Yes. With his First Law trilogy, Joe Abercrombie easily became my favorite fantasy author currently writing. With Best Served Cold he entertained me tremendously but left me wanting more. Now, while I know there are some who will disagree with me, I feel that with The Heroes, Abercrombie has published his best work.
The First Law trilogy had its flaws, that I will admit, and I think Joe Abercrombie would agree. Even with them, though, it was far and away my favorite piece of fantasy writing from a contemporary author. He matured in BSC, but there was nothing particularly original about the tale – though a darn good revenge tale it was with despicable and memorable characters. The other night I was flipping channels and Robocop came on. The original. Before I knew it, I was 11 years old again watching a forbidden movie and loving it. BSC is a fantasy version of Robocop. Lots of fun; not particularly original.
The Heroes, however, I think is very original, well conceived, well executed, with amazing characters, fantastic scenes, unstoppable action, and a harsh gray morality. I read it slow at first to savor it and because I didn’t want it to end. I kept waiting for the Bloody Nine to show up. Then I couldn’t put it down and when it was over…I was sad and elated. It was awesome! I love how Abercrombie takes fairly minor characters from other books and turns them into major characters in each new book. That really adds depth to his world, as well as realism. Each of these people have a story. I appreciate how King Jezal was a character through Bremer’s letters, but that was it. (I didn’t particularly like Jezal by the end of the FL trilogy.) And the flip side, I love how Bremer came into his own as a character.
But the real joy, for me, in reading Abercrombie comes from the stories of the Northmen. I think a lot of people would probably agree. I’m not sure how he visualizes them, but to me, they’re a cross between everything ferocious and everything sad about the American Indians and the Vikings. The batch we get the pleasure of reading about in the Heroes only solidifies the Northmen as probably my favorite people in current fantasy writing. I love them! Their brutishness, their humor (Whirrun of Bligh? I mean, come on, that dude is awesome, scary, and hilarious!) I love how flawed they are, how real. I love how they all put on a bold face but inside they’re wondering: Is all this shit worth it? I love the coward Beck and how he earns his name. I love how you have to earn a name! I could go on…
The writing has matured with this one, for sure. It’s like he knows where he’s going with each character and each scene more than before. It’s as if he’s living into these characters skin more, getting to know them more.
The battle descriptions: the best I’ve read in fantasy recently. No long, drawn out death scenes; just blunt and to the point descriptions: he swung his mace and dented his helmet. Everyone know a dented helmet means a dented head, but Abercrombie doesn’t have to say it. He makes you feel it. Ouch. And only a good writer can write a war book from opposing POVs and make you want to root for the one you’re currently reading about each time.
I thought the despair of Black Dow and Kroy at the end over the question of what the hell the whole thing was for anyway was very well executed. Made me think about our wars, I’ll say that. His refrain that all war is only a prelude to peace talks was haunting.
My one complaint was I wish there had been more ado made about Bayaz and Ishri’s surprises. By this point I hate Bayaz, but I want to read more of him so I can hate him more. He’s a great, I mean a fantastic character, and I think he and (even more so) Ishri go the short shrift this go around. To me, they almost didn’t have a point in this story the way it was written, so I’d say either get them out of it, or do more with them. Minor complaint, though.
If you’re not sure about Abercrombie, this might actually be a good place to start. Sure, you’d learn some stuff out of order, but you wouldn’t have to commit to a trilogy. And this is a damn good read. It made me want to read the others over again, I’ll say that. So, if you’re not sure about Abercrombie – why? Get reading or go back to the mud.
Well done, Joe – I can’t wait for A Red Country!