Book Review: Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sharp EndsSharp Ends  by Joe Abecrombie

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Anthology

Series: The First Law

Publisher: Orbit (April 26, 2016)

Length: 304 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The full title of this anthology is actually Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law, so fans of Joe Abercrombie’s novels set in this universe should be in for a treat. All thirteen tales in here are set in the Circle of the World, spanning a period that starts about a decade before the beginning of The Blade Itself and ends a few years after Red Country, and some feature locations and characters that have appeared before in his novels. Most of the stories in here have also been previously published in other places, but here they all are for the first time, collected together in this neat and convenient little package, along with some new content besides.

I must confess here though, that these types of anthologies aren’t typically in my scope but of course I had to make an exception for Sharp Ends because Abercrombie is one of my favorite authors! When I pick up a collection of short stories, I usually go for those that are made up of standalones and original tales rather than the ones containing shorts/novellas which tie into an existing series’ “universe”. In general, if I’m going to spend time with characters I already know and in worlds I love, I want my stories with a bit more meat. This, I believe, was my main issue with Sharp Ends. Even though I’ve read all of Abercrombie’s novels, which should have put me in a pretty good position to appreciate this anthology (whose stories are all new to me), I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had expected. The truth was many of the stories in here left me feeling like there should have been more to them.

To its credit, I really enjoyed how the book was structured, with the stories more or less organized chronologically, so that all together they created something very close to a narrative. If it’s possible for this anthology to have “main protagonists”, they would most definitely be Shevedieh and Javre, the thief-and-warrior duo who star in many of the stories and when they do they’re always the highlights. Their escapades, chronicled in tales such as “Small Kindnesses”, “Skipping Town”, “Two’s Company”, “Three’s a Crowd” and “Tough Times All Over”, create a kind of thread to hold on to as other stories are interspersed throughout the anthology. The two of them are a lot of fun to read about. My favorite is “Two’s Company”, a free short that was originally published at Tor.com featuring our two heroines trekking through the barren north and encountering the Northman Cracknut Whirrun in the middle of a narrow rope bridge. This one’s got everything—action, violence, humor, sex, you name it—and I was not surprised to find out afterwards that Abercrombie had meant for this story to form the spine around which all the other stories are arranged.

With the exception of “Two’s Company” though, none of the other tales really resonated with me on their own. Individually, I don’t think the rest of Shev and Javre’s stories would have jumped out at me either, and only when the five were taken together did they make an impression because I was able to form a connection with the two characters as soon as I determined them to be the heart of this anthology. From their first meeting to their final story together more than a dozen years later, their relationship has weathered through countless adventures, challenges and hardships. In the end, it was a very beautiful and heartfelt moment to see how the two friends have come to be where they are and how they’ve been good for each other.

Alas, other tales were not so memorable, and there were more of these than I would have liked. Just days after finishing this book, I could barely remember much of what happened in “The Fool Jobs” and “Hell”, for example, and there were stories like “Freedom” or “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” which were interesting but ended in a way that I felt were neither here nor there. Most disappointing were the stories that featured some of my favorite characters in the First Law world, like Sand dan Glokta (in “A Beautiful Bastard”), and of course Shy, who was the protagonist of my favorite Joe Abercrombie book ever, Red Country. I was probably most let down by her story “Some Desperado” especially since it was the one I was most looking forward to, but unfortunately it lacked substance and I just didn’t find it all that compelling.

Still, I have to stress that the majority of the stories in here were decent to good. Among my other favorites were “Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden” and the unsettling closer “Made a Monster”. Like I said, I’m not an experienced anthology reader so my mixed feelings on this book ultimately came down to personal taste and my too-high expectations because it was Joe A. In fact, reading this book only managed to further sharpen my desire to read another full-length Abercrombie novel (perhaps, even one about the dynamic duo of Shev and Javre? One can dream, I guess…)

Because it would also help immensely to have a bit of knowledge about this world before diving into Sharp Ends, newcomers to Abercrombie’s work will probably want to start with the novels as well, and a great place for that would be the First Law trilogy which I highly recommend. But for those who are already familiar with all those books, if you’re also the type of reader who enjoys checking out all the novellas and/or short stories that are companion to a favorite series, then you’ll definitely love this collection and want it to complete your bookshelf.

