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!
About that Castle finale...
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