Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review: The Heroes

When I find an author that I enjoy, like Joe Abercrombie, I usually tend to stretch his or her books out, so that I'm enjoying something by that person on a yearly basis.  I read Best Served Cold back in the summer, so what am I doing reading another Abercrombie book this year?  Well, as I've established before, I can be mentally weak at times.  Basically what happened was that there was a gift card to a certain online book seller, and I spent it all in one epic book buying fest, and what you see before you is one of those purchases.  Money well spent.

Like The First Law and Best Served Cold books before it, The Heroes is set in the same universe.  This time around the focus of the story is much more fine tuned, and takes place over the course of a few days.  Thousands of men from either the North, or the Union are converging on a forgotten hill set in the middle of a small farming valley near the border of the two lands.  It is there in that valley and on that hill named The Heroes that the two sides will clash.

As I mentioned earlier, The Heroes is tightly focused.  That brief description I just gave is just about all there is to this book; a three day battle over useless, abandoned land.  However, that tight focus is what makes this book great.  The focus of this novel is so sharp that the pacing is wonderful, and the action is pretty much non-stop.

I've gotten so accustomed to massively epic fantasy with huge worlds, hundreds of characters, and numerous story lines that a book The Heroes, that takes place on such a small scale, almost seems improbable.  I've noticed myself becoming increasingly burnt out on epic fantasy the past couple years, so a book like this was a welcome alternative.

The one complaint I did have about the small setting was that I found myself confused sometimes about the scale of the battlefield. It seemed like troop movements, and how long it took them to cover distances was inconsistent at times.  Though legitimate maps are provided in a Joe Abercrombie book for the first time, it was still hard to judge distances between regiments, and battle lines at times.  Still, a minor complaint, and one that is grossly outweighed by all the positives.

Since The Heroes is set in the same world as the rest of Abercrombie's books, there are a few recurring characters that devoted readers will be familiar with.  A few of the names that are back in varying capacity are Black Dow, Calder, Scale, Caul Shivers, Jalenhorm, Byaz, and Bremer dan Gorst.  Alongside these familiar names are a wonderful cast of new characters as well.  Though I did enjoy reading all the characters, I've begun to notice a familiar Joe Abercrombie character building pattern: each character seems to embody one main, overriding trait like self pity, ambition, or self perseverance, and then have a few other less prominent traits mixed in.   Now, I will agree that many people in the world do tend to have a well defined character such as those in Abercrombie's books, but I feel like this model for character building doesn't allow me to really discover the depths of Abercrombie's characters.  That said, his characters are very memorable, and fun to read about so I can't complain too much.

The story is told through a variety of point of view characters but I definitely had favorite point of view characters on each side.   For the Union, Bremer dan Gorst was my favorite to root for.  The guy is an all out beast when it comes to war, but mentally he's a mess, and enjoyed seeing if he'd ever manage to straighten himself out.  For the North, Curnden Craw, a veteran, a named man, and leader of a dozen was a probably the easiest character in the book to root for.  I found myself fretting over his well being like a nervous soccer mom.  The other point of view characters were all fun to read, and that factor is a big reason why this book is so damn great.

Aside from the great cast of point of view characters, there are many secondary characters that populate this book, and give it more life.  I think Abercrombie is at his best and  having the most fun when he's writing the rough and rowdy Northmen, and it showed with characters like Whirrun of Bligh, Glama Golden, and Cairm Ironhead.

Looking back at Abercrombie's past novels, I would say they all pale in comparison to The Heroes.  This is definitely his best effort yet.  Looking back at Best Served Cold, it could have done with a tighter focus and feels bloated in retrospect. The fact that I loved that book should prove just how much of an improvement this book is.

On top of being a great read, there are a few important developments that occur in The Heroes that make me very excited for Abercrombie's next effort, whatever that may be and whenever that may come.  Fans of Abercrombie's previous works will feel right at home with the gritty violence, realistic characters, and balls out action.  For those of you who haven't read Abercrombie's stuff, I would advise starting with The Blade Itself and plowing through his stuff from there.  You wont regret it.

Grade: A+


Cursed Armada said...

Interesting review... I read Abercrombie's First Law series a while ago, and thought it was just ok... I love Martin and R. Scott Bakker, but something was just off for me. I'm not a huge fan of "military" Fantasy, because I'm in the military and some authors either nail it on the dot, or get it horribly wrong.

Ryan said...

Hey Cursed Armada, Abercrombie isn't for everyone, but I will say that he has improved with each new book since the First Law series.

Have you read Paul Kearney? I feel like he does Military fantasy better than anyone in the business.