Abercrombie, Joe. Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law.

NY: Little, Brown, 2016.

I’m a great fan of Abercrombie’s adult-level novels — six so far, the original trilogy plus three more set in the same bloody-minded world. (He’s done a YA trilogy, too, but that’s a rather different sort of story.) If you’ve read those books, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy these thirteen shorter pieces. But if you’re new to Joe’s work, these really won’t mean much to you.

First, only about half of them are really “stories” in the usual sense. The rest are vignettes, extended anecdotes, scenes from untold back-stories, and leftover scraps of narrative. High-quality writing, certainly, but still scraps.

You’ll meet Glotka in his bravo days, still a champion swordsman, not yet the post-torture inquisitor, and Shevedriah, the petite lesbian thief, and her partner, the lusty Javre. Curden Craw from Heroes is here, and Monzcarro Murcatto from Best Served Cold, and Shy from The Far Country, when she was still a wanted woman in the Near Country. But Joe doesn’t tell you anything else about them, so only the established fan will really understand who they all are.

Still, there are several very good actual stories here, too. The best is probably the previously published “Tough Times All Over,” featuring Carcolf when she was a young, high-risk courier (she turns up as Shev’s highly untrustworthy lady-love in several of the other pieces), and the convoluted plot is delicious. Also first-rate is “Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden,” set during the Union’s invasion of the north, a consideration of what war is like from the POV of the unheroic guys in the baggage train. Unsettling at the very least. The writing style throughout the book is highly visual. The off-center humor is also what we’ve come to expect from Joe, the sort of humor familiar to soldiers and the downtrodden and those who must constantly look over their shoulders. Still, this would have been a more successful volume if more care had been given in seeing that each piece was actually a fully-formed story.

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