Before They Are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie

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Author: Joe Abercrombie
Series: The First Law #2

Pages: 584

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Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem – he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged.

The year is almost over and I can already say that the first two books of the First Law Trilogy are the best ones I have read in 2018. I’ve been always too scared of the Epic Fantasy genre, but in reality it has given me a lot of happy moments during my whole life (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones…). Joe has revived my interest for a kind of book I thought it wasn’t for me.

This second book is split into three different threads of action: the war in the North with West and Threetree’s gang, Glokta defending Dagoska from the Gurkish Empire and the quest of Bayaz and company. All of them are challeneged at every step and they will have to do their best in very tight situations.

Even though the three stories are not connected (at least not yet), that doesn’t make the book convoluted or hard to follow. Joe’s style helps the reader to enjoy the story and the characters without losing any step through the differente chapters of the book. Not time to breathe, though. The pace is so much faster than the one in the first book. All the presentations were done, so the author had plenty of time to feed us lots of action and epic battles. All of that without forgetting some character development for his amazing cast.

In the North we follow West and his annoying task of babysitting Prince Ladisla through the war agianst Bethod and his forces. The Prince is in command of the worst soldiers, because his duty was supposed to keep him far from the war. But between the cunning of the enemy and the glory starved idiots that follow the Prince, eveyrthing goes the south way. West is forced to drag the Prince all over the North in order to flee the enemy. At least they had the help of Threetree and his gang. During this ordeal, I didn’t want to sympathize with West after what he did to his sister; but he claims to be sorry over and over again and I guess that I believe him… That’s not enough to forigive him, but it’s a first step. West should check his anger issues or he is going to be very alone the rest of his life… Which could not be very long, because the situation in the North doesn’t look promising with Bethod and Flatheads working together… Kudos to the author for being able to add some good sesne of humor in the middle of a war!!

Glokta had it easier, but this guy is always uncovering hidden plots and corruption at every step he takes. His luck is holding, but sooner or later… His first task was uncovering who was the traitor among the Union in Dagoska. The one that tried to sell the city to the Gurkish Empire. I don’t think becoming a traitor was really necessary. With the war in the North, most of the Union forces were comitted there, so taking the city was a done deal without any hjelp from the inside. But give Glokta a mission and he will stick to it until the end!! He discovers the traitors in the city and tries his damndest to save the city. But it was hopeless, so he is ordered to abandon it before is too late. So far he seems almost lucky, but that is about to end. I foresee a third book with a lot of trouble for Glokta: the mystery of the murder of the other son of the King, the favours he owes to the bank, his soft spot for Eider will bite him in the ass sooner or later… I wonder if he will be still alive to meet Jezal again and see what his adventure has done for the cocky captain. Will his jelousy grow bigger or smaller?

And finally, the main quest: going to the end of the world to retrieve the Seed that will help Bayaz to fight Khalul. For that pupose, he recruited Logen, Ferro, Quai, Jezal and Longfoot. Everyone has their own pupose: Ferro can hold the Seed and fight, Logen can talk to spirits (the keepers of the Seed) and fight, Quai is there to take care of Bayaz, Longfoot is the navigator and Jezal… I still don’t know why the First Magi needed the Captain. It’s by far my favourite character, but his purpose in unclear. He can’t barely fight, complaints about everything and he is more of a burden than a help. Am I missing something? All in all, I’m SO glad he is in the quest. I knew this journey would change Jezal. Make him more humble and even more heroic. He is even badly wounded, which has left an ugly scar in his fomrley handsome face. All of that has made him a different person. A much better person. I loved him before, but now… I am a passionate defender of Jezal. I’m a groupie!!

Another character from that group that has gotten a lot of points on my particular ranking is Logen. I still don’t know what his Bloody-Nine persona is, but his “normal” self is amazing. Such a good guy. He may be big and dangerous looking, but his emotional intelligence is boundless. The Northman has an uncanny ability to offer everyone what they need at every moment. Friends like that are rara avis, so I hope the rest of the group appreciates what they have found. The one that has fallen several positions in the before mentioned ranking is Bayaz himself. He is on edge almost the whole journey, being very unfriendly to the rest of the company. And after that ending, I guess his sense of humor is not going to improve any time soon…

I’m going to be strong and not dive into the third book so soon. I will let this one rest and enjoy other genres for a while. The truth is I don’t want it to finish. I’m enjoying this saga so much!!

