Posts Tagged ‘Before They Are Hanged’

I read the first book in The First Law trilogy, The Blade Itself, last year and thought it was decent but unoriginal and unspectacular – just about good enough to want to read more of the story. Which I’ve now done – and my opinions of it haven’t changed much; in fact, they’ve worsened.

The action continues on from the first book and is centred on three arenas: a cold northern land called Angland where a Union army battles a well organised horde of barbarians; a hot, dry southern land where crippled inquisitor Glokta must organise a hopeless defense of a Union colony; and a barren wilderness where a small band of viewpoint characters follow an old wizard to the edge of the world to find a magical rock.

Story-wise, structure-wise, I would use exactly the same word to describe this volume as the one I used to describe its predecessor: journeyman-like. Character-wise, it’s as basic as the earlier volume, except that this time there is much more character development. Even this evolution, though, is not much more than obvious and simplistic: snooty Jezal dan Luthar gets his face smashed in and learns humility; fierce, anti-social Ferro is shown a bit of kindness by Logen Ninefingers so she has sex with him.

Writing-wise, the book was pretty disappointing. Abercrombie never stops at one descriptive sentence or clause when several will do. Every chapter has a strictly adhered-to surfeit of long, dull paragraphs detailing what’s happening in the environment.

Many passages show a distinct lack of attention to detail. Here are three I noted:

Ferro knelt beside one of the pitted stones, her bow in one hand, an arrow nocked and ready. The wind made patterns in the tall grass on the plain below, whipped at the shorter grass on the slope of the hill, plucked at the flights of the seven arrows stuck into the earth in front of her in a row. Seven arrows was all she had left.

That’s right: one plus seven equals seven.

It was suddenly too late for heroics, and he knew it. It had been too late for a long time.

These sentences directly contradict each other.

Then he saw the grey face, if you could call it a face; a chunk of hairless brow, a lumpen jaw bursting with outsize teeth, a flat snout like a pig’s, tiny black eyes glinting with fury as it glared back at him.

Firstly – you certainly could call it a face … because it’s a face. Secondly, ‘lumpen‘ is not a fancy synonym for ‘lumpy’, as the author (and others) evidently thinks it is.

Another criticism I have of this book regards the Union army. The Union is supposed to be a powerful, expansionist kingdom-going-on-empire with colonies to the north and south of its homeland. But on the basis of the characters in this book, its military is staffed almost exlusively by vain, selfish cretins who couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Which leaves the story with a big believability deficit.

Nevertheless, I’m still – just about – inclined to get hold of the final volume in the trilogy, Last Argument of Kings, because, say one thing about Captain Maybe, say he’s a loyal reader who finishes what he starts.

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