on 24 October 2012
My hopes are high for Joe's new work, Red Country. However, for now The Heroes is the best novel by Joe that I've read. And it's one of the best novels I've ever read.
As a reader it's easy to skim through a novel for the story, but slow down and you'll see real talent here. The way Joe writes dialogue, the way he incorporates ironic asides, the way he makes action seem frenetic - it's all done to perfection.
Joe's gift for humour is a major selling point, as ever. It's a laugh out loud read, over and over again. But there's something profound here too. This novel doesn't set out to preach, but it does expose the truth about war. It shows armies fighting for the sake of a few lines on a map, and it shows how utterly futile that is.
Finally, I'm writing this after attending one of the dates in Joe's 2012 book tour. As well as being the most exciting author in fantasy fiction at the moment he is always a great guy.
on 2 June 2012
The valley of Osrung is the gateway to the North. At the centre of the valley is a steep hill, a rocky outcrop upon which a weather-beaten circle of stones known as The Heroes look down on their surroundings.
Black Dow and his Named Men, his Carls and their Thralls have been repeatedly scoring victories picking off Union forces in small hit-and-run skirmishes. The Union under the leadership of Marshal Kroy seek to draw Black Dow into a decisive confrontation and force his hand by marching on Osrung.
Over the next three days The Heroes will be at the centre of a bloody conflict, standing impassive over a vignette of barbaric slaughter for reasons meaningless to most of the men doing the fighting. The Heroes become the focus of the hopes and fears of those men at the sharp end - the competent, the inept, the reluctant, the psychotic and the scared.
The Heroes is the fifth novel by Joe Abercrombie, following on from the The First Law trilogy and the stand-alone novel Best Served Cold. The Heroes is another stand-alone novel but you will get more out of it if you've read the earlier books in the series as many of the characters have featured before.
The book deals with a number of themes in Abercrombie's typically bleak and cynical style, garnished with lashings of blacker than black humour. It muses on the nature and reality of heroism, the futility of war and the stark realisation that win or lose, the actual men swinging the swords will benefit the least from either outcome. The notion that the battle may little more than spill-over from the feud between Bayaz and Khalul is also suggested, serving to render the sacrifice even more pointless.
Whilst a good number of the characters are veterans of the first four books, Abercrombie introduces a number of new characters. For me, the most memorable was the young Beck - the son of a famous (but dead) Named Man that wants to prove himself in battle, oblivious to the harsh reality and confusion that is to come. His initial desire to earn a reputation as a Named Man is thrown into stark contrast by the bleak reality, a darkly ironic coming of age tinged with melancholy.
The other new characters include Finree dan Brock, the ambitious and capable wife of a Union Officer with a talent for exploiting opportunities to help her husband climb the political ladder; Curnden Craw, the amiable and world-weary leader of a small band of Named Men on the brink of retirement. The camaraderie of his Named Men is wonderfully rendered; the group discussion with Cracknut Whirrun trying to explain the earning of his Name had me in tears of laughter. Corporal Tunny is less well served by the narrative, feeling somewhat underused. I'd like to see more of him, as his ruthless practicality and casual attitude to property was quite amusing, with him shamelessly exploiting every instance to line his pockets.
The other POV characters are individuals we met in the first four books. Caul Shivers is back in the North after his fateful trip to Styria in Best Served Cold, large as life and twice as ugly. The craven Prince Calder is quite a revelation, beautifully fleshed out from his stock villain origins in The First Law, stuck between a rock and a hard place and scheming for his life. Despite his many flaws, his devotion to his wife and his brother make him immensely likeable. Bremer dan Gorst is back but in reduced circumstances, removed from the King's Guard after that incident in Cardotti's House of Leisure and determined to prove himself in battle - his only problem is he's the Royal Observer and instructed not to fight. Gorst is a fantastic creation. On the battlefield he's probably the closest thing to a Hero in the book - a veritable tide-turning killing machine, yet his internal monologues show us he's probably the most f**ked-up individual in The First Law world to date, which takes some doing. Black Dow gets some time in the spotlight, his rule undermined somewhat by rumours over the fate of the usurped Logen Ninefingers.
