Book Review

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

Genre | Grimdark Fantasy
Page #s | 287
Publishing Date | April 2016

Sharp Ends is the ultimate collection of award winning tales and exclusive new short stories from the master of grimdark fantasy, Joe Abercrombie.

Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue’s gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of the First Law.

The Union army may be full of bastards, but there’s only one who thinks he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta.

Curnden Craw and his dozen are out to recover a mysterious item from beyond the Crinna. Only one small problem: no one seems to know what the item is.

Shevedieh, the self-styled best thief in Styria, lurches from disaster to catastrophe alongside her best friend and greatest enemy, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp.

And after years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left — his own lunatic champion, the most feared man in the North: the Bloody-Nine . . .

Goodreads

I am not a person who is drawn to grimdark stories, but Joe Abercrombie is Rachel’s favorite fantasy author. She asked me to read Best Served Cold a year ago, and this year she had me read Sharp Ends. We couldn’t stop talking about it for two days, so even though my main reaction is, “He’s clearly an amazing author; why can’t he just write about nice things?”, it is clear his work leaves a mark.

Sharp Ends is a series of interlocking short stories that can be read alone but would resonate more deeply if you already knew the characters from his other series. Even though I only recognized some of the names, I was still immediately drawn in. Abercrombie is an absolute master when it comes to creating relatable characters with rich personalities in only a few lines. I honestly don’t know how he makes dozens of believable characters, some of whom only live for a page or two.

Because that’s the thing…this book is so violent! And gratuitously so. If the people in the stories weren’t having such interesting feelings about the terrible things they find themselves doing, I wouldn’t give this book even one star. But every character is so interesting, most of them wrestling with some kind of cognitive dissonance, wanting to be good people but then rationalizing leaving a wounded person to be murdered or having to kill ten people to finish a thieving job. If nothing else, this book makes a very compelling case for the philosophical argument that people aren’t bad, we’re all just products of a system that necessitates bad actions.

I also admire Abercrombie for never shying away from the implications of the violence in his world. In one of the most memorable short stories, we see “nobodies” who died in the wake of Murcatto’s warpath of revenge in Best Served Cold. From a bank teller who worries about pleasing his wife to a prostitute who comforts a soldier who needs a good cry, their lives are snuffed out by another protagonist’s actions. We aren’t allowed to revel in the violence, because the faceless masses are given faces. I like that quite a lot.

Another thing Abercrombie does well is his ability to write women as actual people. They’re as grumpy, snarky, and brutal as any man in the book, but they also worry about their itchy inseams and if the girl they’ve always pined after is only using them. Even though there is a lot of prostitution in his stories, there isn’t explicit sexual violence. Instead, the job is portrayed like all the other jobs – something that is often unwanted and unsavory, but necessary to get by.

I’m never going to gravitate to a Joe Abercrombie book because my heart is overly sensitive. But I can appreciate his skill and wish I had a stronger stomach when Rachel offers me the next book in a year.

What Makes This Book Queer?

The only storyline that is repeatedly returned to is of Shev, a lesbian thief who has fallen in love with courier who repeatedly sells her out. Romance is not an optimistic endeavor in this book, but Shev’s relationship with Carcolf isn’t the one that’s most meaningful. Instead we get an amazing female duo in Shev and Javre, a massive warrior woman who insists that Shev is her henchman, sidekick maybe, definitely not partner. They are a joy to behold, and I would definitely read a whole book about them without needing a yearlong break in between.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Sharp Ends is great little book for someone who wants to dip their toes into Abercrombie’s world or for someone who just wants a “realistic” fantasy setting (aka violent and dark).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Come chat books with us on Roar Cat Reads’ discord.

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