Earlier this month I wrote that the first book in The First Law trilogy read like a first draft. The second volume, Before They Are Hanged, left me with a similar suspicion– that not only was it part of a first draft, but like Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle, the sprawling, untamed narrative was being doled out as a trilogy at the expense of necessary pruning. But if this is just a section of a longer draft, at least it’s the part where the author finally figured out where the story was going.
Like its predecessor, Before They Are Hanged is bafflingly over-written. The characters still splutter over their sentences, inquisitor Glotka’s italicized suspicions follow his every utterance, and even with all the place-setting out of the way, the book is halfway over before any significant action occurs. But every faction’s journey does come to an end, and the main characters each get a moment to suffer and show an additional dimension to their personality. The same can’t be said for the supporting cast, who all share one defining trait (they’re all generically obstinate), but it’s still a notable improvement over the first book.
Abercrombie introduces a few twists on fantasy tropes, but nothing revolutionary enough to justify the length of the story so far. Though Before They Are Hanged has a better sense of scope than The Blade Itself, there’s not enough happening in the book to recommend it without knowing how the series ends. On its own, Before They Are Hanged is just three-fourths of a decent first half of a book split into two.