07 February, 2011

Review: The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie

The Heroes [US ][UK] will disappoint the genre reader who yearns for contests of magic, or any magic at all for that matter. And yet, Joe Abercrombie’s 4th novel is a masterfully written smash and bash, and bash again, adventure that rides the fine line between fantasy and historical fiction. Replete with his trademark irony and cynicism, The Heroes gives readers the gritty edge of combat in a tight, almost cinematic focus.

The Heroes is a departure from Best Served Cold, in a fairly minor sense, in the way it treats its protagonists. No longer solely motivated by revenge, our new heroes are instead on quest for redemption. Leave it to Mr. Abercrombie to make that pill just as bitter as all the others his protagonists invariably swallow on a daily basis.

The plot unfolds along sword edges and shield tips. The physical elements of combat become a highly effective method for transitioning from one point of view to the next. That one character, that you just happened to have formed a liking for in the last chapter, well, he now has a sword deeply embedded in his head. Queue point of view switch to the villain now holding the sword, who it turns out isn’t that bad of a guy after all. He was just trying to save his friend!

The banality of war plays a prominent role in Mr. Abercrombie’s narrative, exposing the political machinations that lead to ‘inevitable’ conflicts that can and should have been avoided. The most absurd part of the whole novel is that only a handful of people actually know why they are fighting and what they are fighting for. A metaphor for the current geopolitical reality? I will let you decide.

With enough bleakness to serve a tavern full of hungry soldiers The Heroes also has a number of high and excruciatingly violent moments. Combat after all, is not neat and tidy, and Abercrombie loves to drive this point home, again and again.

Taken in its entirety, The Heroes is a marvelous novel that demonstrates Mr. Abercrombie’s commitment to gritty fantasy, as well as his ability to keep it fresh and imaginative for his readers. A significant helping of talent and a diligent focus on the writing has made The Heroes Abercrombie’s best book yet, and one definitely not to be missed.

My only small complaint was the total absence of The Bloody Nine. We heard his name, we saw line upon line of Northmen run from its very mention, but we did not see our beloved Nine. Is he dead? Will he surface in Abercrombie’s next book? I sure as hell hope so!

15 comments:

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Argh! No Bloody Nine! Looking forward to this nonetheless. May have to read Best Served Cold first though.

Alec said...

Yea, that is recommended. It will give you good insight into the main protagonists of The Heroes. Not necessary, but recommended.

Theodore said...

Just reading the book now, about 1/3 way through. Sad to not see Logan on-screen, though I am holding out hope.

Alec said...

@ Theodore

You will see references to him, a number in fact. Its all one big tease though, sadly.

Melissa Bradley said...

This book sounds interesting, but I have not read this author before. It sounds as though maybe I should read this Best Served Cold first.

Alec said...

@Mel

Best place to start is with the First Law trilogy if you want to dabble in the Abercrombie.

Melissa Bradley said...

Thanks! Appreciate the advice.

Theodore said...

@ Alec

I did see one explicit statement that gave me hope (spoilery boast pg 188) but the book is good enough without him. Gorst has taken over Klotka's conflicted inner monologues nicely.

Jared said...

I miss Logan too, but I really liked the fact that he *didn't* show up. I do love that everyone kept saying "You've got to be realistic" to one another. That was genius...

dondarki said...

dear mr abercrombie...another book without my old buddy logan ninefingers and i stop reading your books!!!!

Anonymous said...

If you are looking for Logen Ninefingers, you will probably have to wait for the book after next. Abercrombie has another 4 books planned, another stand-alone novel followed by a trilogy, which will probably be a return to the "main" storyline. Since the series began as one built around the "Bloody Nine", its a fair bet that if and when he returns, it shall be in that trilogy.

Michael said...

I must have missed something, surely Red-Hat is the Bloody Nine, as a character he only appears in one chapter called Onwards and Upwards were he almost single handedly clears the woods of Ironhands carls. Added to this he has a remarkable close relationship to Dogman as you can read from their conversation during that chapter. Plus he is also included in the list of characters at the front of the book. Ever other character mentioned here has multiple scenes in the book Red Hat doesn't.

UK said...

This book can be read stand-a-lone, but it's NOT recommended. The reader wouldn't know the situation of the war or the motives of key characters. Not to mention that there's plenty of background you'd need to know for this to actually seem significant. I think the person jumping right into it would be asking why the hell do they care about this war.

Anonymous said...

@ Michael

Red Hat is a character from The First Law trilogy, but not Logen. Let's kill that rumor lol.

Reliable dependable House Cleaning Seattle Maid Service said...

Best served cold is still my favorite of the series, but this book is Abercrombies best writing. You just love each and every character Nd their unique personalities. On the surface this is an exciting war story but with all joe's works so far there are some subtle introspect ions about human nature and the modern world.