Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Grimdark Fantasy
Series: First Law Standalone
(Spoilers for the First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold, and The Heroes are below).
Shy South has escaped her past, and settled as a merchant. But when war with the Union comes to her land, and her younger brother and sister are taken, she must set out after them. Accompanying her is her coward of a stepfather Lamb, a nine fingered Northman with a secret past of his own. For Temple, a lawyer now serving under infamous soldier of fortune Nicomo Cosca, he desires to live an honest life, but that's not to be found as a mercenary.
The final standalone of I guess what you could call a trilogy of stand-alones, Red Country, is stylistically a lot different from the rest of the First Law books. It's in effect, a Western. On the other hand Shy and Temple are the only two major characters in the story that don't seem to have previously played a major role in the previous First Law books.
Logen, Shivers, Cosca, Friendly, Glama Golden, and Carlot dan Eider all make significant contributions to the plot, some under the disguise of different names, though. For a story about characters trying to escape their pasts, there is certainly a lot of nostalgic cameos. But the character returns are for the most part done justice. Some are a little suspect, namely Shivers'. But the rest, especially Cosca, Friendly, and Logen are handled extremely well.
Red Country does run into the danger of being like a Best Served Cold, revenge story, and after all, half of Monza's collaborators are even in this book. But Abercrombie manages to keep revenge and all it's themes firmly in the background. Shy is a somewhat compassionate character, except when she's negotiating, then she's unmerciful. I enjoyed Shy, I first came across her in Abercrombie's short story Some Desperado first published in the Dangerous Women anthology. It's a bit a prequel, if you will, and definitely worth checking out.
Temple on the other hand isn't the most entertaining of Abercrombie's characters. He's fortunate to be placed in a very entertaining situation as Cosca's lackey, but the entertainment is all Cosca. Temple is in many ways suppose to be the moral voice of reason, or at least is trying to be. He kind of has an air of Shivers in his optimist days, but he's also highly educated, and is essentially a wasting pile of potential.
Red Country hops around from one dangerous situation to the next, and as a result this feels like the most disjointed of Abercrombie's stories. And while the new characters try to shine, they are never able to outshine the classic characters that they're paired off with. Which is kind of unfortunate, because one of things I always look forward to when reading Abercrombie is being introduced to a bunch of new memorable faces.
While still telling a strong story, and having decent characters, by Abercrombie standards Red Country isn't really able to compete quality wise with The Heroes or Best Served Cold or with the original First Law Trilogy for that matter. Still worth a read if you're highly invested in Abercrombie's world.