It’s surprising, looking back now I’ve finished Before They Are Hanged, to discover how little progress has really been made in the book. I originally commented that this book mostly sees character development, and that’s the case again — we see more of Logen’s dark side, more of Ferro’s softer side (which is only really marginally softer), and we begin to see Jezal shaping up into a half-decent sort of person. West and Glokta continue to be conflicted figures (though all the characters, really, are conflicted), caught between their flaws and their devotion to their duties, and whether those duties are even the right thing to do in the first place. And Malacus Quai… becomes more of an enigma; I was interested by the slow hints of his development, though we don’t really spend any time in his head, and I don’t recall what happens to the character.
As with the first book, half of these characters are pretty terrible people. Either they’ve done terrible things, they want to do terrible things, they’re doing terrible things, or they will do terrible things. Or terrible things have been done to them. The tentative relationships between Glokta and Ardee, Ferro and Logen, Glokta and Vitari, the growing trust between all of Logen’s group… All of these are well done as well. Mismatches and uncertainty and snatching things where you can find them… Again, it all feels real.
In many ways, this is typical fantasy. The Shanka are basically orcs, Bayaz appears to be Gandalf, the set up for Jezal to be a king is rather obvious… But there’s also grit and realism which was absent in The Lord of the Rings, which people usually point to as the archetype. I’m not sure I wanted to know that men’s nipples chafe when travelling in a rainstorm, but I know for sure that Tolkien wouldn’t have included that in his mythology!
Yes, it’s fairly obviously a part of the tradition. But I think it comments on it, too, and stretches it a little. It’s not all typical. And if you’re expecting Tolkien’s eucatastrophe, Joe Abercrombie seems fairly set to disappoint you.