This is the second book in The First Law fantasy trilogy. The Dogman leads us into the sequel with a strong voice, and seems to have taken over from Logen Ninefingers as the issuer of pithy barbarian proverbs and gritty wit. The story runs fast in the style of the trilogy, where there are no heroes, just survivors, or rather people with a strong determination to not die.
Abercrombie's strength is his characterisation, and he delivers incisive insights into the nature of his ruffians and rogues which carry the story with wry humour. If you don't think too hard about it, the tale is a lot of fun, particularly for those who enjoy watching a good fight.
The first cracks in a potentially great fantasy series appear in the plotting. The questers go on a seemingly endless journey to ‘find’ the talisman for the wizard, but it becomes obvious that the wizard can’t be trusted and will use the power for his own ends. At this point I’m asking myself “What is Logen’s motivation to risk almost certain death and hardship?” The assassin Ferro Maljinn has even less motivation. She was hunted by the invincible Eaters at first, but they seem to have abandoned the chase entirely. She’s been told she will get her revenge, but she’s not that stupid to believe the wizard. None of them would repeatedly risk their life without being shown exactly what the quest was about. Maybe there were better motivations devised for the characters but they weren’t obvious.
The conceited soldier Jezal gets some of the arrogance kicked out of him and so becomes more interesting, but he still lacks a compelling motivation for following the quest and any real ambition we can empathise with. Glokta, the crippled torturer, survives in a world of politics and subterfuge only by being clever. We feel his vulnerability, but I’m not rooting for him anymore, because he doesn’t seem to have any ambition beyond survival.
There are bright instances of great descriptive writing: sharp, clean and evocative. But on the whole the crassness of the characters and the pointlessness of the quests, battles and political intrigue create a world that can become tiresome. The story lacks the magic of the first and leaves me thinking that the ‘delightfully twisted and evil’ review quote on the cover might be appropriate. It’s still a good fantasy due to the arc from the first book and my hopes for the third, but the trail between them is bloody.