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This review is from: Red Country (First Law World 3) (Paperback)
I've been wanting to read this book for over a year, patiently waiting for it to arrive in paperback. It got to the point where I considered the Kindle version, but his books have these wonderfully tactile covers that I feel like it would be a crime to not read the physical book. So I've waited and waited. And for the third book in succession Joe Abercrombie has entertained, thrilled and enthralled me from the first page to the last.
Where Best Served Cold was his version of a revenge thriller, and The Heroes his war story, Red Country is his - I have to say - loving tribute to the Western. The story starts as Shy South and her surrogate father, Lamb, return to their farm after a trip to the town of Squaredeal to sell their produce, only to find their home razed to the ground, old farmhand Gully hanging from a tree, and her young brother and sister gone. Shocked, scared and furious, they set off in pursuit, off into the west where the gold rush beckons and people head to make new lives despite the constant threat from the savage Ghosts.
I think it's probably fair to say that unless you're a fan of Hollywood's once-dominant film genre, Red Country might not have the same effect on you as it has had on me. The atmosphere and knowing nods to Western movies from the 40s through to the 70s and onward positively drip from the pages. So many of the cliches of that genre are taken here by Abercrombie, turned inside out and plonked down in his fantasy world. From the wagon trains being circled to hold off an attack by axe and bow wielding natives, to stampedes, to the siege as two outlaws try to hold off an army, to the shoot out in a dusty street, it's all here and more. The influences are many, the most obvious being John Ford's magnificent The Searchers, some hints of Rio Bravo and The Wild Bunch, a dash of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a sprinkling of Eastwood's 'Man With No Name', and a whole heap of the brilliant HBO tv show Deadwood - it's a positive treasure trove of iconic moments.
As usual, he doesn't skimp on the characters either, and he has a particularly strong bunch here, all of whom are trying to escape their murky pasts in one way or another. From Shy and Lamb through Temple and Cosca and on to the ageing scout Dab Sweet and the mysterious Savian, he eeks out detail and relationships with that rare and assured touch that has become so apparent in his writing. Nervous ticks or monosyllabic answers are capable of conveying everything a character is feeling. Possibly my favourite relationship in the book was that between Lamb and Savian - and they barely say a word to each other! Beyond that, the dialogue is just about perfect, so much so that you can almost hear it drawling from the lips of John Wayne or Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood, and it is so funny at times - laugh out loud kind of funny. Plus he writes some of the best action scenes: the ones in this book took my breath away at times, they are so exciting, and terrifying, too. The scene during the storm is so vivid. Real 'big screen' writing, if you like.
I thought the pacing was just about spot on. I never once felt that it was dragging, and even had to force myself to slow down and drink it all in, because I didn't want it to finish too soon. As I turned the last page and read the final paragraphs it was with the goosebumps you get when you feel that something is just *right*.
In the end, though, one question did arise: if Joe could capture the Western vibe so perfectly in a fantasy setting, why not just write a Western? Suddenly, characters from his previous books were speaking in the aforementioned Western drawl - something which they didn't have prior to now - and it was impossible not to imagine them all wearing Stetsons and packing six-shooters (there are no guns in Joe's First Law world, yet he somehow still manages to give that impression). I also have to wonder if anyone who's never enjoyed the Western genre will see what all my fuss is about.
For me, though, Red Country is an absolute joy. At the moment Joe Abercrombie can do no wrong in my books. He may lack Erikson's inventiveness or Martin's publicity, but he is a damn fine teller of stories. I believe he's working on a Young Adult trilogy next. I can't wait.
`What are you going to do?' whispered Temple.
`There was a time I'd have gone charging over there without a thought for the costs and got bloody.' Lamb lifted the glass and looked at it for a moment. `But my father always said patience is the king of virtues. A man has to be realistic. Has to be.'
`So what are you going to do?'
`Wait. Think. Prepare.' Lamb swallowed the last measure and bared his teeth at the glass. `Then get bloody.'