Speaking of Logen Ninefingers, the Bloody Nine casts a very long shadow in this book. The menace of his reputation is almost palpable as he is spoken of in hushed tones around camp fires, leaving us hungry for his next appearance (which should be in Red Country this October).
The battle scenes are excellent. The flowing `chain-of-death' POV shifts scenes along at a cracking pace, with POV jumping to that of the killer as the fatal blow is struck. It isn't an overused device but it does portray the frantic and rapidly shifting nature of the front line very well indeed.
The Heroes (*****) is a tour de force by an author at the top of his game. Admittedly, if the grimdark sub-genre doesn't appeal you won't like it but everyone else can spend some quality time with their fellow troops, shivering in the rain, waiting for the battle to commence.
on 22 May 2012
It's some time since I read this book. I wasn't drawn to the cover, I didn't read the jacket; I bought it because Joe Abercrombie wrote it. He happens to be the author of the only book I have ever read twice, and I think it's fair to say, whatever it is about fantasy fiction that appeals to me Joe Abercrombie ticks all the boxes.
This book contrasts to his previous work; it is in simple terms the interwoven threads of various characters who find themselves at the same place at the same time involved in the same battle. Not necessarily on the same side. Personally I had not previously read a book written in this way, although I have read countless books in many genres. As a result I found the story lines compelling and the overall effect a triumph. At the end of the story, I was astonished that Joe had pulled all the threads back together and despite the epic task had somehow created a beginning, middle and an end. As reviews are a personal thing, I would personally recommend this to anyone who likes the genre. You don't have to have read any of his books before as this is a standalone volume set in the world he has so beautifully crafted and inhabited by characters who move the plot.
As the battle and story takes place over such a few days from start to end, I feel criticism that there was limited character development by other reviewers is irrelevant. The story develops and the characters are the vehicles which move the action. There are heroes and villains, moments to cheer and moments of sadness, most notably when I realised I had read Mr Abercrombie's latest book and would have to wait for him to write the next.
If you like a damn good plot, from an unusual perspective, I highly recommend this novel.
The reader returns to the land of the First Law trilogy at a crucial point in the battle for the north. It's brutal, it's definitely bloody and it's got a body count that would have not have frightened any Medieval general.
It's definitely a title that will sate the reader who loves a solid fantasy, the characters are vivid and Joe's comprehension of battlefield humour really shines through. Add to this some cracking prose, some spartanesque descriptive style and not a single word is wasted in this epic struggle. The fate of the north may not be completely writ but Joe has got one hell of a struggle on his hands as his talent improves with each successive title. A seriously good read and one that will hopefully garner the respect as well as reader time that it deserves.
on 25 December 2013
If you're a Joe Abercrombie fan, and I am, then this novel doesn't disappoint. Read any group of reviews about JA's books and they wax lyrical about the interesting depth of the characters, the bloodthirsty gore in the action sequences and the dark edges to all of the stories. Well, it's as though JA has listened and then written a book that consists of little else but those elements.
In 'The Heroes', all of the characters are larger than life yet have a surprising depth and humanity that sometimes takes a while to emerge. And if you wriggle with pleasure at darkness, then this delivers in full measure. The bad guys have a soft side, the good guys are evil; people die for no reason at all and, for sure, there's no sense of good triumphing over evil because there is no 'good'.
The battle scenes are lengthy and unrelenting in their brutality and described in uncompromising detail. Glory is a word to be sneered at. There is a real sense of truth here; it's pain and fear with no logic or sense at all and nothing is clear except a bowel weakening panic to stay alive.
There is an overriding plot but it is weaker here than in Abercrombie's earlier books although I do like the fact that several of the characters have appeared in earlier books. It is perfectly possible to read this as a stand alone novel but, as is so often the case, it is improved if you understand the references to events in other novels.
JA has introduced a new device in this outing that I really like. The story follows one character until something happens to him (and it is, mainly, a 'him') and then the next section picks up with a character that has done the thing or is on the scene. For example, one character is killed and the next section begins with his killer stood over him and then follows that character. Mr Abercrombie's writing style always draws the reader right into the action but this new device is even more effective; more please!
