A Slightly Different Review : Before They Are Hanged (The First Law #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Today is another slightly different format for a review.   This is my fourth buddy read with Mayri at the Bookforager blog.  If you haven’t visited Mayri before I heartily recommend you do so, she’s a wonderful blogger and she’s incredibly patient – which is needed in abundance with my dithery nonsense at the moment.. Our first buddy read was Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier which was good but not a total lovefest for us, our second A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab fell a little bit flat to be honest.  Then we moved on to First Law which was our most successful buddy read and a book we loved so obviously we wanted to continue.

Slight spoiler alert – this book was also brilliant.  I still can’t  believe that I left this series for so long but in a way I’m happy that I did because reading this with Mayri is a much better experience.  We bounce ideas off each other and it’s a good deal of fun.

Similar to our previous buddy reads this review will take the form of our chat back and forth.  This time round I will be posting the opening chapters and Mayri will be posting the conclusion – so don’t forget to stop by and see our concluding thoughts.

Also, before I start, I would mention that given the nature of our ongoing conversation during our read this post will contain spoilers so if you’re planning on reading this series you might want to avoid  this post.

The conversation below follows weeks 1 and 2:

Before they are hanged

The Great Leveller to Bloody Company (inclusive)

(Pages 3 -158 in my copy)

Mayri: Turns out I couldn’t wait until the weekend to get my thoughts down now I’ve finished this first section, because …. Oooooooo, it’s good isn’t it?!  

Lynn: It really is.  I fell right back into it, no hesitation, no needing to look back at our notes from the last book to catch up – I just picked up as though there hadn’t even been a break.  And I love these characters so I’m never grumpy when I have to switch from one storyline to the next.

Mayri: Yes to both of these observations! 

I’ll try to keep my thoughts in order: Firstly, I love that we start with Dogman – I’m very fond of him! His POV is so … humble? He’s a man who knows his limitations.

Lynn: I liked that we started with the gang.

Mayri: Secondly, two promotions, eh? Major West to Colonel, and Inquisitor Glokta to Superior, and I don’t feel like either of these are going to be a good thing! West’s going to have to babysit the Crown Prince, which will be no mean feat because that lad’s an arse. 

Lynn: I do like Glokta – I mean, he’s not a nice person is he?  But I can’t help finding him funny with the stream of conscious thought that we’re privy to.  

Mayri: Yes! And I love his imagining the letters Vitari may or may not be sending back to Sult. His self-deprecation is definitely what keeps us on his side, I think.

I have a question: how do you feel about West now? I liked him in The Blade Itself, until he hit his sister, and now I find I can’t forgive him for that. Yeah, he’s been lumped with Prince Ladisla, but a part of me is thinking ‘you deserve it buddy. Suck it up.’

Lynn: West. I’m trying to reach a balanced position with him, so on the one hand, I was really annoyed with him but on the other I’m trying to understand him better – he feels very angry all the time doesn’t he? I don’t particularly think the promotion is a good thing for him, it definitely feels like babysitting and also a ‘gig’ that nobody else would want – the promotion just feels like a little sweetener, by way of ‘yes, we’re giving you the job that nobody else wants, but, look, you’ve been promoted’.

Mayri: Abercrombie still writes West sympathetically though, and I can’t hate him either. 

Lynn: Yes, Abercrombie does have a way of making you like people even when you feel annoyed with them. I feel ‘on the fence’ about West. He can’t undo what he’s done after all but I’d like to wait and see if this was a one off bout of losing control or it’s more his nature to behave in that way. Either way – gah – my head is messed up. It’s going to be bad no matter what.

Mayri: And Glokta has got an even less enviable task, although I really want him to succeed in holding Dagoska, just to rub it in Arch Lector Sult’s face. It’s such a set up. 

Lynn: Same as above, it’s like ‘when is a promotion not a promotion?’ When you’re being set up to fail I suppose. I think Glokta will surprise everyone though – I hope so anyway.

Mayri: Agreed. I don’t know who I have more sympathy for – Glokta, or Logen, trying to make friends with the absolute worst bunch of unlikely found family candidates … ever. I’m impressed that he’s decided to try! (And when are we going to learn more about his weird Bloody Nine episode? Argh, Abercrombie’s good at playing the long game).  

Lynn: Yep, it’s a tough call. I think at the moment I feel as though Glokta has the biggest task ahead, but, that’s probably because I don’t really know what Logen is going to be faced with yet. I’m loving his attempts to bring the group together and the fact that he intrinsically realises that this is a necessary thing if they’re all going to have a chance at survival. Did Bayaz understand that about Logen when he sought him out?

