Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Normally I like to start reviews with a list of adjective with which to describe the work I'm reviewing. It gives me a chance to string together wordw which might not otherwise make any sense together, then forget about them and leave the you trying to figure out what moment of a book might reasonably be called say, 'disgustingly erotic' or whatever it is I've decided to put to screen. In The Heroes cas, I am going to say one word: wile.

Vile in the best way possible of course; vile characters, vile setting and vile story; but what would you expect from a war story? If you expect heroes, then The Heroes is not the book for you. It's a story of cowards, of old-men, young boys, power hungry fools and anger. Most books hide their themese behind a pretty word and beatiful turn of phrase. Abercrombie presents to you a banquet of horror and suspense, garnished with disembowelment and an almost feverish dislike of his main characters. He's often compared to George R.R Martin in that he's more than happy to drag fantasy cliches down into the mud and beat them bloody. But to my mind he's much more cruel. Martin will happily kill a character, perhaps put him or her, through the emotional wringer but Abercrombie? It's a veritable parade of indignities and paon for everyone involved and it is fucking brilliant.

This is of course difficult to back up; in the past I've happily written that 'grim and gritty' fantasy isn't always my thing. So here's the cahnce to say which part of its: that fantasy where cliches are torn down ruthlessly with great writing.

Let's start with the second point: writing is very subjective, but Abercrombie manages to write interestingly, if not poetically, and move the plot along at a blistering pace, developing characters and making you fall for them. A strain of black humour helps as well. To the first point the characters of this book are flawed yet manage to fit neatly into conventional archetypes before they blow them apart and make them their own. The disgraced soldier searching for redemption is much darker than he first appears. The older warrior tired of war is as honest as he appears but also tricking himself. The traiterous bastard is...well a traiterous bastard. But the writing comes in and carries him and the other characters along, you can sympaphise with them, cheer for them, and when you want to curse them you realise that you really want to curse them. Turning villains into heroes is, if not easy, then popular, but heroes into villains? Much more interesting, even though no one is a hero.

There are problems; most of which become apparent near the end, when you discover the deeper meaning to everyones actions. Sadly this connection is far too similar to the ending of Joe Abercombies 'The First Law' trilogy. It feels more like laziness than any sort of homage or sly wink, and while the previous book – 'Best Served Cold' had an ending that managed to tie darkness with a real sense of relief, here it's a bit too dark. Impressive in the original trilogy, often moving into depressing here. A twist would be for characters to not go away worse off than they had been before, though some do get to change their lot, they're too minor (for the time being) to be of much interest. There's also the fact that you must have read the other books by Abercombie to get what is going on. He does a good job of making it stand-alone, but it's not good enough and if you didn't like the previous books then your unlikely to find anything of interest here. If you did like those books, this is probably far too late for you. If you like the sound of this book, read the others, they'll either make you puke or cheer, or puke and cheer.

Finally it must be said that this is the book that made me stay up until 4 in the morning on a work night reading it. I think that's reccomendation enough.

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