Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie's First Law world features a wide variety of characters across its six novels. The Sharp Ends collection of short stories features many of those familiar faces.
There are thirteen stories in Sharp Ends, most of which took me 15-20 minutes to read. Many had been published previously, in various anthologies or special editions. They take place all across the First Law world, revisiting people and places from the novels. It's been a while since I read those, but I remembered enough to recognize key people and events. You could read these stories without any knowledge of the novels, but I don't recommend it - you'd lose a lot of added depth.

For instance, "Freedom" is a tale recounted from the perspective of a writer paid to publish the life of famous mercenary captain Nicomo Costa. It's written in an amusing over-the-top florid style, clearly a whitewashed account having little to do with the actual events. The story is entertaining on its own, but it's even more so when associated with the way that Costa actually operates as recounted in the novels.

Each of the stories in Sharp Ends stands on its own, but there are also some recurring characters. Most notably, the thief Shevedieh and warrior Javre are the leads in four stories and appear in a fifth. They're a mismatched pair in almost every way, but still end up forming a friendship that lasts over a decade through misadventures of all kinds. Those stories were my favorites and I'd be happy to see Abercrombie write a few more Shev and Javre tales.

As with the First Law novels, Sharp Ends has plenty of adult themes. The world is a pretty dark place, with largely unsavory characters, plenty of wars, and betrayal around every corner. The language is harsh and graphic violence is everywhere. Despite all this, Abercrombie writes characters and dialogue to find the humor in many situations. And when a good deed or kind person does make an appearance, the dark nature of the majority of people and situations serves to make it stand out all the more.

The First Law world isn't for everyone, but if you enjoyed any of the novels, then Sharp Ends is a good companion. Lots of familiar names and places, and alternate viewpoints for some key events. An entertaining read.

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