Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie (book review).

‘Sharp Ends’ is a collection of short stories that feature characters from Joe Abercrombie’s collection of six novels about the ‘First Law’ world.


Each story is standalone but you will probably get an enhanced enjoyment if you have read the novels. If you haven’t read the novels, this serves as a taster to the style, content and locations. It covers the whole of the time period of the six books and there are reoccurring characters which seem to be favourites.

It would be foolish of me to openly analyse every story for you as the whole idea of a review is to recommend that you read them for yourselves. So here are my impressions from some of the thirteen stories.

In the first story in the collection we meet ‘A Beautiful Bastard’. A hot afternoon and the soldiery are exhausted after a long march. General Glotka is offering fighting lessons to the unfortunate few. There’s nothing like a dose of humiliation in the afternoon. All of this is being acutely observed by the cowardly Quartermaster Trew and, through him, by us. This is just the opening example of a series of short stories that offer us a glimpse into the world of Joe Abercrombie. As he moves his chess pieces for our entertainment, we are, by turns, invited to laugh, cry, wince and be genuinely moved by the fiction he creates.

‘Small Kindnesses’ features the characters of Shev and Javre, a couple of mismatched heroes who, in this instance, happen to be heroines. It’s an excellent narrative about how they met and how consequences always follow from those small kindnesses. Again, the characters are cleverly drawn and our sympathies are straight away tied to their fate. They also feature in ‘Skipping Town’ and ‘Three’s A Crowd’. We learn quite a lot about the pair. I particularly enjoyed Three’s a Crowd in which the courier and sometime lover of Shev turns up again whilst being held to ransom. When Javre and Shev break in to the prison, they find things are not as they seem. The travelling pair are a great glue in this collection and I feel they would make a perfect mini-series to introduce us to the Abercrombie universe on TV.

Another clever little tale is ‘Tough Times All Over’, which is an object lesson is how to deliver a package. Courier Carcolf, the great somewhat flaky love of Shev, who also makes an appearance, travels across the town at night encountering diverse people with different agendas. A seemingly simple tale is once again rather astute and confounds our expectations.

The final story ‘Made A Monster’ is a graphic and shocking end to the book with its depiction of two friends who can no longer see eye to eye. One man wants peace and the chance to grow crops rather than sharpen swords. The other is the monster who can see no further than the latest death but who is the real monster in the story?

I was surprised to find that I could get engaged with the characters, so quickly with such a broad brush approach to character and setting. Although I have previously read one novel in ‘The Circles Of The World’ series, it was a long time ago. The stories set me to thinking that it would be a great idea not only to revisit that novel but also to add the other five to my rather extensive wish-I-had-enough-time-and-money list. (Just a hint to the publishers there if there are any spare copies propping open the door to the office.)

These stories proved to be engrossing. They are a spicy addition to the main courses of the novels, adding to the flavour of the original and offering a wider explanation of how some characters got to the place they did. I look forward to enjoying the novels and I’ll be looking out for my favourites.

Sue Davies

April 2016

(pub: Gollancz. 304 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-57510-467-9)

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