It would appear that I don’t know when to quit.
About half a year ago I read The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. And I didn’t like it very much, as Jonas delighted in pointing out to me when I was cursing about the sequel.
So what do I do?
Well, obviously I go straight ahead and put the second book of the First Law trilogy on my Christmas wishlist. That’s like, logical. Right?
Actually it isn’t, but I did it anyway, for the same reason that I’m still reading the spectacularly uninspired works of Kristen Britain and still toil through the chaotic, pun-infested mess that the Xanth books have turned into.
Why do I do this to myself, you may ask, and the answer is that this is a bit of an extension of my First Rule of Reading: Never Put Down a Book Once You Started It. By which I don’t mean that you need to finish War and Peace in one sitting, but you may not decide on page 266 that you’d rather read Twilight: New Moon. And the same goes for series. Barring extraordinary circumstances I like to finish what I started.
After this brief excursion into a compulsive reader’s convoluted mind, back to Before They Are Hanged. One of my two chief criticisms of the first book in the trilogy was just that: it was the first book in a trilogy. The Blade Itself suffered greatly from being mostly just buildup and character introduction. I am glad to say that the second book of The First Law trilogy actually has something closely resembling a story. Nothing groundbreaking, mind you. The usual shtick of having to find the immensely magical thingamajig that has been hidden away by the Gods/fate/some powerful dude in a white robe to save mankind from the great evil that it bears (see David Eddings and J.R.R. Tolkien for reference), but it’s a story nevertheless. After the first book I’m not going to be picky on that score, trust me.
Unfortunately my second criticism was that all the characters were unlikable bastards. That hasn’t changed so much. Actually not at all, come to think of it. (Although I have to give the Most Unlikable Character EVER Award to someone else this book around. The winner is Ferro Maljinn, for successfully hating everything and their dog. Logically the woman should keel over dead on the first page, because she’s realized that she hates the air in her lungs and is therefore refusing to breathe. Yes, I know, edgy characters are *in*, but there is such a thing as taking it too far.)
*Takes very deep breath*
Where was I? Right. Miserable, whiny, unlikeable sods. One and all of them. Still the book somehow manages to grip you. At least a little. There was a spark of interest in me as I read, ever so slightly outweighing the tidal wave of sarcasm that I had in store for the book. Until the end, that is. Then the sarcasm crashed down on me as book turned more and more absurd.
You see… here’s what happens: At the end of the book each and every single of its myriad point of view characters will say the words “life is pretty good right now, come to think of it”. I’m paraphrasing right now, naturally, and the phrase is delivered with varying degrees of enthusiasm and conviction, but it’s always there. And an average 2.6 pages after the character in question has said this…
(I’m sure you’ve already guessed. Come on, it’s not very hard.)
… a piano falls down from the sky and crushes him into lots of tiny bits.
Now, that’s interesting if it happens to one character. Maybe two or three if there’s a lot of them. But all of them? I can even see what Mr. Abercrombie was trying to say. Life’s a bitch. I might not agree, but I have to give him the right to his own opinion. The thing is that, as a dramaturgical device, it gets old around the third piano or thereabouts.
Summing up: Before They Are Hanged is definitely better than its predecessor. And that’s saying something, because I’ve read far worse than The Blade Itself (also a lot that was better by miles – so much for that argument). In the end the reader is left groaning at far too many far too forced tragic endings, and the only ones that come out smiling are the local piano manufacturers. I’ll reserve my final judgement until I read the last book of The First Law, but so far I’m not really impressed. And I’m still waiting for Ferro Maljinn to kill herself as soon as she realizes that she hates her own guts.