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review 2016-06-20 15:29
Flat, Flat, Flat: "Sharp Ends" by Joe Abercrombie
Sharp Ends - Joe Abercrombie

“There’s men chasing me! Gulping breath in the doorway and doing her best to look beyond desperate—no mighty effort of acting at that moment, or any occupying the last twelve months, indeed.”

 

One of the things that makes Abercrombie outstanding is his ability to write stuff in different styles. “The First Law Trilogy” reads like epic fantasy, “Best Served Cold” is all about revenge, “The Heroes” is bent on being a war novel, and “Red Country” masquerades itself as a wild west romp.

 

This collection, being based on characters previously explored in the above-mentioned novels, draws inspirations from several sources. That in itself is not a bad thing, but nevertheless some stories felt flat. "Freedom", and "Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden" are just two examples of what I’ve just stated. I've read everything Abercrombie has ever written. This means I'm quite conversant in Abercrombish, and this collection is flat, flat, flat. Those who are not so proficient in Abercrombish will have a harder time getting to know some of the characters by just reading these short stories. Abercrombie is at his best when he's challenging my SF preconceptions. He usually does that by enhancing the worst qualities of man...We still have plenty of that, but the Abercrombish chutzpah is absent.

 

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review 2016-06-16 22:26
Great Return to the First Law world
Sharp Ends - Joe Abercrombie

I enjoyed the majority of the stories in this book. Some of them were better than others, and some of them I recognized from other, previous publications, like "Tough Times All Over," and "Some Desperado."

 

Some of the stories were better than others, which is always the case with anthologies. I'd been excited to read the first story, about Salem Rews and Sand dan Glokta several years before The Blade Itself was set. It turned out to be more of a snapshot than much of a story, though. It was clear that it was about to lead into the events that turned Glokta into the man he would become, but it wasn't about that. It was just a look at what kind of person Glokta was before. Interesting, but I wanted more.

 

I enjoyed the introduction of Whirrun of Bligh, before anyone knew much about him. He's a fun character, and the end of that story was one of those really perfect endings.

 

The story of Nicomo Cosca through rose colored glasses was amusing at first, but ultimately it didn't work for me. He was one of my favorite characters to read, throughout the series, one of the more complicated, interesting characters. Reading such a delusional, deceptive view of him was funny, at first, but then it quickly just became tiresome and I found myself bored.

 

My favorite stories were the ones about Shev and Javre. I felt he put most of his character development effort in there. There was humor and there was introspection, and everything about them was really enjoyable. Their friendship was the best thing about the book. My one complaint is the placement in the timeline of "Tough Times All Over," which didn't make a lot of sense to me. I felt that the events in "Three's a Crowd" would've worked much better if they'd come after "Tough Times All Over," chronologically. It almost looks like a mistake, although where Abercrombie is concerned I assume that what he does is usually intentional, so maybe he meant to show the lack of character development as a comment on their personal flaws. I'm not sure how I feel about it.

 

I would absolutely recommend this book to any fan of the First Law setting. I would not suggest it as an introduction to his work, though. Read some of the First Law books first, and then come to this if you enjoy that.

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review 2016-05-24 14:26
Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie
Sharp Ends - Joe Abercrombie

When I was younger, I went through a phase of reading nothing but Fantasy novels. I devoured them ferociously, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Brett, Lynch, Martin. I became blood-drunk on fantasy, gorging my young mind and tossing the ravaged paperback carcasses onto the ever growing charnel heap. I look back on those days with no small amount of fondness. The red haze cleared eventually as I desired to leave my literary comfort zone. Now, when I return to some of those books I read as a teenager, they can seem clichéd or dull. However, the best authors from my those days stand tall in my mind still, as shining paragons, masters of the fantastic. Authors like Joe Abercrombie.  

 

His writing is grim, but relatable. His characters witty and entertaining. His books don’t focus on epic deeds or intricate world building, but that’s the point. Abercrombie avoids the cliche that so much fantasy falls into by playing with it, twisting it with an irony and black humour that’s all his own.The young hero with a great destiny is also a self-serving little shit. The wise old wizard may appear kindly, but secretly he’s a scheming and manipulative villian. Deeply cynical and dripping with wit and irony, Abercrombie’s work is always a pleasure to read. As an example, let me quote this description of Union Military Officer Glokta from the beginning of Sharp Ends:

 

“Glokta had everything, and what he didn’t have, no-one could stop him from taking. Women adored him, and men envied him. Women envied him and men adored him, for that matter. One would have thought, with all the good fortune showered upon him, he would have to be the most pleasant man alive.

But Glokta was an utter bastard. A beautiful, spiteful, masterful, horrible bastard, simultaneously the best and worst man in the Union. He was a tower of self-centered obsession. An impenetrable fortress of arrogance. His ability was exceeded only by his belief in his own ability. Other people were pieces to be played, points to be scored, props to be arranged in the glorious tableaux of which he made himself the centerpiece. Glokta was a veritable tornado of bastardy, leaving a trail of battered friendships, crushed reputations and mangled reputations in his wake.

