Last year, the lovely (follow her if you don’t already!) Lynn and I buddy-read the first in Abercrombie’s The First Law series, The Blade Itself and got swept into the grimdark world of Glokta, Logen, Dogman and West. Eager to continue our adventures, we quickly picked up the second volume … and then life got in the way a little.
But we’re here now! Before They Are Hanged is under our belt and, if anything, I think we enjoyed this volume more than the first.
The first half of our conversation can be found over at Lynn’s Books here, and then below you’ll find the continuation of our reaction-heavy conversation. If you’ve come here first, please follow the link above to Lynn’s site; and if you’ve found your way here from there, then hi, welcome and I hope you enjoy our musings.
So, to carry on from where we left off, and with massive SPOILER warnings, of course:
Section 3: Scant Mercy to Beneath the Ruins (inclusive)
Mayri: OK, so, do we think Glokta setting Carlot dan Eider free is going to help or hinder him later on? I don’t think it’ll come back to bite him, but I am constantly surprised by Glokta – he’s a fascinating character – and I don’t put it past Abercrombie to put him through the wringer.
Lynn: Well, I think it could bite him later on – she simply has to be spotted somewhere alive and he’ll be in the doghouse really. I would like to think that she will be careful enough to not let that happen – for both their sakes.
Mayri: And Jezal is now scarred… which weirdly seems to be making him a better person. Excuse me if I’m a little doubtful about how long this may last! Not that I don’t appreciate the change – he’s really quite nice now he’s lost the attitude.
Lynn: I thought it was brilliant observing the change. Okay, I don’t think he’ll stay quite as humble as he is at the moment but it was interesting to see how much he’s coming to like this strange fellowship, especially Logen.
Mayri: I was VERY interested in what Bayaz said about Jezal’s facial scarring – something like “yes, it’ll serve” – it’s got me wondering all over again what Bayaz intends for each of them.
We know now that he wants Ferro to carry the Seed. And that he needs Logen because he can talk with the Other Side. But Jezal’s use is less clear. I wonder if he’s going to be a ‘hero’ around which Bayaz plans to spin a story? What do you think Lynn?
Lynn: Yes, he’s definitely chosen everyone for a very specific reason so there has to be a plan for Jezal. After all, he also made sure that he won the fencing competition so that he’d be in this situation in the first place.
Mayri: Ah, I’d forgotten that! He did, didn’t he … hmmm.
Lynn: I genuinely don’t know what his plan is though, it puzzles me, and why say about the scar that ‘it’ll serve’. Part of me wonders if he is able to see things in the future and so has already seen that Jezal will be scared, or – mmm, nope – I just don’t know.
Mayri: And I was struck by the ruins of Aulcus. The scale on which life was lived when gods walked the earth, eh?
Lynn: Oh yes. Even Jezal was humbled by the scale of Aulcus.
Mayri: Meeting another of the Magi, Zacharus, was interesting. I feel like there are whole books of history that we’re missing to explain all that has happened amongst the Magi.
Lynn: Yes, this is a fascinating part of the history of this world. I like that we’re being drip-fed the information rather than having a long history lesson. I kind of feel like the end of this journey might reveal more – at least I hope so.
Mayri: Damn! Shickel is frigging creepy! And, maybe a tad pitiable too? As she says, she had no choice in becoming an Eater, but there is no going back.
Lynn: Yes, you couldn’t help feeling something for her when she was going through all the torture – although I think I was more bothered by that than she was. I guess she was acting as an ‘eater’ would act after all so there’s room to really think about who the real monster of that scenario really was.
Mayri: And then some more info about the Eaters *shudder* and … hmmm … the suggestion that Bayaz’s version of old events may not be entirely true. *strokes chin thoughtfully*
Lynn: Yes this is interesting. It brings us to the whole notion that there are two sides to every story and the winning side usually tells a very slanted tale that shows them in the best light.
Mayri: Ha! Logen and friends comparing scars!
Lynn: Not gonna lie, this made me think of the scene in Jaws where the three guys go shark hunting and then start to bond by showing each other all their scars – it made me smile.
Mayri: Yes, yes, yes! Same!
And then Logen puts the fear in them all by telling them about the Bloody Nine! … And then Ferro shuts everyone up by revealing that she scarred her own face to escape a life of prostitution.
Lynn: Yes, I think Ferro won that argument.
Mayri: Oh, but I howled with laughter when West killed the Crown Prince!
Lynn: I was totally flummoxed. I just didn’t see it coming – but, I have to say kudos to West for going there. He was so calm as well when he made the decision. Imagine though, everyone else is off fighting the enemy, the Prince left behind to keep him out of the way of danger and then he pulls that stunt. What an absolute swine. He was a pain in the arse in the first place and then this. Nope.
Mayri: Agreed – an utter arse. And West’s slightly dumbfounded reaction to what he’d done almost made me like him again! Hilarious!!
Lynn: Yes, definitely made me feel better about him, to be honest it was getting on my nerves the way he kept relentlessly looking after the Prince instead of giving him a talking to (not that it would have done any good). This was a much cleaner and quicker solution!
Mayri: Not sure having Black Dow’s approval is a good sign though.
Lynn: Yeah, I was a bit naffed off with his earlier comments tbh.
Mayri: I was wondering how Glokta was going to get out of Dagoska, but I honestly didn’t expect Sult to call him back. Which makes me wonder if it was all some kind of sick test? I hope we get to watch Sult die horribly. Asshat.
Lynn: Well, I will of course deny this during questioning but I read the next chapter (sorry) so now my lips are sealed. I only read the one by mistake and then hurriedly put the book down. Eek..
