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“Before They Are Hanged” by Joe Abercrombie Book Review

Book: Before They Are Hanged

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: The First Law Book #2

Before They Are Hanged

441 pages, Trade Paperback

First published March 15, 2007

Price at Amazon

If you’re not an Abercrombie fan yet, Before They Are Hanged will change that. I’m definitely hooked and have secretly started buying all of his books to save on the family budget.

What “Before They Are Hanged” is about

If you’ve read the first book in the series, you’ll already know the main players in the story of Before They Are Hang. The plot follows the journey of the wizard Bayaz and his coven of witches, consisting of the Scarecrow of the North, Ninefingers, the sailor Longfellow, the savage Ferro, the mammoth Jezal and the apprentice Quai. Their task is to find the “seed” with which the First Magi wants to save their world from imminent danger.

The second storyline is about the lovable Glokta, who is supposed to save the city of Dagoska from the Gurkhul invasion. This proves to be a difficult task when everyone hates you, his ancestor has disappeared from his chambers and a mysterious traitor is up to mischief.

Third, it turns out that Logen’s gang is doing their best to support the Union in their war against Bethod and their unexpected ally West. Dogman, Dow, Grim and Threetrees are seasoned warriors and well versed in the style of the King of the North, but must face the arrogance of the aristocrats of civilization. Things do not go according to plan and their group will suffer many unpleasant losses.

A few more details

Apparently, there are 3 different stories in the book. The characters are set in different parts of Abercrombie’s world and all have their struggles. Whatever! Bringing back the strip from “The Blade Itself“, the puzzle is slowly coming together. We have different perspectives of the same war, as everything revolves around the enmity between the Alliance, the North and the South, and their strings are pulled by higher, magical forces.

Abercrombie laid the groundwork for this in the first book, and now things are starting to make more sense. We learn more about the other “magical” forces that represent the black side of magic. We get a clear understanding of the First and Second Laws and the consequences of breaking them.

To confuse you even more, I have to say that magic is not Abercrombie’s strong suit. Yes, such elements appear in the plot, and he hints at the presence of such powers, but they are not the main ones. What the author is really good at is developing upstanding characters. The whole story is driven by the characters’ point of view. They are mentally and physically confused and yet you can’t help but remember them. You won’t find the clichéd images of the handsome knight on a white horse and the super cool female warrior in Abercrombie’s books. Oh no, here you’ll read about Glokta and Logen, who are anything but lovable and who you’re guaranteed to like before they’re on the ropes, witnesses to several complete character changes.


The character who may have grown up is Jezal. From an aristocrat who enjoys his looks and social standing, he becomes a rather mature young man. His journey with Bayaz changes him and he begins to look at the world realistically and shed his childish behavior. I hope he stays that way in the third book because he’s a much nicer character and I’m starting to like him.

The change that quite shocked me was that of Colonel West. His unruly temperament was hinted at in the first book, but here he’s just let go of the reins. It’s hard for me to decide where the author wants to take him, and I’m faced with a personal dilemma as to whether I like him or not. In reality, Logen is just as irascible when he flies into a rage, but Abercrombie goes out of his way to show us the nice side of the nine-fingered man, and this seems to make me unconsciously sympathize with him. On the other hand, West also falls into such a state, but I find no excuse for him but to condemn him. Yes, Abercrombie can do more than just string together gory scenes of cruelty and death.

Rating for “Before They Are Hanged”

What hooked me on Abercrombie’s style from the first book was the way he infuses humor into his books without sacrificing brutality. I rate this book a solid 5 stars and am determined to read all the books from this world. The author is one of my favorites. As you read about battles, torture and all manner of bloody deeds and wince at every line, you literally struggle not to burst out laughing in the next chapter in the company of Dogman, Dow, Grim and Threetrees or Glokta. I hope more people will give Abercrombie’s work their attention.


Hello, my name is Todora, but now also known as Dochka or Docheto. I have two wonderful dragons at home (boys ages 5 and 7) that I am trying to raise in the love of books. I was quite a chatterbox as a kid when I had required reading in school, and now I am trying to make up for it. I love reading fantasy, sweet endings are not my "thing". I love it when there are struggles, intrigue, and surprises in a book that shake you to your core. If I fell into paranoia that all the characters were traitors, my rating would be 5 stars. In short, I love to read and if one day I find a way to make this my sole occupation and get paid for it :D, I will have stumbled into heaven.

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