Before They Are Hanged is the second book of Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy. It continues where the previous book left off, following the same cast of six point of view characters as their stories continue. Glokta, one of the major point of view characters of the previous novel, has his story continue as Superior, where he is ordered to help fortify the city of Dagoska against a Gurkish invasion. However he must also root out traitors, including the murderer of his predecessor and does not know who to trust. Meanwhile Logen Ninefingers, Ferro and Jezal dan Luthar travel with the mysterious wizard Bayaz on his journey to the Edge of the World. Meanwhile Collem West and the Dogman fight a battle against Bethod’s forces, being forced to command under the incompetent leadership of Crown Prince Ladisla, who quickly proves himself to be a hindrance.
The most notable aspect is the shift in the way the point of views have been handled. The narrative has been streamlined, with many point of view characters been lumped together into single journeys. This leaves us with Logen, Jezal and Ferro in one group, travelling together and West and Dogman in another. This works to the narrative’s benefit since it keeps the narrative focused into three main plotlines, Glokta’s storyline, Bayaz’s group and West’s group. Hence, even though there are a lot of point of view characters with various degrees of billing, the storyline is still easy to follow.
In terms of plot the stories were all well thought out and clever, with Glokta having to make some difficult decisions to keep the Gurkish out of the Dagoska and West struggling with his growing contempt for Prince Ladisla as he and Dogman’s group of mercenaries try and keep the crown prince safe following a battle. I have a few gripes, though minor. I felt like Glokta’s story lacked a climax since the conflict seemed to disappear after Sult ordered him back to the capital to leave Dagoska to its fate. His moral gripes with arresting an innocent man seem nothing compared to having to deal with a siege. Likewise with Bayaz’s journey I felt like the whole thing was kind of pointless since nobody really got anything out of it in the end since Bayaz had been trick. It was like one big shaggy dog story and its bearing on the overall plot wasn’t entirely clear aside from its exposition regarding Bayaz’s past and the conflict between him and his rival Khalul.
In terms of character some of the smaller point of view characters get more billing than they did in the previous novel. Ferro gets more development, including a strange romance of sorts of Logen Ninefinger which I enjoyed despite the fact that it wasn’t going to last. She comes into her own as a character a bit more, which I enjoyed. Likewise, Collem West got a lot of development, being the driving point of view character in one of the story’s major plot threads. He is more than the support character he was in the previous book and his character is more clearly established. The only character which doesn’t get this development with Dogman, mostly because he shares a lot of scenes with West, who tends to outshadow him as a character. I still feel like he is a bland character, being a typical rough mercenary type character. I like that he gets a role in a major story arc but to me I feel like he fits better as a support character.
Overall this was a very enjoyable novel, though I am unsure if I enjoyed it as much as the first. This is mostly because one of the major plotlines, specifically Bayaz’s journey, kind of fell flat in my mind and ended on a bit of an anti-climax. Character wise there was a huge overall improvement however, with many of the major characters remaining strong and many side characters coming onto their own. Glokta in particular remained a very entertaining character to see and my intrigue about Bayaz’s goals has only increased with every chapter into his party’s journey. A good book despite it’s weak points and I am certain that the last book in the trilogy will be a strong one.
IN A WORD: GREAT