The sequel to Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself is a tighter and more action packed continuation of the first novel. The book primarily follows three groups: Inquisitor Glokta as he is ordered to defend a city against the hordes of an enemy empire while attempting to find a traitor that plots against the crown. Major West as he is ordered to oversee the idiot prince Ladisla’s forces and keep the prince from doing something overly rash. And Bayaz’s group of misfits as they search for a certain object of power that will see an end to the terrible war between the Magi that governs the course of history.
The writing is absolutely brilliant throughout the entire novel. Characters are sketched with unique ticks that give them a very human quality and immerse you with vivid images and descriptions. Dialogue is realistic and often times I found myself thinking that I would say something similar if I were in the same shoes. Combat scenes are vivid and some of the best action sequences I’ve read in fantasy to date as Abercrombie seems to capture the small scale/large scale play by play. And above all, every character is dirty and flawed. The good have bad traits and the bad have good traits. There is no cut and dry with characters and as I read I was always surprised by what unexpected actions a character might take when I pegged them to be one way or another. It really is brilliant writing and storytelling here.
As a sequel I really think it surpassed its predecessor in quality. I did enjoy the first novel to quite some extent, but I found Before They Are Hanged to be a much better story in just about every way. Unlike the first novel, there were no character sections that I would have prefered to bypass (an issue I had with the fencing tournament of the first novel). All parts of the story were fascinating and speckled with all the elements of a compelling story. It’s dark and bloody with enough humor and surprises that it should keep you on your toes and turning pages. A truly good read.
Recommended for fans of Dark, Grimdark, and generally more gritty fantasy. Not recommended for people who enjoy lighthearted tales or fantasy tropes.