Dirty Rot­ten Scoundrels

SFX - - Reviews - Dave Bradley

re­leased OUT NOW! 290 pages | Hard­back/ ebook Author Joe Aber­crom­bie Pub­lisher Gol­lancz This is not the best place to

be­gin if you’re a new­comer to Joe Aber­crom­bie. Sure, each of the 13 ac­tion- packed shorts in this col­lec­tion can be en­joyed in­di­vid­u­ally. But you’ll get the most out of them if you recog­nise the char­ac­ters from his six First Law books. That’s not to say Sharp Ends is nec­es­sar­ily terrific value if you’re an Aber­crom­bie afi­cionado ei­ther. Over half th­ese tales have been pub­lished be­fore.

For those, how­ever, who’ve taken a good sniff of Cosca, Monza and Ninefin­gers – per­haps read the best­sellers but not the spe­cial edi­tions – it’s a per­fect blood­stained buf­fet. It adds de­tail and depth to many of the nov­els’ sup­port­ing cast, and serves up vi­gnettes spiced with Aber­crom­bie’s trade­mark hu­mour. There’s a Pratch­ett- like par­ody of epic fan­tasy through­out… if Pratch­ett dropped the C- bomb and rel­ished dis­em­bow­el­ment. This world is dark, but rich with bathos and farce, giv­ing us bat­tles that end sud­denly with a pro­tag­o­nist, “strug­gling to mop the gore from be­tween her tits with a rag torn from a dead man’s shirt”.

You’ll wit­ness a lot of fight­ing. Ex­pect bar brawls, am­bushes, stand- offs and skir­mishes. The open­ing and clos­ing tales are en­er­getic fan- pleasers about the

First Law’s most fa­mous char­ac­ters: the for­mer shows us Glokta be­fore he be­came a twisted tor­turer; the lat­ter con­cerns Bethod and Lo­gen. At the heart of the col­lec­tion are five sto­ries fea­tur­ing mis­matched repro­bates Shev and Javre, be­gin­ning with “Small Kind­nesses”, the 2013 story where they meet, and con­clud­ing with 2014’ s “Tough Times All Over”. But the best story here is “Yes­ter­day, Near A Vil­lage Called Bar­den”, which ap­peared in the exclusive Water­stone’s ver­sion of

The Heroes. That’s Aber­crom­bie’s best novel, and this short shares its wry view of “hero­ism”, de­light­ing in the ba­nal­ity and ran­dom­ness of war­fare.

Not the best place to be­gin

Joe Aber­crom­bie is cur­rently com­pos­ing a brand new tril­ogy in the First Law uni­verse, set 30 years af­ter the orig­i­nal books.

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