The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
Review by Jacqui Slaney
As I mentioned recently in my review on 'Red Country', I am a big fan of this author but due to a huge backlog in books, I was forced to leave these two sitting on a shelf until I caught up with some of my reading, and then gave in and read these.
This is the description:
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 have 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 is far past caring how much blood is spilled in the attempt. Even if it is his, own. Prince Calder is not interested in honour, and still less in getting, himself killed. All he wants is power, and he will tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he does not 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.Every book that I read of Abercrombie soon becomes my favourite and this is no exception. The writing is clever and you find yourself immersed in the story very quickly.
The title of the book actually refers to the piece of ground that is being fought for, a group of standing stones, which are in the middle of nowhere but end up being the essential piece of land that each army has to win and then hold.
The strength of the book as always is in the characters. Here you meet characters from previous novels such as Dogman, but also numerous new ones. Never do these become mixed or confusing for the reader, which is a very good talent in a writer. The strong interesting characterisation though is not just kept for the main ones, the supporting cast is good as well, which is rare in many fantasy novels, where the secondary characters can be just names or at least very shallow. In this novel, they have a life and back-stories of their own such as Tunny for example who I liked and the Northman Shivers who is very creepy.
This is a story about war, but there is nothing brave or glorious about this one. The author shows that some battles are quite futile and all you get out of them is people dying in the mud for no real purpose. There is no one side that you are supposed to cheer for, no good or bad armies, there is no evil mastermind that has to be beaten; this is just a battle with excellent characters on both sides.
This is not a non-stop action book, there are periods where there is no real action, but at no time is the reader allowed to be bored or to find the story tedious.
For those readers who like heroic characters and flowing speeches in a book, then this one is probably not for you. Here there is swearing, quite a lot of blood, brutal fights and characters who do what they do to survive, and there is humour admittedly dark, but there is a strong thread running through the story.
However, if you like real characters, excellent writing and a book that you can lose yourself in then this is definitely for you, I enjoyed this book right from the start and I can definitely recommend it.
10 out of 10