Before They Are Hanged - Joe Abercrombie
No, I couldn't wait; this beat off the competition and jumped to the top of the stack. And a fine book it is too; a very worthy sequel to The Blade Itself with some much more assured writing and continued character development, it was a hard one to put down.
The plot divides up into three strands, followed by our various viewpoint characters. The army is off to fight Bethod in the North, Glokta has been sent south to oversee a siege, and the wizard Bayaz has taken his companions off on a quest somewhere else. By itself, this sounds extremely cheesy, but I found myself much more interested in how the characters interacted than what they were actually doing. That made a world of difference - the outcome of the quest seemed much less important than how the travellers had developed en route.
As ever, Glokta stole the show, with the odd bit of compassion seeping into his venemously cynical demeanour. His chapters involved the most political intrigue, with help, hindrance and betrayal coming from unexpected quarters. Logan Ninefingers remains as personable as ever, and even Jezal gets a bit nicer, but the real surprise here is the development of West - previously a rather dull side character, he gets decently fleshed out as the hard-pressed commander of the Angland forces, having to deal with feuding generals, a pampered prince and the bitter northern war. With all the characters, I ended up wishing each of their chapters was longer.
The quality of the writing is noticeably improved from Book 1; the story has great pace and the characters' actions seem much more internally consistent. Some heavy hints have been dropped about where the story is going, but I wouldn't put it past Abercrombie to pull the rug out at the last minute, especially if the ending of this book is anything to go by. Now I just have to wait until the final volume is published... (checks watch, taps fingers...)