The Third Law - The Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings

Book Review: What’s Wrong with Joe Abercrombie’s The Third Law Trilogy & How to Fix It

I just finished reading the mammoth First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie consisting of The Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings. [You can read this review on Goodreads too]

Let’s map out how I felt through each novel.

The Blade Itself – This book shows some promise. If it keeps getting better from here, then this may be a fantastic series. Can’t wait to read more.

Before They are Hanged – What an awful title, but that doesn’t mean anything. The narrative is slipping a bit, the journey is overly long, and I’m starting to get tired of all the characters catchphrases, but this series has time to recover. I’m sure book three will make up for any missteps.

Last Argument of Kings – This is it? Really!? This is what we were building toward? WTF. It’s tedious. It’s boring. It’s depressing as all hell but not even in a good way, more in a “how did I waste so much time reading this garbage” kind of way. How did such a great start get brought so low? Do I even want to keep these books on my shelf anymore?

Let’s go over what made this series end up sucking so hard.

The First Law - The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings

It’s too damn long — There’s nothing wrong with a long book or series as long as knows where it’s heading, is interesting along the way, holds a sense of purpose, is well paced, or is at least somewhat enjoyable.

But The First Law is none of these things. It’s an overly long meandering story featuring mostly bland two-dimensional characters whose actions have no tangible consequences.

Character actions don’t really mater — One character gets hurt one time, and it gave the books an illusion that mistakes matter. But as cities fall resulting no negative consequence at all, plot armor is revealed in all other interactions.

Yes, there are times that character A is transported to place B, and they being there saves the day. This happens a lot. So much so, that whenever situations look bleak, there’s no tension because we know someone is just around the corner, especially if they haven’t been featured in a few chapters.

One of the worst crimes in story telling is showing the reader the author behind the curtain pulling the strings, but once you see it, you cannot unsee it. We saw the strings in book two, and they just get more pronounced as the story goes on.

It’s too damn boring The Blade Itself was entertaining enough. See my mostly positive review here. Before They are Hanged had its moments, though the long journey was loooooooong (spoiler: and fruitless). Last Argument of Kings was 300 pages of battle sequences, some of which had fun moments, but mostly it just dragged on and on and on till I didn’t care anymore.

For me, books are not the best medium for hundreds of pages of: “And he swung his sword, and she parried and threw a blow in return, and he ducked and hit her in the head, and she rebounded and kicked him in the shin”. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

Action in books is best when executed with building tension and a quick release. The first book does this well. But this technique is lost near the end of the second book, and completely ejected from the writing process by the third.

I had a bit of a crises while writing this book review. Follow this thread to watch me make up my mind to write reviews on books I don’t enjoy, or read about the decision here.

Characters are two dimensional — The only exception to this is Glokta. He’s fantastic in the beginning, and the only reason I didn’t prematurely throw the book against a wall. But I grew bored with even him by book three. All of the inner monologue that provided depth in book one became a tired, repetitious exercise.

Logan had as much depth as a murky pond. His gimmick of uncontrollable blood lust became predictable, and whenever it was about to have real consequence, he was deus ex machina’ed out of it.

All the other characters were wastes of paper and ink. They were flat with one-track minds and the simplest of motivations. The fighters fight because the fight. The revengers revenge because they revenge. Most of these characters have absolutely no depth, and the ones who do, such as Biaz, are so convoluted they grow boring.

And a note on Biaz. While he’s written as this wise man, [spoiler] by the time it’s revealed how much of the world he controls, I was left wondering why he didn’t handle things better in the first place. Oh, that’s right, Joe justifies it with a short aside about Biaz being distracted because he was reading books for a while and forgot about the world, or something. Kind of a lame thing to pin a trilogy’s entire plot on.

And the catchphrases — “You can never have too many knives” was probably said a bajillion times. “Say one thing about the third law, say it’s prose are repetitive.” “I want vengeance fool!” These catchphrases add nothing, and become grating 400,000 words in. Cool it with the catchphrases. This isn’t a sitcom.

Maybe it’s my fault? I’ve heard about Joe Abercrombie for a long time now, and I looked forward to reading his work. Maybe my opinion is sullied by anticipation? I don’t think so, but maybe.

