The Heroes review

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Joe Abercrombie has signed a deal for a new trilogy and a standalone novel, all set in the First Law universe. While waiting for this new trilogy that will probably place Bayaz and Khalul face to face, Joe granted the gritty fantasy lovers crowd with another standalone novel featuring the northern part of his world, new characters and some returning names. The Heroes is the fifth book written by the blazingly shameless author. Here's what we're looking at.

In the valley of Osrung sit The Heroes, statues of northern figures of the past. On that hill sits Hardbread, one of the Dogman's men. But he won't hold the hill for long, not when Curnden Craw and his dozen, on behalf of Black Dow are set on taking it back. No sooner, that hill will become the central point in a three day fight for The Union against their northern recalcitrant neighbors. In the mist of it all, one man is trying to prove to the world that he can be redeemed for his mistakes in far away Sipani and take back his position guarding the King. Facing him will be Prince Calder, Bethod's son, waiting in line for the succession of the North but scheming behind Dow's back.

The Heroes is one hell of a ride. A fast one you might say since it covers only three days of battling action, but every aspect of this struggle makes it a rough emotional hardship punctuated with laughter and manly bravado. Hence, the dragging sections slowing the pace a bit in Abercrombie's previous work (BSC) are not to be found. The days flow by without being repetitive. At the end of a day of fighting, there's plenty of talk to be had about the lost ones, the strategy and each faction internal conflicts. No rest for the wicked.

Character wise, the sole problem I had with Best Served Cold was the difficulty to read about protagonists who I couldn't completely connect with for a substantial part of the tale (in Monza's and Shivers' case, but I was still compelled to follow assiduously their adventures). Then, with The Heroes, that difficulty didn't present itself to me. The three main PoV and all the secondary people we follow are a better match for empathy. However, in Abercrombie's case, empathy with his characters cannot be seen under the same light as with many other authors. This is again a bunch of brutal antiheroes, men and women driven to present their carnal persona when it can make them crumble info fear or rise to the status of implacable heroes.

As for the most prominent PoV, we got a sick case of a violent suicidal devoted knight, one of the last straight edge leader of a dozen of bad ass named men and a cowardly cunning Prince in search of a throne. Let's start with Bremer Dan Gorst. We have seen him in the First Law and glimpsed his misadventure in Best Served Cold. The former Knight of the Body of his Majesty Jezal is in need of glory. However for the child-voiced neck-less brute, being a hero is charging through the mass to violently kill everything in his path. Bremer narrative if full of gritty and pervert reflections. Being surrounded by a crowd of incompetent military leaders, he will have to take matters horrifically in his own hands. A character like Bremer is fascinating but you can't really love him, so when his love life falls flat I was both satisfied and feeling pity for the guy.

Curnden Craw and his crew are the bunch I wanted to root for. Even though they can be considered on the bad side of things if you envisage the civility of the Union, masterminded by a cruel wizard, to be the good guys. Anyway, as with Bremer being probably blacker that Dow himself when on the battlefield, the line between good guys or bad guys is not only blurred, it's not even there. Craw leads a curious dozen, counting among the numbers the holder of the wicked Father of Swords no less. The Chief only wants to keep his crew alive and is the reasoning spirit of the gang. I felt a great pride and pain for this fatherly loyal fellow.

Prince Calder comes as a surprise. He's not anymore the cruel spoiled son of Bethod we glimpsed in the First Law trilogy. He has grown up and found love. But being hesitant to draw his sword doesn't mean that he can't struggle his way dangerously toward the top. Another great aspect of human outlook toward the duty of subordinate soldiers. Along with many other would be heroes or Union leaders, we get a nice tableau filled with a whole landscape of personal reactions toward war. Even though the novel is presented with its healthy paradoxal dose of humor and gory scenes (one of them about a chain of PoV switches from dying combatants), that's not the main point I'll retain from this tale although it adds a nice layer of entertainment. It will be the lifelong experience lived by the characters.

Then there's Corporal Tunny. Even though the novel hardly needed a comic relief with all the cracks Abercrombie wrote throughout the book for almost every character, Mr. Tunny shines brightly. The veteran of the First Union regiment is surrounded by new recruits to whom he will try to teach the soldier trade in some peculiar way. I don't remember the last time I read a novel when I grinned that much. Joe's skilled prose is full of witty comments, dubious situations and cunning surprises.

Let's talk a bit about the setting. The valley came alive through the eyes of the would be heroes. This is a great representation of success in term of world-building. Without even noticing it, I was always able to picture the site of the battle quite easily. Blending the details of the surroundings in this kind of narrative is a feat. Also, Abercrombie's unique social representation of his northmen, you feel at home right at the start of the novel. By the way, I really liked the detail of putting the map of the valley with the armies positions between each day (I like maps a lot). Magic wise, we're almost at rest but the mysticism presented before is still present in small occurrences though not really connected with the North.

For those of you looking ahead to cameos, you could be disappointed, as I was in a way. There's a good dose of friendly faces (not sure the "friend" label can be applied to all of them...) but it's mostly the newcomers who shine. Much of them will become characters I will hope to see in future books by the author.

In conclusion, don't forget that it's a novel by Joe Abercrombie. If you don't like realistic descriptions of bloody warfare creating a lot of gore, dirty talk and moral ambiguity in a fascinating tale about a dubiously necessary battle fought by would-be heroes who come short of their goals, don't pick the book but realize that you're missing something. In this unforgiving story, you're not only getting juicy meat on the bone but also a nice layer of tasty fat!

Technically, The Heroes is encased in a sleekly-looking stylish cover, in a mapping and bloody kind of way! The start of each part (day) of the book is supplemented with Joe chapter-starting trademark, delightful real world quotes. I already mentioned the map but it can also be seen the web here. The hardcover Gollancz edition stands at 498 pages.

The Heroes review score :

Characterization............. 10 /10
World building............... 9.5 / 10
Magic system................. 8 /10
Story.............................. 9.5/ 10
Writing........................... 9.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 9.5 / 10


Joe Abercrombie page
Best Served Cold review


Adam said...

You forgot to mention Beck and Finree, they are both equally important as Tunny.

Reliable dependable House Cleaning Seattle Services said...

I love the raw realism of this book. He paints a vivid picture of the battle scenes that simple hook you and keep you hooked.

Gambar Rumah Idaman Masa Kini said...

Wow, awesome weblog structure! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you made running a blog look easy. The whole look of your web site is fantastic, let alone the content material!

Visit my site for Alaska Fishing Lodge Sitka said...

There is a theme here (the nature of heroism), but it's not heavy handed and adds some emotional depth to the story. I even had a tear in my eye at one point. But mostly the book struck me as honest, funny, touching, and vastly entertaining.

Marlene Detierro said...

This one has been on my To-Be-Read pile for a long time. In an effort to clean out some of my older books I finally got around to reading it.

PicCell Wireless

Anonymous said...

This was my introduction to Abercrombie, and so far the only book I have read (stumbled on this review trying to figure out the author's name based only on vague plot details I remembered). Had no idea this was a stand-alone addition to an existing world, I just assumed it was a one-off, putting a sort of ultra-realism against fantasy "Empire vs Barbarians" archetype. It's kind of strange learning characters like Black Dow and in particular dan Gorst were pre-existing and actually much changed by the time of The Heroes. This is one of the best war novels I've ever read, and now that I know the guy's name I plan on reading his other books.

a Fantasy Reader All rights reserved © Blog Milk - Powered by Blogger