Mayri: Ha ha! I’ll get there later today …
And finally, the Shanka in Aulcus and the Bloody Nine rearing his head again. Wow! I do love the change in Ninefingers when he becomes the Bloody Nine – Abercrombie describes Nine’s movements as so much more fluid, almost like a dance, whereas Logen’s own movements are that much more painful, clumsy sometimes, and generally human.
I’m still burning with curiosity about Logen/Bloody Nine.
Lynn: Yes, in fact that entire episode was totally gripping. The opening of the crevasse, Jezal trying to help Logen and Ferro, their time in the dark (ahem, and other things!) but that fight scene. Is Logen possessed – does something literally take over his body and keep him alive. At first I wondered if he had some kind of demon blood, similar to Ferro, then I thought ‘berserker’? But I wonder if something else is taking up space in his body anc takes over (in order to keep that body alive) whenever the danger becomes too intense? Clutching at straws much!?
Mayri: Ah, I thought ‘berserker too, initially. Now I wonder if this isn’t related in some way to his being able to talk to the Other Side. Maybe a different manifestation of demon blood? Then again, I like the possession angle too.
Section 4: No Good for Each Other to the end
Mayri: Hoooo-eeeee! This last section was intense! I really do like the turn that Ferro and Logen’s relationship has taken. And how bad at it they are! Sheesh, so many moments of ridiculous misunderstanding in these last chapters that I almost despair of them both!
Lynn: It’s so strange because I’m not a romance reader at all, in fact I usually head in the opposite direction if I think a book has any hint of that whatsoever! And yet, here I found myself just loving the strange relationship developing between Ferro and Logen.
Mayri: Agreed! Meanwhile, Glokta’s homecoming was interesting in lots of ways. He helps Ardee out (very much in the nick of time, I felt), then goes to his final appointment with Sult only to find that Sult is pleased with him! That was extremely unnerving – a happy Sult! *shudder*
And Ardee and Glokta both think West is dead too. I think this is the moment that I joined Team Glokta. Up until now, I’ve found his internal thoughts funny and his outer actions darkly fascinating, but that he was oddly cut up about West’s supposed death has somehow won me over completely. If no one but Glokta can have a happy(ish) ending, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Lynn: Yes, Glokta. He’s another oddity (in the same way as my comment above concerning romance). I feel like I shouldn’t like him at all and yet I can’t help doing so. His inner thoughts are so self deprecating and deep down he really is a bit of a softie when it comes to the ladies. He certainly helped Ardee just when needed and it was definitely very touching to see how the news of West’s demise affected him.
Mayri: West, on the other hand, is a big nope. He’s an interesting character, but his reaction to Cathil and Dogman’s relationship has burnt up the tiny bit of sympathy I had for him. Asshat. And I loved that Cathil said he was too angry for her. He keeps it pretty well hidden some of the time, but he’s a pretty scary fella, I think. ‘Furious’ was a better name than maybe Dow realised when he gave it to him.
Lynn: It’s funny but everyone seems to be able to see West’s anger except himself. Furious was definitely a very apt name for him.
Mayri: That he held things together while Marshall Burr was sick (he’s not long for this world, eh?) would have been impressive if I wasn’t so disenchanted with him right now. And I’ll admit I did feel a twinge of sympathy for his having to listen to Pounder and Kroy – those guys are like some kind of terrible comedy double act.
Lynn: Funnily enough I feel like I want to like him, his actions continually surprise me, but then he just goes and puts his foot in it again and I’m left feeling bad about him all over again.
Mayri: I wonder how telling it is that some of Bethod’s men (Shivers and company) have sided with Dogman and crew?
Lynn: At the time I couldn’t help think that this was all a trick or a trap or something so I was expecting the crew to be stabbed in the back – that at least was a relief.
Mayri: Yes! I half expected a trick. But then there’s some creepy stuff going on on the Northmen’s side of things, no? Mists that bring fear with them, the Feared, who won’t bloody well die, the Shanka, Bethod’s witch… I wonder if any of this will bite Bethod in the arse later?
And the fight with the Feared was actually pretty darn scary.
Lynn: It really was scary – I thought they were all doomed tbh and couldn’t see how they would survive – so ironic that West placed them in a position that he considered to be the least dangerous – the best laid plans eh?.
Mayri: Then Threetrees’ death and Cathil’s were both heart-wrenching. I didn’t think I’d be as upset as I was about that, but I kind of love Dogman and crew and how they all bounce from one fight to the next, just trying to survive.
Lynn: Oh, I was so gutted about both deaths. Dogman seemed to have found a little bit of happiness with Cathil only to have it immediately snatched from him and Threetrees – well, I feel a sort of black hole of despair about his loss. I was cursing Abercrombie at that point, but at the end of the day it’s unrealistic not to have some losses – why does it always have to be one of the characters that you really like though? These authors know how to pull our strings.
Mayri: Authors. So evil.
Random: Logen fishing was kind of adorable.
Lynn: Haha yes – strange to think of this big, clumsy/scary looking, savage guy as adorable but there it is – the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
Mayri: And then, the Seed isn’t there! Uh-oh! How quickly the whole group crumbles in the face of this setback would be funny in other circumstances, but instead it just feels awful. Jezal was turning into an ok person, Ferro too (almost), but it’s all gone to sh*t. I think that’s my overall impression as we’ve come to the end of this book – everything has gone to hell in a handcart and I don’t see how anyone can make it out alive.
Lynn: I felt so, how can I put it, deflated, like the wind was just whipped out of my sails. Talk about the unexpected – this was definitely not how I anticipated the ending would pan out – and so if I felt like that, I guess the characters must have felt ten times worse given their experiences. We need to get to book three pdq.