I don’t know, maybe you’ll like it. The series currently averages around a 4.3 rating on Goodreads. I don’t get it. Some people seem to love simple characters swinging swords and talking about vengeance for 900 pages. If that sounds like your cup o tea, then dive in. You’ll probably love it.

How I’d fix it — While I didn’t enjoy The First Law, I do think there’s a good story hidden within if you’d be willing to go haywire with a hacksaw. Here’s what you do.

Forget every character except Glokta and Biaz. Rip them all out, you won’t miss them. Now we follow Glokta along basically the same plotline, with only glimpses of Biaz and occasional confrontations as the tension mounts. And as Glokta digs deeper into the corruption of the empire, he discovers by himself (ie. the information isn’t handed to him!) that Biaz is the puppet master of a vast conspiracy. Now it’s up to Glokta to bring him down or fail trying.

I think that could a compelling, tightly plotted 100,000 words fantasy noir.

I wish so badly that was the story I read. Or anything else with that didn’t string me along for so long. But instead I got the equivalent of a blob of rambling fiction with nothing compelling to say, nowhere compelling to go, which now takes up space where better books should be my shelf. What I’m I going to do with those books? They were expensive.

Why I Chose to Start Writing Reviews for Books I Don’t Like

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a dilemma which can be summed up in one simple question. What is the point of a book review?

This question grabbed hold of me after I finished writing a particularly negative book review. Should I publish it? Why would I publish a review of something I hated? What’s to gain out of it? This brought me around to the original question: what is the point of a book review in the first place?

On the surface level, the answer seems obvious. We write and read book reviews to discover new books and share the books we love. We didn’t start writing reviews because we hated something. We started because we loved it and needed a forum to talk about it.

It wasn’t until later that we were faced with the dilemma. What do we do with books we dislike?

For a long time, I would keep quiet about these books. My thought process was, I don’t want to hamper the career of a fellow writer. I got in it to share the love, not to bring people down.

But now I realize that there is more to book reviews than simply sharing the love. As a writer, when reviewers are critical of my work, I learn something from it. I understand my weaknesses which gives me a chance to grow. Without feedback, both good and bad, how will I ever fulfill my goals? I don’t think it’s possible.

Beyond this, a negative review isn’t necessarily going to send all readers to the hills. Some of my favorite novels are controversial. People love it or hate it, and they leave reviews accordingly. Furthermore, if all readers thought like I did, then bad books would skew high because those who didn’t enjoy it were silent.

The top review on Goodreads on Blood Meridianperhaps my favorite book ever—is 2 stars. The top review of the book I recently finished and was so disappointed in was 4 stars. They average about the same rating.

Due to these factors, I’ve decided to change how I operate when it comes to critical reviews. If I dislike a book, I’ll now tell you about it, explain why, and dive into what I might change to make it better. On this note, I’ll be sharing my final review of The First Law Trilogy next week.

Thank you to everyone who discussed this topic with me on Twitter, effectively changing my mind. You all rock!

Interview with Book Reviewer Lilyn G from Sci-Fi & Scary

Today I want to introduce you to book reviewer Lilyn G (@ScifiandScary). You may know her from her fantastic site Sci-Fi and Scary where she blogs about science fiction and horror novels and movies, along with several other reviewers. I interviewed Lilyn via email, and I think you’ll enjoy our discussion on writing over 2000 posts, what’s so intriguing about science fiction and horror, and some author recommendations that may be under your radar.

Q: You’re the founder of Sci-Fi and Scary which you started in 2015. What drew you to writing book reviews? What’s kept you going over the past 3 years?

A: I actually addressed this in my very first blog post [link mine – check out the post, it’s interesting]. I read that the average adult only read 6 books a year. That stunned me. I can’t imagine reading so little. On top of that, I have a coworker that I introduced to books who now loves to read because I took the time to figure out what her reading level was, what she enjoyed, and was able to guide her to the appropriate books.

I wanted to talk about books like I talk about them to my friends. Nothing high-brow, but more “Was it fun? What made it fun?” That type of thing.

