Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

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Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: A collection of dark fantasy stories all set in Joe Abercrombie's own First Law universe; great for fans of the books.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780575104679

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I often feel that short stories are an indulgence on the part of the author, they get to write down a lot of their ideas that don't really fit into a larger story. The stop/start nature of them never sits well with me, just as I am starting to get to know a character they are gone. One way of solving this would be to use characters that a fan will already know; perhaps explore the past, or the future. That sounds great for a fan, but how do you do this whilst also catering for a new reader?

Sharp Ends is a collection of short stories by Joe Abercrombie all set in his First Law world which has already seen a fantastic trilogy as well as some even better standalone novels. If you have read the previous books you are reintroduced to some of the great characters from Glokta, a solider whose fate is not a nice one, to Shevedieh, a master thief who is always getting into more fights that she would like - a lot of the time due to her friend Javre.

In total there are thirteen stories that span many years in the world of the First Law. This gives Abercrombie the chance to revisit characters from all his previous books. If you come to the book having read earlier works be prepared to find more of the brilliant low fiction that has become Abercrombie's calling card. The book is pitted with great treats for those in the know; a retelling of an invasion that we saw differently, or a glimpse at the man that Glokta once was.

Unlike a traditional collection of short stories, Abercrombie relies a little on the goodwill of the reader. A few of the adventures are more character pieces than something with a beginning, middle and an end. One set of stories that spans both fans and new readers are those starring Shevedieh and Javre. They appear in several of the tales and almost act as the spine of the book, giving you a novelette within the whole. It also helps that these two are perhaps the most likeable and chaotic characters in the book (Ninefingers not included). Their antics are deadly, but also have a deft touch that makes them very amusing to read about. Kind of like the Odd Couple, but with more stabbing.

As a fan of The First Law books, it is hard to gauge how welcoming this set of stories is to the newcomer. Each short story does offer an entertaining and dark read, but if you know nought about the characters, you will miss so much of the joy and subtly in the book. It would be much better to read as many of Abercrombie's earlier works as you can before picking this up. Sharp Ends is wonderful fan service, but, perhaps by doing this, neglects the journeyman reader.

There are some great writers of low fantasy around today, but few are as good as Abercrombie. One person you will have heard of is A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin, whilst another alternative is Age of Iron (The Iron Age Trilogy) by Angus Watson. We also have more of Abercrombie's work here.

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