Review: Before They are Hanged (The First Law Book 2 of 6)

Before They Are Hanged - Joe Abercrombie

This is the second book in the First Law trilogy, and I enjoyed it equally as much as the first book. The first book had the advantage of the newness factor -- a new story, new characters, and a new world to learn about. This second book had the advantage of familiar characters. I was able to jump right into the story, already invested in the characters, and they often made me smile with their favorite sayings and their quirks.


The story continues to build and, just like in my review for the first book, I’m not even going to attempt to summarize it. This is an epic fantasy type of story which encompasses a variety of different plot threads in different parts of a fictional world with lots of political machinations, wars, and adventures. In this book we primarily follow three plot threads involving a war to the south, a war to the north, and a small party’s journey through dangerous territory to the west. All three story lines were interesting to me, as were all of the main characters. I think there were about six different point-of-view characters.


Since this is a well-read series, I don’t want to mention character names because that could spoil book one for anybody who’s reading it by telling them who survives to participate in the second book. I’m going to put the rest of my review in spoiler tags, so that I can speak freely about some of my thoughts.


There are spoilers for both books one and two here, and some of them are pretty major, so please don’t click unless you’ve either already read the books or you don’t care about the spoilers.



Logen is still my favorite character so far. I like his humorous (and realistic, of course!) way of looking at things, and the way he treats the people he’s traveling with. Despite his occasional issues where he becomes a crazy person, he seems like the most well-balanced of all the characters. I could see where he would have been a great leader. I was hoping that Dogman and his people might learn he was still alive in this book, especially since they were hanging out with West who had conversed with Logen during Jezal’s celebratory feast in book one. I guess I’ll have to wait until book three for the reunion. I’m assuming it will surely come eventually!


Dogman and the others are definitely starting to grow on me also. We didn’t really get to know them very well in book one, but I feel like I know them better now and I was surprised by how sad Threetrees' death made me.


I was happy that Jezal started to get a reality check in this book. He certainly needed one! It will be interesting to see how he behaves if and when he gets back home to familiar surroundings. Will the changes stick, or will he go back to his old ways? Ferro was also more likeable in this book, mainly because we learn more about her and start to understand her better.


The character of Quai is driving me a bit crazy. In this book he’s not at all the friendly, funny character he seemed to be when we first met him in the first book. He’s more angry and sullen and I can only speculate as to what’s going on. I’m not sure it’s just anger at Bayaz’s choices, although that would be a reasonable explanation. I suspect Quai isn’t the clueless and innocent apprentice that he appeared to be at first but rather has his own agenda, but he isn’t hiding his hostility toward Bayaz so Bayaz must be keeping him around for a reason. Maybe Quai knows the reason and that's what he's angry about?  We know exactly what Bayaz’s reasons were for bringing Logen and Ferro on the quest, and there have been vague hints about Jezal, but we really have no idea why he brought Quai. It’s odd that I’m so interested in Quai’s story considering he gets almost no page time. He’s mentioned just often enough to keep me curious.


I liked Glokta a lot more in this book than I had in the first book. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure why he makes the decisions he makes, but then he doesn’t seem to be entirely sure either so I guess I’m in good company. He seems to think that he lacks the ability to really feel emotions, and yet his actions often show compassion. I think he’s just so tired and worn out from the constant struggles, both physically and politically, that he’s a bit numb. Emotions take energy and he doesn’t have much energy to spare.


It was refreshing to see a war lost (the one in the South) by the side from whose perspective I was reading. It often seems like hopeless fictional wars are eventually won by heroic efforts and unexpected interventions, but in this case the heroic efforts and unexpected interventions only prolonged the end result. I was also surprised by just how much sense Eider made when she explained why she had betrayed the Union to the Gurkish, and I liked Glokta’s reaction to her explanation and the choices he made in his dealings with her. I mentioned in my review of book one that this series didn’t have any strong women. Eider might be the first who I would consider to qualify so far in this series, even though she was a pretty minor character. Regardless of whether her decision was the best one or not, she made her choices for noble and logical reasons, she carried them out with conviction and cleverness until Glokta foiled her, and she faced the consequences of being caught bravely.

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I love a good epic fantasy like this one that has lots of things going on with ambiguous events and motivations that keep me guessing and speculating. I’m really looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, and the other three standalone novels as well.