So why not a fifth star? Do you remember when Bassett's Allsorts and Cadbury's Roses were a mixture of sweets and you thought "I wish there were more liquorice sticks or hazelnut whirls!"? And then the manufacturers brought out packets of just liquorice sticks or just hazelnut whirls. But you soon found that it wasn't as good as you'd imagined; it was a bit boring. Or when you love vanilla and are sure that you would like to drink vanilla essence straight from the bottle. Until you try it. Well this book is like that. It is a distillation of the best of Abercrombie but, for me, that spoils it a little. I became jaded. After the first three or four huge battle scenes, I was thinking "Oh right, here's yet another battle scene". When one character reveals his flaw, I was intrigued, but when it is revealed again, and then again and then...., well I thought "Yeah, OK, I get it, don't tell me again". There were two plot elements that disappointed me a bit. Firstly, one of the fairly minor female characters simply disappears from the plot when there remained lots of potential drama in her predicament. Secondly, the main, pivotal, event towards the end of the story was too clumsily telegraphed; I saw it coming pages and pages earlier and anyone familiar with the character known as 'The Hound' in George RR Martin's Ice & Fire series would too.
Like most of Joe Abercrombie's books, this is just a shade too long. It isn't the pace that is at fault; it moves from one murder to the next with breath taking speed, it could just have done with that bit of tightening. So I reserve a star.
Half of my review is criticism yet that is an unfair reflection on the quality of this book. Joe Abercrombie is, in my opinion, one of the best authors of this genre that exists and 'The Heroes' is a brilliant example of his work. I enjoyed it immensely and would commend it to anyone. You don't have to be a hero to thrill to this book!
In essence the book is a follow-on to the author's by now extensive series of fantasy novels that kicked off with the 'The First Law' trilogy (f.i. The Blade Itself: Book One Of The First Law (Gollancz S.F.)). Yet at the same time it is so much more than that.
The book spans a couple of days and in essence revolves around a fairly monumental battle over what is in effect a no-man's land in the North. The Union covets it, the North feels obliged to defend and copious amounts of blood are shed over it (on both sides).
To those who have followed the series the characters will be familiar but even someone who picks up this book not knowing of all the previous ones will be able to enjoy (almost) equally well.
The story behind the story - namely what drives mankind to war, what drives it during and why war keeps persisting even in cases, where after a cold rational assessment it benefits no one - is what is really so great about the book.
Still, this is no dry treatise on the subject - people familiar with the author will know he does not do dry - but an action packed, page turning fantasy novel (with the fantasy part being relatively light, in keeping with something George RR Martin would produce (i.e. A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1))). The language is decidedly vivid and not necessarily something you might an early teen child to read and the violence is certainly both graphic and ever present.
In a way all of this works together excellently in driving the point of the futility, and at the same time appeal of war deeper.
Overall an excellent (fictional) book on war, in my opinion up there with something like Matterhorn,The Centurions or Cross of Iron (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS).
on 19 March 2013
A standalone novel within Joe Abercrombie's First Law world. I've not read any other book in the First Law world but still found Heroes easy to follow. While the book is certainly long, it's by no means slow as it flows nicely.
The book is set in a fictional realm, during a conflict between The North and The Union. There are no good and bad guys in this story, just the highs and lows of war for both sides. While the book's synopsis focuses on three main characters; Craw, Calder and Bremer Dan Gorst, there are actually numerous characters that have POV chapters. Even so, all the characters feel necessary as you become so emotionally involved.
There are obviously fighting scenes which provide plenty of tension. When a POV character is killed, Abercrombie cleverly continues the battle through a new POV, its very refreshing and enables you to embrace the full extent of action. You really don't want to put the book down at these points. For the majority of the book though, the story follows various story lines between the battles, these provide intrigue and suspense, which are a nice alternative to the thrilling fight scenes. By the end of the book, you're left fully satisfied and hoping Abercrombie continues the story in a new novel.
On a side note, the character index at the beginning, really helps to fit each person into context. There are 3 battle maps throughout the book from recollection, which also assists you in visualising the setting.
If I was nitpicking or being picky, I would have liked firstly a world map, but secondly and more importantly more of an explanation of the background and history of two characters; Bremer Dan Gorst and Black Dow's Witch. But as I say, that's if you're being picky.
All in all a very pleasing book.
