Monday, June 19, 2017

The Heroes Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Grimdark Fantasy
Series: First Law Standalone
Pages: 592

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So you love war. I used to think you were a decent man. But I see now I was mistaken. You're a hero.

(Spoilers for First Law Trilogy and Best Served Cold are below).

In the North, along site an ancient set of rocks known as the Heroes, a battle is about to be fought between the men of the North and the men of the Union.  

The Heroes, like the title suggests, thematically plays with the concept of heroism. As a reader and knowing that Abercrombie, being an author of grimdark fantasy, will say pretty much everything you expect to hear on the subject of heroism: It's stupid. It's pointless. It's unintelligent. But God does it make for one hell of an entertaining subject for a war story.

Set a few years after the events of Best Served Cold and nearly a decade after the First Law Trilogy, the Union is back in the North fighting the war they never finished in the first place. Six narrators predominantly tell their story on both sides of the battlefield. Fighting for the Union, and once opponent to the King of the Union in a sword dueling competition, Bremmer dan Gorst has fallen from grace after passing out at brothel in Sipani while on guard duty for the King who was almost killed there.

Gorst has been in all the previous First Law stories as a minor character, and now he is finally given a voice as a major narrator ... a high pitched, feminine sounding voice at that. But where Gorst has a voice that's often mocked, his courage on the battlefield and ability to inflict carnage is unequaled. If only he had the same courage when he talked to his longtime secret crush Finree dan Brock.

Finree, another of Abercrombie's narrators on the Union side, is the wife of Colonel Harod dan Brock, the son of a notorious traitor, and the daughter of Lord Marshall Kroy, the Union general in charge of the Northern campaign. Highly opinionated, highly educated, and very ambitious, she infuriates a lot of the Union brass who have to withstand her due to her social position. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the circumstances, Finree is usually right about a lot of the unsolicited advice she gives to Union commanders, and soon finds herself in way over her head.

The final Union narrator is Corporal Tunney. A wartime profiteer that doesn't care so much about the Union cause as he does in surviving it whilst being able to turn a profit. As a lower ranking military man, a lot of the inept decisions of the Union commanders and how it affects the lower ranking members of the Union military get displayed in the periphery.

Fighting for the Northerners is Curnden Craw an aging fighter who leads "the dozen", a group of warriors for Black Dow, the Northern King. Craw, as he likes to put it, is looking to do the "right thing." Craw is constantly thinking about the past, what it means to be a named man, and how he might one day be able to get out of what he calls the "dirty business."

One of Craw's best friends is Prince Calder, the younger son of King Bethod, who was ruler of the North before Black Dow. Calder is in direct contrast to his older brother Scale, a fearsome, aggressive, and vicious warrior. Known as a coward, a womanizer, and a schemer, the desperate situation in the North, is forcing Calder to leave his cowardly ways behind, as well as earning him new enemies.

Finally there is Beck. A young Northern boy who was the son of Shama Heartless, a fearsome named-man who went to the grave early. Beck wants nothing more then to leave his family's farm, earn his own name, and live up to, if not surpass his father's. The coming war with the Union is just the opportunity he's been looking for.

Characters from previous First Law books also return in minor roles, most notably the wizard Bayaz who acts as an advisor to Lord Marshall Kroy, and Caul Shivers who acts as the "muscle" for Black Dow. Knowing the pasts of the both these characters and seeing where they're at in The Heroes is really disconcerting, especially in the case of Shivers. Abercrombie is as ruthless to all of his characters as he could possibly be. Some characters exhibit significant and pronounced changes, due to these experiences, others who have dealt with this brutality before continue to endure.

The narration style, the themes, and the overall aesthetics more closely resemble Abercrombie's original trilogy than it does the Monzcarro Murcatto focused Best Served Cold. I'm really falling in love with Abercrombie's standalones. The Heroes is another excellent addition to the First Law world. Although I admit to liking Best Served Cold more, I could easily see a number of fans of this book disagreeing with me. 

Score: 9.5 

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