Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie
I don’t think Joe Abercrombie really gets enough credit. In a relatively short space of time he’s published 9 novels and all of them have been great, some of them genuinely outstanding. I really liked the Shattered Sea books, but I’ve been looking forward to seeing him get back to the world of the First Law. Sharp Ends, a collection of short stories set in the world of the First Law, doesn’t quite scratch the itch, at times feeling like a collection of deleted scenes, but it sure as hell does whet the appetite for more.
Some of the stories in Sharp Ends follow major and minor characters from the First Law, such as an insight into the pre-torture Sand dan Glokta, or an insight into the earlier lives of Bethod and Logen Ninefingers. The best stories however follow a pair of new characters, Styrian thief Shev and a hulking warrior priestess on the run from her sisters: Javre, the Lioness of Hoskopp. They cross over with other characters from the earlier books, but they stand much better on their own. The stories span a significant range of time, from a decade before The Blade Itself to following the aftermath of Red Country.
Some of the stories which shed a light on the other sides of the novels are interesting, particularly one which follows the collateral damage of Monza Murcatto during her bloody vengeance in Best Served Cold. Some of them feel a bit inessential, being basically little fun slices following familiar characters which don’t exactly stand on their own. That means that the most substantial feeling are those following Shev and Javre. In fact, I would love to read an entire comic fantasy novel following those two. Abercrombie has a greater gift for comedy than many others in modern fantasy and I would love to see him write a full on black comedy, rather than a tragedy with comic elements that has usually been his forte.
Normally I review each story in a collection separately, but I have a job dammit and no time to do so. I can only give a vague big picture overview and that is to say that Sharp Ends is a great collection, one which leaves me hungry to see more of the First Law. Abercrombie is a unique writer in the modern fantasy scene. He’s often classed as cynical, but I think that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Sure, Abercrombie’s characters often revel in their basest impulses and desires, but many are unified by a genuine desire to be better. They don’t always succeed, in fact they usually don’t, but that desire to be better is the interesting part. That doesn’t sound very cynical to me. I’ve read everything Abercrombie’s ever published and don’t plan to stop any time soon.