author did a very good job in fleshing out the cast. And while Glokta and Logen are still fan favorites, Abercrombie has given more depth to Ferro, Jezal and many others. As for me, I must say that I absolutely loved every chapter that showcased the Northmen posse of Dogman, Threetrees, Black Dow, Harding Grim and Tul Duru Thunderhead!
In my opinion, Joe Abercrombie possesses all the qualities that made David Eddings such a powerhouse during the 80s and 90s. Even better, he steers clear (so far, anyway) of the frivolities which proved to be Eddings' downfall in the end. Funny, entertaining and accessible, there's a lot to love about Abercrombie's style. I know that many of you are put off by such a claim, but remember that Eddings sold more than 18 million books worldwide. I have a feeling Joe could live with that. Just a hunch, but I think both Gollanz and Pyr could live with that as well. Joe Abercrombie will never be the second coming of Stephen R. Donaldson, Guy Gavriel Kay, or Kim Stanley Robinson. Regardless, the author's style will nevertheless attract and please a vast number of fantasy fans.
Before They Are Hanged is a satisfying sequel which should establish Joe Abercrombie as one of the bright new voices of the genre. To the haters, it appears that Abercrombie is here to stay. . .