Mayri: I wonder. Bayaz definitely picked them all for Reasons.

I really like Logen’s character. I like that he’s badass, but also stupid sometimes (tripping over when he’s trying to be all stealthy; eating flower arrangements), that he’s intelligent, but good at appearing not to be, and that he thinks it’s worth trying to bring Bayaz’s weird group together, even if only for survival (none of them are dream companions, after all). 

Lynn: Logen is definitely my favourite character, I loved that he cocked up the stealthy creeping through the undergrowth, especially as he was trying to be so impressive. And Bayaz understands that here is a man that holds back. He doesn’t say a lot but what he does say is usually worth listening to. I mean, is he quiet because he has little to say or is he more switched on than he at first appears? I think with the whole bunch Bayaz has chosen this little ‘fellowship’ for a reason and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.

Mayri: Yes! So much anticipation!

Hmmm, also, is it just me, or is Quai suspiciously different to how he was in the first book? I could be jumping at shadows, but after the talk of enemies who can wear friends’ faces I’m feeling a bit freaked about how he’s all “quiet, hard, watchful” (and with a lot better recall than in the first volume) where before he was kind of sickly and a bit, well, wet. Nervous. Or perhaps I’m remembering him wrong?  

Lynn: No, it’s not just you. Well, I hadn’t had any thoughts about the face wearing convo so nice thinking with that, but he seems a lot more confident or perhaps capable would be a better word. In fact didn’t Bayaz make a comment about him during the story telling – I’m going to have to go back and take a look – yes, he interrupted his story telling about the fall of the Empire saying ‘your grip on the histories seems much improved.’ And, then he repeated something similar at the end of the tale. There was an exchange between Bayaz and Quai where Bayaz said something about being ignorant of the ways of magic – and Quai – “inclined his head and said ‘I live to learn.’” and Bayaz replied “and in that regard you seem much improved”. Now, in the light of your suspicions this whole convo now feels strangely sinister whereas I didn’t pick up on any of that at all. Now I’m going to be supremely paranoid about Quai and keeping my beady eye on him.

Mayri: You’re welcome! 😁

I’m intrigued by some of the history we’ve learned and how it relates to Ferro. 

Lynn: Yes, I’m loving finding out more about her background. She has something strangely feral about her doesn’t she. Definitely not someone you’d one to land on the wrong side of but I like her no nonsense approach.

Mayri: I hope for Great Things from her!

But, oh shoot, West has got a surprise coming! I … don’t know what to think about this. Along with everything else it’s like all the plans are going to go to crap! *claps hands gleefully* 

Lynn: Yep, he’s definitely in for a surprise. I feel like all sorts of things are going to start escalating very quickly now for all the storylines. Glokta is making many enemies. West has an army on his doorstep, and Bayaz and his gang are heading for Aulcus – which is the very place that no one visits now it’s been razed and is little more than a graveyard.

Mayri: I think you’re right, Abercrombie set the scene plenty in The Blade Itself, everything’s going to kick off now. (Looking forward to Aulcus).

Finally, I had never particularly considered the male nipple before. Sheesh, that was a heck of a scene! *sucks teeth* 

Lynn: Oh my, yes. It made my skin crawl a little. Like, ouch.

Section 2

Long Shadows to Heading North (inclusive)

(Pages 159 – 300)

Mayri: You gave me excellent advice when you told me not to read this section while I was prepping for my interview. Holy cow! So much happens!! 

Lynn: And you got the job so yippee!

Mayri: I did, thank you. ❤

Ah, but Ferro is just a lovely person underneath, isn’t she? *heavy sarcasm* The chapter Long Shadows starts with Logen still trying his best to be friendly, but by the end of this section she and he are in a kind of accord. Fighting side by side at least. I like how begrudging she is of any sign of friendship. And how frigging badass she is, almost without a thought. 

Lynn: Yep. Couldn’t agree more. There’s a section where one of them – I think Logen – mentions that everyone has fear before a fight, then he kind of looks round the group, eyes land on Ferro, and he says maybe she is the exception. We did glean a little bit more  information in relation to her perhaps having the blood of a demon, very diluted, but even so.

Mayri: I’m actually, finally, starting to like Jezal too. Like, he’s slowly realising he doesn’t know jack and that he should listen a bit more to Logen. I’m interested to see how he feels about his scar when he finally gets a look at it. *sniggers* (Because I still don’t like him that much!).  

