Joe Abercrombie has become one of the UK's top fantasy writers after only 5 books. Many suggest he is similar to David Gemmell which I would not agree with, Gemmell's characters had a nobility and sense of right about them, Abercrombie's are lacking in a sense of nobility and justice and have the whole range of emotions and traits including many that are not at all nice.
So while Abercrombie does play in the Gemmell's genre of fantasy with swords and occasional sorcery, Abercrombie is strong on rich and often deliciously self serving characters spun into a violent and unforgiving world. His first three books, the First Law trilogy were a joy, followed up by a standalone novel set in the same world.
The Heroes is his fifth novel and it is an ambitious and unique take on the traditional fantasy battle story. The Heroes as a title is a clever sleight of hand - it refers to a circle of rocks on a hill, not any set of characters involved in the story. The Heroes are the central strategic goal for two opposing armies, The Union and the North and we see a battle over three days from the perspective of many of the participants. Abercrombie is making a few points here and turns the traditional fantasy battle on its blooded head, here there is no great evil to defeat or bigger picture, it's all a bit pointless. The loss of life for a small bit of ground was much like the trench warfare of WW1 with equally poor judgement and waste of life. There are no good guys or bad guys in this, just two opposing forces being slaughtered for nothing more than a pile of rocks. Wrapped in this mess we have a variety of strong and interesting characters and Abercrombie's trademark dialogue and banter.
It takes a while to get used to the vast cast but the effort is rewarded with a strong reminder as to how good a writer Joe Abercrombie is. Not for the fainthearted or those offended by earthy language though!