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2018 – Book Gallery

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The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie

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Author: Joe Abercrombie
Series: The First Law #1

Pages: 517

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Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

I enjoy reading Epic Fantasy, but lately I was hitting really slow paced and boring books in that genre. I was recommended to take a look at The First Law saga. The promise was really good characters. If there si something I love about a book is special characters that I will remember for a long time. Joe Abercrombie delivers a bunch of them that has made the reading of the first book a truly great experience.

This book is basically a big character presentation. We have Logen, the warrior from the North with too many enemies and few friends. Jezal, the arrogant swordman who wants as much as possible with as much little effort as possible. Glokta, the cripple who wants to show that he is still very capable of great things. Ferro, the “dagger-happy” woman from a dangerous land. And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, a great magic user with a quest in mind: gathering all the others to embark for a dangerous mission.

Even though the book is in the thicker side, there is not much story development. It’s just the first stones for a good looking foundation. We have several side stories, being the main ones Glokta’s investigations and Jezal’s Contest for best swordman of the Union. Both of them very enjoyable and fun to read. When those threads end, the story is all about getting them together to meet each other. Beyond that, the rest are just glances to the political situation of the Union’s neighbours: the war against Bethod in the North, the brewing trouble with Gurkhul, the unstable situation in the Old Empire… I bet those stories will get a much more relevant role in the next books.

This book is not meant to hook you up with the story. The story is also good, don’t get me wrong; but the main asset of this first part are the characters. I have loved their company most of the time. Maybe the weakest link in that aspect is Ferro, but she doesn’t have as many chapters as the rest of them. Logen has made my blood very cold. He seemed such a good-hearted guy… but in the end… when he becomes the Bloody-Nine for a brief moment… I’m still digesting it!! Glokta is grumpy, but it’s obvious he is a good guy. At first I wanted to see him fail his tasks, but little by little has grown on me and now I’m worried about his new assignment.

My favourite is Jezal. Since the first moment I met him, I knew he was my kind of character! Arrogant, too sure of himself; but more often than not he is proven a fool. Gladly for him, his luck knows no bounds, which makes his ego a really fat creature. I love his biased look at everything that happens to him. I’m going to enjoy so much when he is thrown from the high horse he is riding… Of all the members of Bayaz’s crew, Jezal’s part is the most unclear. Why do they need him? His only skill is just fencing and we know he is not the best at it… Too bad no one has told Jezal about it!! Some of my favourite scenes with him are: the self-worship in front of the mirror, his ego burst during the final match of the Contest when Bayaz was buffing him, his kind of cute declaration of love and everytime he throws a tantrum behaving like a spoiled kid.

We don’t have many details about Bayaz’s quest. I guess that is going to be the main course of the next book. It looks interesting with such strange band of heroes. The worst part of my devotion towards them is that, if some of them die, I’m not going to recover any time soon.

So, yeah, I love the book! I can’t wait to read the next one, so I will try to grab it before the end of the year. That date is approaching fast, so I don’t know if I will make it.

 

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2018 – Book Gallery

Cloaked in Shadow – Ben Alderson

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Author: Ben Alderson
Series: The Dragori #1
Pages: 350

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Zacriah Trovirn is concerned with two things in life: hunting and dodging Petrer, the boy who broke his heart.

Heartbreak becomes a distant concern when Zacriah is taken to the Elven capital of Thessolina, where he is forced into King Dalior’s new legion of shapeshifters. But Zacriah isn’t a shapeshifter. In truth, he doesn’t know what he is.

Zacriah joins forces with new friends and they soon find themselves embroiled in a clash between the three Elven continents. With war looming on the horizon, Zacriah must learn to use his latent power to fight and protect those he loves before they are destroyed.

After reading several good reviews about this book, I decided to give it a chance. It seems that Ben Alderson is kind of famous as a book reviewer in the United Kingdom, but beyond that country he is unknown. That has never stopped me before, so this time wasn’t different. Just becuase I don’t know who he is, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t read his books. It sounds crazy, but I have been told that no long ago… Besides, it’s Epic Fantasy with an M/M couple. What else could I ask for? Actually, there are several things the book is lacking…

This book tells us the story of Zac, an elf who is keepig his air magic a secret. He, among many others, is invited to the capital to celebrate Prince Hadrian birthday. The food of that party was laced with a poison that doesn’t affect shifters, so the King can separate them from the rest. Zac is not a shifter, but his secret magic keep him from falling asleep as the rest of normal elves. The shifters are told that they have been chosen to become soldiers, because the kingdom is being attack by ruthless enemies. They are promised gold for their families, so Zac decides to remain silent and pretend he is a shifter. Quite a difficult task if you ask me. Of course, the very first day they are asked to shift into their animal persona to sort them by strength. When our main character is order to change, he refuses (duh!) and is sent to Prince Hadrian office.

