Friday, 11 July 2014

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

I don't know, guys. I just don't know. I read the first book in this series, and was slightly baffled by the reviewers that called it the darkest fantasy EVAR. It's dark, sure, but it didn't seem over-the-top dark, or particularly unpleasant. There wasn't anything that squicked me, and the world didn't seem particularly hopeless. Sure, things were dire. Sure, characters were not pure bastions of morality. Complexity is good! Sure, there was violence and sex. None of these things seemed over the top. So while I didn't love the first book, I certainly enjoyed it enough to move on to the second one here.

But this time? I just found it a slog. I'm not outraged or squicked or in any state that provokes extreme emotional reaction. I'm a little bit bored. The grit this time was a little wearing - how about some contrast? Grit is fine, but life ain't all grit, either. A nice mix, maybe? But since this was mostly the story of how an army gets massacred, a city is lost, and a group of adventurers travel across a continent, it was just...I don't know. I'm having a hard time mustering any enthusiasm.

Blame George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie. That may be why I'm overreacting to the "people travelling" thing. Martin has way overused it, to the point where if someone sets off on a journey, and we're spending time with them, I know the characters will never arrive where they're going. So, in consequence, when you give me one of three interlocking stories that collectively take up 650 pages, of people just travelling and occasionally getting attacked, the fireside stories are not enough to make it more interesting. The relationship that develops between Ninefingers and Ferro is almost enough, but other than that, my attention wandered.

 The story of the incompetence of generals is likewise a bit interesting, but the lack of colour palette washes it out, too. There were parts I enjoyed, but quite a bit (yet again, of people travelling) made me tune out. Contrast, people. Contrast. Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora books eviscerate me because I love these characters, and then horrible things happen to them. And the horrible things are more horrible because of the relative lightness that precedes them.

The third storyline, of Glokta the Inquisitor in a city about to fall, that was probably the most interesting of the three. Because there were brief moments of hope, not necessarily that he could save the city, but that he could do something effective and make some difference. Sure, he was morally compromised. Sure, the forces were overwhelming. But there was the allowance for small good things floating in a sea of bad things. And this is in a city that's about to fall to a massacring force, where the previous Inquisitor disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and everyone's out to kill him. If you can do contrast in that kind of surrounding, you can do it anywhere.

So, where do I go from here? Is there enough to keep me reading? We'll have to see where I am next time this author rolls around on my friend's Kindle. Maybe, maybe not. If I do read the next one, I might need to force myself to sit down and start reading. It's not the grit of grimdark I don't like. It's not the complicated morality. It's not the sex and violence. It's that it failed to capture me. If I'm being blunt, I was often bored. But it's not terrible. The story is passable. The characters are okay. It's just a little bit monotone.

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