Lynn: He’s not the pretty prince any more by the sounds of it. I like that Abercrombie makes him such a foppish character. But, at the same time his emotions are brilliantly explored. He has the good sense to seek advice from Logen, he admits that he’s terrified, he’s in fact paralysed with fear and unable to help the first time he’s caught up in a real situation and is then so angry with himself, and then finally he manages to pull something out of the bag only to turn his back too soon! He brings the comedy element to the book in a way. And now, he’s had his first real experience.

Mayri: Logen has achieved a lot in a short space of time with these two, and all of his bits have been so cool. Alternating between funny and tense.  

Lynn: I’m loving the way he’s bringing this group together. You can see why he was in charge of the Northmen gang of Named Men.

Mayri: And now Bayaz is out for the count, I wonder is Quai going to reveal his hand? That was creepy, what he said when Bayaz was lying in the cart. But I think maybe Quai is waiting for something? 

Lynn: Yes, I very much get the impression that Bayaz is aware that something is rotten in Denmark and is playing a waiting game. He seemed to be suspicious of Quai when he was telling his story round the campfire and in fact stopped him twice from revealing something that he doesn’t want to be aired. I thought it was interesting the way the magic works and that it takes a toll – hope Bayaz isn’t out for the count for too long and yes, that scene with him in the cart – creepy. I’m not sure what he’s waiting for, he must have something that he’s waiting for Bayaz to reveal, otherwise anything could have happened already by now. 

Mayri: Oooh, I just thought … they’re going to get something from Aulcus – I wonder if Quai is biding his time until the Something has been got?

Glokta’s adventures have been the most absorbing though – so many surprises (I mean, yeah, I should have seen it all coming, but I really didn’t), especially Shickel… that was soo creepy. Eaters – I want to know everything and never hear about them again at the same time!  

Lynn: Haha, yes. I totally didn’t see that coming. 

Mayri: What’s the deal with Valint and Balk giving Glokta the money he needs, do you think? I’m trying to remember what we know about the bank from the first book, but I can’t quite. Can you?  

Lynn: No, I was also trying to recall. Other than that they seemed to be the ones funding the guild of Mercers in book one – which was why Glokta was intent on looking into them more.

Mayri: And Yulwei’s visit to Glokta was interesting too. I’m curious about him. He gives Glokta some information, which is helpful, but ultimately I don’t think it’s going to save Dagoska from the Gurkish, so why? Why did he trouble himself? I don’t feel like Glokta is one of Bayaz and Yulwei’s chosen few (at the moment), but I can’t help but assume Yulwei was helping Glokta personally and not the city when he came to tell him about the Gurkish navy and all the troops flocking to take the city for the Emperor. 

Lynn: To me it felt like Yulwei appeared to give information to Glokta simply as a means of forming some kind of trust between the two of them (but I’m probably wrong) so that the next time (if there is a next time) that Yulwei appears Glokta will be inclined to believe him. 

Mayri: It’ll be interesting to find out. 

And Khalul is sending his own soldiers too, which means more Eaters, right? *shudder* 

Lynn: And those eaters are so strong.  It took three people to bring Shickel down after all.

Mayri: Finally, poor West. I almost feel sorry for him, what a shitty position he’s now in. 

I so wanted the Prince to get killed, the useless sod. But no, we’ve got to suffer him a bit longer. Although I think it’ll be more fun now Threetrees and company are in charge. 

Lynn: Definitely a bit more fun and they’re not going to take any crap are they? They know what they’re about and they’re not going to let the Prince give them away. I can’t imagine they’ll have a lot of patience for his shenanigans.

Mayri: Dow needs a kick in the fruits. 

Lynn: Yes he does.

Mayri: Have I mentioned before that I love Dogman? I love Dogman. His memory of Shari was touching, and I think he’s quite like Logen – rough looking exterior, but more going on inside than people know. He’s a good character. I hope he stays that way. 

Lynn: Yep,I feel myself becoming strangely attached to these characters which makes me feel apprehensive about all the danger they’re in. I think my one hope is that this strange band of Northmen and their new companions will eventually meet up with Bayaz and his crew – or more to the point Logen. That’s a reunion that will be worth reading.

Mayri: Heck yes! That’d be so cool! *crosses fingers and toes* 

I also really want Dogman to find out that Logen isn’t dead like he thinks he is. I don’t know why that’s important to me, but it is.  

Lynn: Exactly.

So, that completes our thoughts on weeks 1 and 2 – now stop over to Bookforager to check out our final feelings.

We should be picking up book 3 very soon.