There begins the main chunk of the book: the romance between Hadrian and Zac. There is much more romance in this story than in other Epic Fantasy books I have read, so maybe it won’t be your cup of tea if you are not a fan of that genre. It’s not heavy romance, but its presence is almost constant during the whole book. Hadrian and Zac team-up to unravel the mystery behind the enemy attacks, which are not what they seem. Obviously, they get to know each other and fall in love fast.

Being honest, that is exactly what I like the least about this book. There is zero chemistry among the two of them. The main culprit is Hadrian, a character that is pretty… boring. The author tries too hard to make him the perfect gentleman in shiny armor, but he lacks charisma everywhere. Besides, the Prince is the main reason that Zac’s life is in danger. Am I the only one that remembers the dreadful duel was Hadrian’s idea? The same duel that ruins Zac’s life forever? Because, Zac seems to have forgotten that part… Maybe I’m not being fair with the Prince. When I don’t like a character I can be too hard on them.

If you have read the blurb, you know there is a third name in the mix: Petrer. Now, this is the part that rubs me the wrong way. When we first meet that character, he is lovely. A bit cocky, but clearly worried about Zac’s well-being. Zac tries to ignore him, but we don’t get to know why until much later. Yes, Petrer cheated on him and that’s bad; but his behaviour didn’t match with a common cheater. There had to be something more about it. The problem: Hadrian. The author is so focused on making him the perfect guy, that everyone else has to be a bunch of jerks. In just a couple of sentences, Petrer changes from a caring person to a ridiculously cruel one. I liked that character a lot. What Ben does with him is totally unfair. I hope this character is redeemed in the following books, because is much more interesting than the boring Prince.

As you can see, this review is about the romance part. I have no issue about the epic fantasy part, except that it’s maybe too short. The author has established a nice world and the war that is brewing looks interesting enough, so I’ll pick the next book. Finger crossed for a nice fourth Dragori.

It’s a good start for a newbie. The story is ok, but the storytelling is kind of sloppy sometimes. It doesn’t fluid naturally. There are too many bursts of action instead of a regular dosis. All in all, enjoyable and a nice first step.

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2018 – Book Gallery

Lord of Souls – Greg Keyes

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Author: Greg Keyes
Series: The Elder Scrolls #2
Pages: 316

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Forty years after the Oblivion crisis, the empire of Tamriel is threatened by a mysterious floating city, Umbriel, whose shadow spawns a terrifying undead army.

Reeling from a devastating discovery, Prince Attrebus continues on his seemingly doomed quest to obtain a magic sword that holds the key to destroying the deadly invaders. Meanwhile, in the Imperial City, the spy Colin finds evidence of betrayal at the heart of the empire—if his own heart doesn’t betray him first. And Annaïg, trapped in Umbriel itself, has become a slave to its dark lord and his insatiable hunger for souls.

How can these three unlikely heroes save Tamriel when they cannot even save themselves?

I could almost make a copy & paste of my previous review of The Infernal City, but that wouldn’t be fair. This second book is slighty better. Even though it lacks the same things as the first part; I was prepared for it, so the disappointment has been cut down.

It is supposed to continue the story from when we left it in the Infernal City, but it’s obvious there has been some development between the two of them that is not told by the author. It also presents a new plot line starred by Imperial soldiers facing Umbriel and Colin gets much more pages than in the first book. Sadly, Attrebus’ and Sul’s part is reduced… which hasn’t made me happy at all. The prince is still the most interesting character of the books.

The action gets better, but not much. The description of those parts is lazy and lacking interest everywhere. In this genre, if the action is bad, it’s very hard to engage the reader. The plot with the Imperial soldiers is supposed to be the one with more action, due to the army of zombies that they are facing. But still… It’s barely there… It ends as soon as it starts. I would remove those characters from the book. I could barely stand to read their chapters.

