“Best Served Cold” was my favourite read of 2011. I loved the “First Law Trilogy” as well. When Joe Abercrombie announced a date for his sixth book “Red Country” to be released, I knew it was time to dive back into his books. “Heroes” has been labelled his strongest book. It is an understatement to say I am was looking forward to it.
They say Black Dow's killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they've brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he's far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it's his own. Prince Calder isn't interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he'll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn't have to fight for it himself. Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him? Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail. Three men. One battle. No Heroes.
In reading fantasy books I have firm preferences on the style of book I like. I love books that focus on the characters first and foremost and how they interact. I am not so keen on books that are based on tons and tons of action with no substance. The “Heroes” has a lot of both.
After the first chapter I had a huge grin on my face. Just being back immersed in the world the Joe Abercrombie creates is extremely satisfying. Lots of people describe Joe’s books as “dark and gritty” they are that, but they are also very funny in places.
The banter that fires back and forth between his characters is second to none. His characters are cool without even trying to be. They are just normal warriors, disillusioned with war. They do not have any conviction in the cause they are fighting for, just that they are required to fight.
Not a lot happens for the first third of the novel, but to me that didn’t matter in the slightest. I can count on one hand the number of authors that could have two characters locked in a room just talking back and forth and I would lap it up. Stephen King is one, but I think Joe Abercrombie tops the list. There were a couple of real laugh out loud moments in this book and I use that phrase sparingly, as I don’t often experience that emotion when reading.
Every character that gets a point of view is enjoyable to read. Calder is a fantastic creation, it is nice to see a character that is a genuine coward but also has a backbone. Gorst is also far more than a bitter observer of the war, being hilariously in love one minute and ferocious the next.
My favourite of the main characters has to be Curnden Craw. Instilled with a huge sense of honour, Craw is determined to do the right thing even though he is not always sure what that might be. His dozen are soldiers that you care about, with Wonderful and Whirrun being standouts.
But it is not just the main characters that excel in “the Heroes.” A sign of a good novel is when the minor characters stay with you as well. Tunny, Beck and Forest certainly do that and old favourites such as Shivers and Black Dow are also as delicious to read as ever.
Essentially though, this book is about war. That means there is are a lot of action and fight sequences contained within. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to say this book the exception to my aversion to action set pieces. The battles are well described and are told from individual’s perspective, so you really get the sense that the character you are reading about is developing as they fight.
It is not perfect, there is one chapter where the battle is described in short paragraphs by unknown characters. After a while I found this slightly tedious and wanted to get back to the characters I had been reading about. This was only because Abercrombie made the characters so dam enjoyable.
Overall, I loved this book. It pushes Joe Abercrombie up into the upper echelon of my favourite authors. Red Country is due out in a few months time and I can’t think of a book I am more looking forward too.
My rating 9.1