As for what’s kept me going? Not going to lie, it’s at least 30% that once I start something, I have a very hard time breaking from it. However, free books, free movies, my excellent team, and the great community on Twitter have all played a big part as well.

Q: If my math is correct, you’ve published nearly 2000 blog posts, many of which are book reviews. That’s incredible! Thinking back, is there any posts from your early days as a book reviewer that you’re especially proud of?

Not particularly. But I am proud of the fact that the first year I managed a post a day all on my own without any assistance. I worked my butt off that year.

Q: You’re obviously a fan of the Sci-Fi genre. What draws you to science fiction?

Specifically, I like hard science fiction (though I do occasionally enjoy the softer stuff.) I like the logic of it. It’s not fantasy where an author can make up whatever he wants. Instead, hard sci-fi starts with a solid base, extrapolates probabilities based on current science, and builds a story around that. Or it takes a near-future, gives us a character we like, and gives him realistic problems to solve, for example. All of that appeals greatly to me.

I love classic science fiction too. It’s so filled with hope and wonder. You really can’t beat it. Even though some of it is balls to the walls crazy (Ie: Death World, Harry Harrison), and you can’t deny the complete saturation of the genre with strong white male heroes, it’s still just so fun and imaginative. And it’s clean fun too.

Q: I assume horror has a special place in your heart as well, seeing as you founded Sci-Fi and Scary. What drew you to the horror genre, and why do you tend to focus on Sci Fi?

I like science fiction because of the logic and the hope it offers. I like horror because, blast it, sometimes a girl just likes to see someone get smashed over their head with their own ribcage. And, in seriousness, because it’s a safe way to be afraid and let off some of that fear and anxiety that boils up in my life.

It’s not really a misconception on your part, it’s just when you happened to check the site! Seriously, for the first few months of this year, I think I maybe had three science fiction reviews? The rest were horror. I go through spurts where I’m heavily into one or the other. (I think it depends on my mood.)

But yes, in general, I try to focus more on sci-fi for the reviews for the site, and explanation for that is simple: My cohosts Gracie and Nico prefer horror. If I read a lot of horror too, it would throw off the balance, and the site’s name is Sci-Fi AND Scary. Gotta keep them both going!

I hope to add a few more team members soon with a sci-fi love in them.

Q: If you were to meet a reader new to the Sci-Fi/Horror genres, what books would you recommend to ease them in? Why these books?

That’s a trick question, sir. You didn’t give me nearly enough information about the reader to be able to answer that.

A good bookworm doesn’t just recommend their favorite books to a potential reader. They recommend ones that they think that person would genuinely love.

I mean, I love middle-grade dark fantasy, for example, and some of it is very creepy, but I wouldn’t recommend it to your average adult.

Q: What under-appreciated books do you think seasoned readers should be paying more attention too?

Well, obviously indie books! [here here!] Seasoned readers need to step away from the Big Five, and plumb the depths of the small-press world. There are some fantastic stories out there that you aren’t going to find in mainstream because they don’t fit in the conformity boxes just right.

Q: Is there an author you’ve followed who you feel doesn’t get enough attention?

Oh, lots. Let’s see…

Science fiction: J.B. Rockwell, Michael Drakich, Mathew Isaac Sobin, Greg Spry

Horror: Sue Rovens, Michaelbrent Collings, Michael Hodges, Alan Baxter, Michael Patrick Hicks

Q: Have you ever found yourself excited for a particular read, then supremely disappointed? Do you finish the book in this situation, or are you like me and toss it aside with gusto?

Definitely. I’m really hard to please, probably due to the sheer amount I read, so this happens to me more than I would prefer.

It depends on the situation. Is it a review book? Then unless it’s cringe-worthy, I’m going to grit my teeth and try to plow through. Library book? Probably going to toss it aside with gusto unless I’ve already made it to the 50% mark or something. At that point it’s like “Just go ahead and finish it.”

Q: Lately, I’ve been in search of books that will change my life in some way. Books that either open my mind to a new way of thinking or make me feel in ways I haven’t felt before. Have you read anything lately that fits that bill?

In that situation I say just read outside your current genres. Honestly, I don’t look for books that are going to make me think in a new way or anything like that. My life is extremely stressful, so when I pick up a book, I pick it up for the entertainment factor and nothing else.