Annaïg and her cooking lessons is the other part that is overused. One more chapter about the daily menu and I would have thrown the book through the window… It’s a bit too much. The first time it was kind of cool to read about Umbriel’s high cuisine, but after that… I couldn’t stop screaming: Get to the good part!! In my humble opinion, the good part starts in the second part of the book, when Annaïg’s plan really begins.

What about the end? I must say the end is balanced with the rest of this saga: lazy and lacking feelings. There are some deaths that should bring tears to your eyes; but being honest, to feel those deaths you have to make a connection with the characters and it’s very unlikely that you could form one with the ones that Greg has created.

I know this sound like a very negative review, but the book is not boring at all. It’s just that the author has been unable to capture the richness of Tamriel. Too bad these are the only novels based on that Universe. I would love to keep reading books about the Elder Scrolls, but it looks like that bridge has been burnt.

I guess I’ll never know if Treb and Annaïg were happy after this. If you ask me, the Prince deserves waaaaaaay better. That breton lady is pretty scary…

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Next: You’ve Got Fail by Celia Aaron

The Infernal City – Greg Keyes

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Author: Greg Keyes
Series: The Elder Scrolls #1
Pages: 304

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Four decades after the Oblivion Crisis, Tamriel is threatened anew by an ancient and all-consuming evil. It is Umbriel, a floating city that casts a terrifying shadow–for wherever it falls, people die and rise again.

And it is in Umbriel’s shadow that a great adventure begins, and a group of unlikely heroes meet. A legendary prince with a secret. A spy on the trail of a vast conspiracy. A mage obsessed with his desire for revenge. And Annaig, a young girl in whose hands the fate of Tamriel may rest…

First of all, although I enjoy a lot the Elder Scrolls Saga I’m not a huge fan and my knowledge about that world is fairly limited. Most of it comes from my many hours of playing the Elder Scrolls Online, whose plot happens way before this book. That said, I may have gotten some fact wrongly about that universe, so forgive me.

The action of this book takes us four decades after the Oblivion videogame, one I have not played… so I had no idea about the political situation of Tamriel around those events. But I was hoping for the author to help the reader catch up, which sadly doesn’t happen. Anyway…. The book tells us the story of Umbriel, a floating city from Oblivion that has suddenly appeared over Black Marsh and it’s killing everything in its path. A breton woman and her argonian friend (Annaïg and Mere-Glim) go there to investigate, but entering the city is far easier than leaving it. At the same time, we follow Attrebus Mede, son of the Emperor; who is contacted by Annaïg asking for help. The Prince gathers his men to travel to Umbriel to defeat the city. Ha accepted the quest!! (I had to say it, sorry)

Anyone who has ever palyed an Elder Scroll videogame must know that its mythology is very rich. The games are full of lore everywhere. So I must admit I was a bit sad that Greg Keyes didn’t took part of it more actively. His lore references are scarce and pretty vague. If you have a basic knowledge of Tamriel, you are not going to get the lore dosis you are used to. If you are new to that world… you are going to be lost all the time. The author doesn’t explain anything about the world sorrounding the main characters. Except with the brand-new Umbriel. Unfortunately, the floating city is more gross than interesting…

The other thing I was expecting was plenty of action. Epic battles, swordmasters, spellcrafting! Buuuut, no… There is action now and then, but it’s not exciting at all. Most of those scenes are just plain carnages that take a couple of sentences to describe. Not really engaging or fun. Does that mean the book is boring? No, not even close. Greg crafts very short chapters, so the reader doesn’t have time to get bored in any part of the plot. At least I’ll give him that.

The only character I really like and I want to read more about is Attrebus. From now on I will call him Treb, because I feel we are friend already. I LOVE his parts of the book. It’s must be hard to realize that your life is just a perfectly orchestrated play to make you look good. But he owned it and rose about all of that more beautiful than ever. I’m not a supporter of the Empire, but I must admit that Treb is going to be a great Emperor someday. Or maybe he already was? Crazy timeline…

So, if you have been a fan of Elder Scrolls videogames for a long time it’s not very likely that you will enjoy the book. If you have no idea what that is about, your likelihood of liking it is even smaller. If you are in the same level as me… I guess you could enjoy it. Sadly, there is almost nothing remarkable about it…

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Next: Lord of Souls by Greg Keyes