5 out of 5 stars.
on 4 January 2013
This is grim, gritty and all too human fantasy, written by a total master. The book covers 3 (or so) days within a pointless battle, and I cannot think of how it could be improved upon, or who could (ever) do a better job with that brief. It feels like a perfect exercise in demonstrating how human and unheroic our heroes often can be, and a faultless demonstration of just how darned good Joe Abercombie is as a fantasy author. I am in awe (as you can probably tell).
The characters are slightly exaggerated and larger than life (think Viking heroes versus, I dunno, slightly inept Norman knights modelled on Blackadder Goes Fourth military leadership), but they all, without obvious exception, have failings and character flaws which Abercrombie demonstrates, exploits and weaves with aplomb. Just when there is a character who you have a measure of respect or sympathy or feelings for, a bit more of their character is revealed and you have to re-evaluate them and they shift up or down a notch or two in your estimation. They aren't quite so brave, or heroic, or honourable, or loyal or simple as you thought. As you were led to believe. And just when you think things are going particularly badly for a character, there is a ray of light, a lucky break or a unexpected change in fortunes. But not always. Not so you the reader can get to depend on it. The final clashes and final get-togethers and final rescues and final answers don't happen. Many questions are left unanswered. And the ending isn't neatly and tritely all tied up. Just like the beginning isn't. Someone this good doesn't need to do that, and doesn't try to do that.
In all, an excellent, excellent book that I will definitely come back to and avidly re-read another day.
on 31 March 2012
Joe Abercrombie writes Fantasy tales for grown ups, his fights are brutal and so are his characters. No punches pulled here. This book like all of his others has intrigue, violence, humour and violence but I am not doing it justice really. The characters are not 2 dimensional he pulls you into thier lives and dreams lets you explore what makes them tick and inbetween throws in a story to bind them all together.
With his 5th book he has established himself as the leading talent in British Fantasy maybe even the World. While other Fantasy authors are getting bogged down with their main leads he seems willing to kill his off or move the story in a direction where they are not involved.
I would recommend you read the first law triology before this book, if only so you can discover his other great characters, but also because you will miss a lot of background about some of the leads in this story.
Only downside I have and it is a minor point is that for me he overstates the stupidness of war and a number of times says that nothing really changes and that war is just the prelude to peace. All good and valid points and if I am honest most inteligent readers would get that point without it being said, but maybe its all part of the character development and the reasons will become clear in future books.
If you like intelligent and grown up Fantasy then buy this book and his others you will not be disappointed. How often can you say money well spent these days. Well with this tale you can. BUY IT!!!
on 17 October 2011
War is hell, and if you needed any more proof, then try reading Joe Abercrombie's latest low fantasy offering `The Heroes', a tale about anything but heroes. Set over three blood soaked days, the Union army and the armies of the North fight over the same piece of land. Who will come out of the battles victorious, when so many men have to die aren't we all losers?
Abercrombie is without doubt one of the best fantasy authors of the modern era, I rate `Best Served Cold' as one of the greatest books of the past 10 years. He deals in the dark side of human nature and just happens to set his books in a fictionalised fantasy world. If his previous books were dark, `The Heroes' is positively pitch black. During the battles themselves you follow individuals and their hopes and dreams. In most cases these hopes stop on the end of a spear, or cleaved in two. One memorable sequence has you following man after man as they fight and then die, only to follow the killer and see their fate. This is incredibly powerful stuff and although the book is fictionalised fantasy, it does hark back to memories of the WW1 war of attrition.
Within this melee of death, a few noticeable characters appear. Abercrombie continues his fantastic technique of taking lesser characters from his earlier books and bringing them to the fore, whilst moving the likes of Carl Shivers to the side again. This is the best of both worlds as some of your favourites still appear, but the world is also expanded. There is a slight issue that Abercrombie has created no one to like. The most compelling characters are murderers, selfish and borderline insane. By adding the morally bankrupt characters to the oppressive nature of war, the book is unrelenting at times. The three day structure is also restrictive as the epic events that filled his previous novels are removed in favour of one extended and bloody conflict
`Heroes' is excellently written, yet remains one of Abercrombie's most confused novels. However, even his worse work beats most fantasy novels.