3stars

Mogsy 2

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24 Comments on “Book Review: Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Great review, I’m currently reading this, hoping to finish it off today, I’m not keen on short story collection’s but as it’s Abercrombie I had to give it a go and was lucky enough to receive an ARC. 🙂

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  2. Thanks for the review! 🙂 I loved his Half a King and Half the World but was disappointed by series endings in both this YA one and in First Law. I still have to read Red Country (and the other two books set in that world) but I have to say I’m not in a big hurry to grab another one of his books. I don’t usually go for short stories, either. I’ll see if I can pick this up in paperback at a later date.

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    • I wasn’t too keen on the ending to the Half a King trilogy either, but I did love the last book of The First Law. His standalones were more variable, though I loved Red Country! It’s probably my favorite book by Joe Abercrombie. And since you’ve already read the First Law you can jump right in and soak up all the surprises 🙂

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  3. I know you aren’t a big fan of anthologies, but I was still shocked when even an Abercrombie collection received a 3 star. I do like collections like this, and Abercrombie, so think I’d enjoy this more than you, but I still have to read the three stand alone novels from the First Law trilogy first.

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    • It was a good anthology, though I thought a lot of the stories in it were pretty “throwaway” or weren’t very memorable. Since this is a collected anthology of the short stories he’s published elsewhere in the past, some of which were written for other anthologies that had specific themes, I get why in a few of them style might trump substance.

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  4. I don’t know if I’ll try this one. I want to read his standalones books set in the First Law universe but I don’t know when I’ll make time for that. It took me months to digest The Last Arguments of Kings because that ending was hard and I’m not sure if I’m emotionally able to read his other stuff. I know it sounds cheesy as hell but the ending was so heartwrenching yet completely appropriate and it was really hard for me because I wanted a happy ending and all the characters went back to the start if that makes sense. It was frustrating! But yeah, I definitely want to read other things by Abercrombie. One day 😛

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  5. “Some Desperado” was included in another anthology I read (I believe it was “Dangerous Women”) and I remember finding it a bit shallow as well. While I do enjoy a few short stories, now and then, like you I prefer to read something more substantial, so I guess that this might not work well for me, since my expectations might lead to look for far more than I could find in this collection…
    Insightful review, thank you!!!

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    • Yes, I believe Some Desperado was the one in Dangerous Women. I can understand why that one would be in that anthology since Shy is as dangerous as women come 😉 But yeah I was left cold by her story which was a shame, since I love her so much in Red Country.

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  6. I’ve slowly coming to the conclusion Abercrombie is not the author for me, but I’m still going to try to finish out the First Law Trilogy, because . . . I’m a completionist, I guess. I totally get this guy is a gifted writer, but his “type” of story just does not do anything me, so I doubt I’ll ever feel a need to pick up this collection. Glad you semi-enjoyed it though. 🙂

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    • Yep, many of the stories here have been published before elsewhere. I guess I should have tempered my expectations for Some Desperado, I remember seeing reviews of Dangerous Women and not too many of them mentioned that story as being particularly memorable.

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  7. I did try The Blade Itself and somehow just couldn’t get into it. Could have just been my mood, but oh well! I agree, I think when you love a series, it’s hard to get the really short stories in that world to be as compelling as a novel. I do love short stories, but I like them to be self contained.

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  8. Yeah, short stories just don’t do it for me. I really can’t become attached to them. There are only a couple that I’ve enjoyed – Mark Lawrence’s Road Brothers because it was linked into the characters from the Broken Empire and so it was like extra character development which I love – plus I love his writing. And, the other was the Monstrous Voices book that I read at the start of the year which was absolutely ace. The stories, although short, actually all connected. Written by 5 different authors and all from the world of Shakespeare. I’ve not read a lot of Shakespeare but I obviously got the references because of all the adaptations – I loved that book.
    Otherwise – I’ve started to give short story collections a wide berth.
    Lynn 😀

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  9. I realized just this week that Sharp Ends is the only Abercrombie I haven’t read. SO I guess I have to read it. I’m sort of wary of him in terms of short stories, and your 3/5 seems to bear that out, but I always enjoy what I call the “earthiness” of his prose, so I suppose it will be worthwhile…

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  10. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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