Fiction Reviews

Sharp Ends

(2016) Joe Abercrombie, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, 372pp, ISBN 978-0-575-10469-3


Sharp Ends is a series of thirteen short stories set in the world of the First Law. Solidly swords and sorcery, with thieves, adventurers, soldiers, priests and wizards. And violence. Lots of it.

Joe Abercrombie’s short fantasy fiction bears comparison with the likes of Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard; comparisons I do not make lightly. There is more than a touch of Lankhmar in his stories about Javre and Shev, but an originality that is all his own, too. He writes with a very modern voice and avoids all of the cod medieval-speak which can be so annoying in fantasy novels (‘come sirrah, let us quaff, and speak of dragons, and rough handle some chickens whilst we are about it’ etc., etc).

The stories are a mixture; some are linked by characters, others are stand-alone pieces of fiction set within his existing fantasy world. Probably the most important thing is that the stories have real weight and impact. They provoke thought and generate emotion - I defy anyone to read ‘Three’s Company’ without getting a lump in the throat. Others deal with hard themes that Abercombie handles deftly, even when there seems to be little plot driving the action. ‘A Beautiful Bastard’ is the sort of story that Scott Fitzgerald might have written, if he had tried his hand at swords and sorcery.

Overall, the best fantasy collection it’s been my pleasure to read in many years.

Sebastian Phillips

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