Title: Before They Are Hanged
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Fantasy, grimdark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It's enough to make a torturer want to run - if he could even walk without a stick.
Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem - he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.
And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters-if they didn't hate each other quite so much.
Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven - but not before they are hanged.
Against all odds, I really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy. I loved how all the characters were morally ambiguous; there were no stereotypical heroes or diabolical villains. All the characters were eccentric and flawed, and this was very refreshing in a genre where many characters are cut from the same mold. Even though there was hardly any plot to speak of, the characters propelled me through the book.
Then book 2 happened. Everyone is still flawed, and even more morally ambiguous than before. People have changed alliances left and right, and there is a lot more political scheming and many more battles in this book than the first. And yet, I was bored for most of the book.
I think it was simply because the novelty of the characters wore off. Once you strip away the appreciation for how unique these characters are, you realize that you have no real reason to root for them. They're just floundering through life, trying to get through another day. I know the whole point of grimdark is to show how bleak life is, but it was just a tad too bleak for me. I'm generally a very optimistic and positive person, and I felt like all my happy bubbly thoughts were being sucked away as I read.
I'm not sure if I'll finish this series, but I will definitely read more Joe Abercrombie. I have really enjoyed some of his other books, and I'm looking forward to more of those.