His ego was so powerful it shone from him like a strange light, distorting the personalities of everyone around him at least halfway into being bastards themselves. Superiors became snivelling accomplices. Experts deferred to his ignorance. Decent men were reduced to sycophantic shits. Ladies of judgement to giggling cyphers.

Rews once heard the most committed followers of the Gurkish religion were expected to make the pilgrimage to Sarkant. In the same way, the most committed bastards might be expected to make a pilgrimage to Glokta.”

 

Sharp Ends is a collection of short stories, and Abercrombie’s seventh work of fiction set in the world of the First Law. If you haven’t read any of his previous First Law novels, don’t let that put you off. Sharps Ends works well as both an entry point and a continuation for the setting. The focus remains on character rather than world-building, so anyone can jump right in without needing to read up on any backstory unless they want to. For long time readers such as myself, there’s still a plethora of references to previous work, returning characters and important historical events scattered throughout the book, but all are handled with care, none feeling forced or clumsy.

 

For anyone interested in giving it a try, one of the best stories from the collection is available to read for free here on TOR: http://www.tor.com/2016/01/12/twos-company-joe-abercrombie/

Essentially, Sharp Ends is a collection of stories about futility. Characters are swept up in the current of grand events, carried away into adventure they never fully understand. But this isn’t frustrating. I’ve always believed that the best works of Fantasy use magic and extraordinary situations as a cipher through which to view our own humanity. Though he may be king or beggar, every man answers to someone or something greater than himself, and Abercrombie writes the struggle of life in a way that is joyously cathartic.

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review 2016-05-21 00:00
Sharp Ends
Sharp Ends - Joe Abercrombie Sharp ends is a chapter in Red Country, Abercrombie’s sixth book, and -quite aptly- also the name of this collection. He appears at ease writing short fiction and it was pleasant to read again about the First Law’s characters. The stories are organized more or less chronologically, with the date near each title, this way it’s possible to approach this collection even while enjoying the main series.
I was underwhelmed by the Shattered Sea's trilogy so this felt a bit like a homecoming. I liked them, particularly the The Javre and Shev ones, but I wasn't overly thrilled because most were episodes, with few compelling elements. I was looking forward to the Glokta one but it was too short, and thus disappointing. For sure this book accomplished one goal: I really want more First Law tales.

Gritty, bloody, hilarious, witty and dark, this is mandatory for any fan of the main series; for all the others, it’s not the best entry point into Abercrombie's work because most of the stories don't stand alone if you don't know the characters.

Put a few men with swords together, even men with usually pleasant manners, and it’s never long before they’re all acting like animals. It was like old Threetrees always said –a sword’s a shitty thing to give a man. Shitty for him, and shitty for everyone around him.
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review 2016-05-12 01:08
Review: Sharp Ends (First Law World)
Sharp Ends - Joe Abercrombie

Sharp Ends is an anthology of thirteen stories set in the First Law world, first introduced in the book The Blade Itself.  The stories definitely had that First Law feel to them, and I enjoyed reading them.  If you’ve already tried other First Law books and didn’t like them, trust me, this anthology is not going to change your mind. :)

The first and last stories are particularly memorable because they give us a glimpse into the histories of two different main characters from the original trilogy.  They both take place before the trilogy, and neither character serves as a point-of-view character in their short story.  The first story is told from the perspective of Salem Rews, and gives us a glimpse of Glokta just before the defining events that shaped his life as we saw it in the trilogy.  The last story was told from the perspective of Bethod, before he and the Bloody Nine parted ways.  I particularly enjoyed this story because it expanded on the insights into both characters that we finally started to gain toward the end of the original trilogy.  This story fleshed out things I had wanted more detail on at the time I was reading the trilogy.  I still want more, much more, but I enjoyed what was there.

Another story was told from the perspective of Craw, who was one of the main characters in The Heroes.  This story was definitely one of my favorites because it was chock full of that special First Law humor, and I loved the ending.  Five of the other stories featured two new characters, Shev and Javre.  A few other familiar characters also showed up in their stories, but Shev and Javre were interesting characters on their own and fun to read about.  

Most of the other stories featured more minor characters.  It had been six months since I read the other books, so I couldn’t remember the details about all of those minor characters.  I took advantage of my Kindle and searched for any unfamiliar names to see if they’d been mentioned before and, if so, how they had fit into the previous books.  I think I appreciated the stories a lot more this way.  In at least one case, a character found in one of the short stories had only been mentioned once in all of the previous six books, and it was fun to see the connection between that reference and the story.

I probably wouldn’t recommend this anthology to anybody who hadn’t read the other First Law books yet.  Even though it could serve as a way to try out the author’s writing style, I think it would be difficult to appreciate the stories without understanding their place in the larger world.  For example, there’s one story which consists of several mini-stories about a series of random characters, showing how they were affected by events in Best Served Cold.  I enjoyed that story, but it would have seemed odd to somebody who hadn’t read that book.  There’s also a hilarious article written about Cosca by that writer guy who was following Cosca around in Red Country.  It would completely go over the head of anybody who isn’t familiar with Cosca.  I think that’s part of what I enjoyed so much about this anthology; many of the stories were written for those of us who already know what’s what.

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