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Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

Sharp Ends “is the ultimate collection of award winning tales and exclusive new short stories from the master of grimdark fantasy, Joe Abercrombie. Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue’s gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of the First Law.

Let’s get this out of the way right up front –  I’m a huge fan of The First Law trilogy. In fact, I’ll go further than that, I’m a huge fan of all the books set in the First Law universe. With that confession in mind, you’ll not be surprised when I tell you the opportunity to learn more about some of the characters, and the world that they inhabit, was too good to miss. Sharp Ends, Joe Abercrombie’s latest, collects together thirteen adventures chronicling life over a twenty-six year period. The good news, if you’ve read any of Abercrombie’s First Law books then there is going to be so much here you’ll enjoy.

Some of my personal favourites…

A Beautiful BastardThe Union army may be full of bastards, but there’s only one big enough to think he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta.

You can’t help but love Colonel Glokta. He is the envy of his Majesty’s First. Handsome, heroic and dashing. Women want him, and men want to be him. He is also self-centred, smug and in almost every respect, a complete and utter bastard. What a great start. I was thrilled to meet an old favourite early on in his career, just before a huge life changing event. Up until now Glokta has been a bit of an enigma. This story does a great job is dispelling some of the mystery that surrounds his early days.

Hell ‘I have seen hell, and it is a great city under siege.’ The fall of Dagoska through the eyes of a young acolyte called Temple.

The focus of this collection isn’t entirely on those you would describe as main characters. Hell follows the perspective of a bystander and literally runs with it.

Two’s CompanyLavre, Lioness of Hoskopp, runs into Cracknut Whirrun on a bridge over a remote canyon. Can Shevedieh persuade either of these proud heroes to step aside?

This is the perfect example of a simple idea executed flawlessly. Two heroes and one hugely irritated sidekick meet by a bridge. Said structure is extremely narrow, so the big question – who gets to cross it first? This story takes a welcome comedic turn as Lavre and Whirrun bicker and brawl their way to an accord.

Tough Times All Over – All Carcolf wants is to take her package from here to there, but in the city of fogs and whispers, there are always a dozen other rogues with their own ideas.

Now this is an interesting premise. Rather than following a character, the narrative of this story tracks an object as it passes from thief to thief. A package has been stolen, and where it will end up is anyone’s guess. Like a demented shell-game, you have to pay attention just so you can keep up. Watching characters weave in and out of this story is great fun.

Made A Monster – After years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left – his own lunatic champion.

I can sum up this final tale in three words…The Bloody-Nine. Regular Abercrombie readers won’t require any more incentive than that to read it. If, however you have never met Logen Ninefingers before, then all you really need to know is that he’s mad, bad and really, really violent. Even his friends and allies think he has always been a bit of a maniac. This story does a great job of proving that theory quite conclusively.

I’ve only mentioned five stories here but I was entirely spoiled for choice. Rest assured, the other eight are just as good. In all honesty I don’t think I could have hoped for much more from this collection, there wasn’t a bad entry amongst the lot. The balance is just right. In some stories, favourite characters make an appearance. Abercrombie does a great job of offering further insight into what makes them tick. Other tales feature new characters who I’ve never come across before.

In my experience, it is sometimes the case that short story collections tend to be a bit of a mixed bag. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth in this case. I love that this anthology is bookended by stories featuring two of the most popular characters from the First Law universe. They may be a beautiful bastard and a monster, but Sand dan Glokta and Logen Ninefingers are just about the best depiction of fictional anti-heroes I’ve ever come across. I’d hate to meet either of them, I rather suspect it would end with my death, but I can’t help but revel in their exploits. Getting the opportunity to visit both of these individuals earlier in their timeline, prior to their introduction in the First Law trilogy feels like a rare treat.

I’ve been thinking about it, as I am want to do, and there really aren’t any excuses for not picking this book up. If you’ve read the First Law trilogy, then there is going to be something on every page that will make you smile. If, however you haven’t read The Blade Itself, etc then consider Sharp Ends your ideal gateway drug.

I’ve always considered Abercrombie to be a master when it comes to characterisation and this group of stories only solidifies that opinion. More often than not they are beautifully flawed, and in some cases, they are also wonderfully snarky. Lavre and Shevedieh are particularly good fun. Their constant back and forth bickering is a joy to behold. We need an entire book featuring their adventures immediately!

Dark, and darkly comic, this is an ideal read for anyone who enjoys their humor dry and their vengeance bloody. Sharp Ends is published by Gollancz and is available from 26th April. Highly recommended.

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