C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust is a good one for making you evaluate the definition of humanity and one of the possible futures of artificial intelligence, though.

Q: I would assume being a book reviewer today comes with its own unique challenges. Is there anything you have to deal with that most people take for granted?

The social media / promotional aspects. I’m solitary by nature, like individual persons occasionally, but think people as a whole suck balls. So, the fact that this whole reviewing thing only really works well if people know you and trust your brand… It’s quite literally mentally and emotionally exhausting for me.

I’m a hardcore introvert that keeps getting stuck in extrovert situation.

Q: What is the highlight moment since you’ve started reviewing books?

When I took the co-worker I mentioned in the first question out to the annual Half Price Books clearance sale and saw her face just light up. We were there for a solid few hours, and she came away with a decent stack of books, and was happy as could be.

I like recommending books to other readers. I love knowing that my support of indie authors helps them sell books and put food on the table. But yeah…that smile on her face when we walked in to the book sale – a woman who until I started talking to her had read maybe 3 books her whole life – was the moment that made it worth it.


Thanks to Lilyn for taking time to answer these questions. I hope you enjoyed it too. Be sure to check out here book reviews on Sci-Fi and Scary, and follow her on twitter.

Announcing Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition (and how to get it for free)

Not long ago I announced I was done writing the first draft of Grim Curio. Now it’s time for me to switch gears while I give GC to beta readers and confidants for feedback. I’ll come back to it in a few months, but til then I have a few other projects lined up.

As many of you already know, the next project on my slate is writing the long overdue The Gin Thief: Episode 2. So long overdue, in fact, that I need a refresher on the subject material. So I’m rereading Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief: E1. Which leads me to the meat of this post…

Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition coming soon!

That’s right. I’m giving DA some love this year. The biggest criticisms it received were around mistakes in proofreading. So while I read through it, I’m revising and re-releasing it. In fact, I’m already 20% of the way through it.

What is the goal with this revision?

My plan is to keep my touch as light as possible while addressing it’s issues. It wont turn into a full rewrite. The structure and plot will remain identical. Instead, my goal is to simply clean up sections that need it, trim some of the fat, and fix errors.

Why are you revising it?

Simple, it’s weaknesses are holding it back. Initially the novel released to pretty strong sales, but they have declined to a trickle. I’ve tried to diagnose the issues and believe they are as follows:

  • Reviews that focus on poor proofreading
  • A convoluted first scene in chapter 1
  • A cover that doesn’t match its genre (possibly, will know after I address the issues above)
  • My own hesitation to sell a book with known errors

I need to address these if I don’t want DA to end up holding my career back. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be better.

Will it get a new cover? 

I don’t know yet. I love Discovering Aberration‘s cover. The team at The Book Designers did a fantastic job. They followed all my instructions and created a work of art. I have no complaints about the cover itself or their work.

But…. I’ve now been in publishing for a few years, and I’ve learned a lot I didn’t know then. In this case, the cover I told them to make DA doesn’t look like other books in its genre and that may be affecting sales. It’s likely that a new cover which better matches steampunk best sellers will entice more readers to give it a chance.

It’s a tough question, and potentially one with an expensive answer. Not sure what I’m going to do anything with the cover, time will tell I guess.

Will this delay The Gin Thief: Episode 2?

Just a bit. But as I said, I’m keeping my touch light and in just over a week and a half I’m 20% through it. I’m not rewriting, I’m cleaning up. So the delay should be minimal. I need to read through the book anyway to immerse myself back into that universe, and in the end this will be the best thing for my writing career. TGT: E2 is coming, and this is part of the process.

When will the revised edition be released?

Don’t know. I’ve given up with release dates. I’ve never once made an accurate prediction, so I’m not trying anymore. It’ll be released as soon as it’s done, hopefully not long. My goal is to have both DA: RE and TGT: E2 out by the end of the year. Is that goal realistic? I don’t know, but it’s what I’m shooting for.


If you want to receive a FREE copy of Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition upon its release, sign up for my mailing list. When it’s out, I’ll be gifting every one of my mailing list subscribers a free digital copy.

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