Although Half a War brought Joe Abercrombie's YA series to a satisfying end, I was looking forward to his return to adult novels and was eager to read his collection of short stories, Sharp Ends. Oddly enough, this newest Abercrombie title did not cause much of a stir within SFF circles when it was published. Which may or may not be that surprising given that fans habitually prefer novel-length projects and seldom get excited by short fiction works. Still, we're talking about one of the biggest names in the grimdark subgenre, so I expected more of a buzz regarding the author's latest.
I had already read "The Fool Jobs" and "Tough Times All Over", initially published in the anthologies Swords and Dark Magic and Rogues respectively. The same thing goes for "Two's Company", a free short story posted on tor.com a while back. All the other pieces were new to me, though, and I was excited by the prospect of seeing familiar faces from the First Law books getting more exposure. And therein lies this collection's biggest shortcoming, in my humble opinion. Although a few characters that made Abercrombie's books such memorable reads make appearances, about half of Sharp Ends focus on Javre and Shevedieh. When the blurb implied that we'd get more on Glokta, Craw, and Logen Ninefingers, well one can't help but to be a little disappointed. . .
Here's the blurb:
The Union may be full of bastards, but there’s only one who thinks he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta. Curnden Craw and his dozen are out to recover a mysterious item from beyond the Crinna. Only one small problem: no one seems to know what the item is. Shevedieh, the self-styled best thief in Styria, lurches from disaster to catastrophe alongside her best friend and greatest enemy, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp. And after years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left – his own lunatic champion, the most feared man in the North: the Bloody-Nine . . . Sharp Ends combines previously published, award-winning short tales with exclusive new short stories. Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue’s gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of the First Law.
All the short fiction pieces contained in this collection are set in the Circle of the World. They are arranged in chronological order, with the earliest occurring years before The Blade Itself and the most recent taking place a few years following the events chronicled in Red Country. As a big Abercrombie fan, I was expecting these stories to allow the author to flesh out some of the protagonists that we have come to love. However, with so much of the focus being on Javre and Shevedieh, I felt that Sharp Ends left a little to be desired. Based on the quality of Abercrombie's First Law titles, I was expecting more out of this collection. But in the end, only a few of the stories resonated with me. Most of them, though fun and entertaining, were, for the most part, a bit forgettable. I finished this book two days ago, and yet I had to go back and reread portions of nearly all these tales in order to write this review.
As mentioned, the problem is that Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp, a sex-crazed warrior-priestess amazon, and Shevedieh, lesbian thief of some renown, take center stage too often. Their misadventures are amusing and the back-and-forth between the two hilarious. But overall, it's nothing that stays with you. "Small Kindnesses", "Skipping Town", "Two’s Company", "Three’s a Crowd", and "Tough Times All Over" follow them, from when they first meet to the time they finally part ways, through the good times and the bad. These stories essentially form the backbone of Sharp Ends and these two women simply cannot carry the bulk of this book on their shoulders.
Like most Abercrombie fans, I was eager to read more about Sand dan Glokta. Unfortunately, he only appears in "A Beautiful Bastard" and it only provides a very brief glance at the way he was before being crippled by the Gurkish. Cameos by Tunny and West were interesting, but in the end this one was rather lackluster. The same can be said of "Some Desperado", which is a backstory for Shy from Red Country. "Freedom!" was some kind of anomaly and didn't deserve to be part of this book.
Curnden Craw and Cracknut Whirrun made "The Fool Jobs" one of the best stories of this collection. Another strong tale was "Yesterday, near a village called Barden". Abercrombie shows both sides of a raid gone wrong and features characters from The Heroes. The very best piece is doubtless "Made A Monster", in which Bethod realizes that he made the Bloody-Nine into a weapon he can no longer control.
"Hell", featuring Temple from Red Country, and "Wrong Place, Wrong time", in which some not entirely innocent bystanders are drawn into the chaos that is Monzcarro Murcatto’s vengeance, are good and compelling tales in their own right. But nothing that really makes an impact and stays with you afterward.
All in all, like most SFF short fiction collections, Sharp Ends features some strong stories, some okay tales, and a number of uninspired pieces that only serve as filler material. Having said that, it's still a fun read for anyone who loved Joe Abercrombie's The First Law and its sequels.