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4.0 out of 5 stars DISTILLED ABERCROMBIE, 25 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Heroes: Three men. One battle. No Heroes. (Kindle Edition)
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!
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