Over the course of his various series set in the First Law universe, Joe Abercrombie has created a world able to stand alongside landscapes the likes of George RR Martin and JRR Tolkein have created in terms of drama, political intrigue and, of course, bloodshed.
In Sharp Ends, his collection of short stories set in this very environment (some of which have been printed elsewhere previously), he is granted the opportunity to show us new sides to fan favourites, as well as whole new creations in familiar environments.
Some of these insights are satisfying: in ‘Made A Monster’, for instance, we are shown the full, horrific reality of what Logen Ninefingers used to be, making King Bethod’s betrayal of him seem almost understandable. Then there’s ‘The Fool Jobs’, a nicely comical tale involving a young Curnden Craw, and ‘A Beautiful Bastard’, which shows Sand dan Glotka in his early days as a dashing colonel before becoming a terrifying Inquisitor.
But it’s the stories involving the lesser-known characters that impress the most. A series of odd-couple shorts involving fugitive thief Shevedieh and formidable warrior-woman Javre are arguably the highlight of the collection. The former’s prematurely world-weary outlook and exasperation with her travelling companion and the latter’s bemused and blasé antics are always welcome, and makes you hope they will feature more in the future.
Other stories are less engaging – ‘Hell’ and ‘Freedom’ are both forgettable by comparison – but this is more a criticism of the medium rather than the writing itself. In any short-story collection the results will be hit and miss, but in this case Abercrombie skewers mostly towards the former, which is the main thing.
Moreover, it requires no prior knowledge of Abercrombie’s bibliography, although needless to say it does help. When you’ve created something of appeal to both newcomers and fans, you can put it down as a job well done.