Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The HEROES: Book Review

The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie

This is my favorite book of the year so far. Abercrombie packs in the action, intrigue, black humor and surprise twists like nobodies business.

There was a bit of bru-haha earlier this year when Leo Grin did an essay on nihilistic fantasy, I read it and while I suspect I probably agree with Grin on most things, I differed here.

Abercrombie's books are harsh-the violence, the language etc, but I never felt like they were in there for shock value-they were simply there because in harsh circumstances - a War! politeness goes out the window and to me this didn't take anything away from the classic fantasy and myths I treasure.

Some other fantasy titles come to mind as examples of this new bitter view - George R.R. Martin for one and while I have enjoyed Martin's world it has also plodded along and I don't know anyone who was particularly happy with his fourth effort A Feast for Crows. Other books of this type (Morgan & Mievelle) that have been reviewed by friends of mine let me know just enough on IF I want to read them or not-atypically No, because there are just too many other books in the world. Different strokes for different folks.

Meanwhile back to my review, The Heroes is Abercrombies fifth book, all of which are in the same world, this and the fourth are standalone novels, and though I believe you might appreciate them more if you read the First Law Trilogy first - you don't have too, you won't be lost. So no worries to my friends that stay away from series.

On to what its about...

A war is on between the Northmen (similar enough to Vikings) and the Union (similar enough to perhaps an early pre-gunpowder renaissance England). A battle is coming in a tactically worthless valley whose distinguishing charteristic is a set of standing stones, not unlike Stonehenge.
The stones are called The Heroes, a joke because Abercrombies universe is supposed to be nearly devoid of Heroes-or so says the jacket. This may be Grin's point and it is the marketing aspect, but the book is clearly filled with men (and women) trying to do the right thing-figuring out that that is what helps them sleep at night etc etc.
For a heading that reads Three Men, One Battle, No Heroes The Heroes seems awful concerned with showing us both the sinister and heroic-and that is a big reason on why I liked it so much. You can't truly have one without the other.

Like a favorite movie of mine The Big Red One it is also about surviving-but a whole lot of people survive (or die) through heroics-or trying to be a straight edge, as the Northmen call it.
Of course there are some bad, bad, bad, people too but what would a great fantasy be without villains? I wish it had more of the barbaric giant Stranger-Come-Knocking, oh well.

The book is 541 pages. A few parts lagged a little (these were brief short two page chapters) and in my arrogant opinion there might ought have been a little more editing done to clear that out-but by the time I got going 100 pages in or so I couldn't put it down. Abercrombie has some masterful predicaments he throws characters into and leaves you hanging to find out what happens-even with characters I didn't particularly like-and I consider that being a masterful storyteller-when I need to know what happens to characters I don't like as much. And the beauty is, there aren't any predictable nick of time rescues-it all comes across as realistic and true for the setting.

Highly recomended. Almost (but not quite) as good as Abercrombie's third book Last Argument of Kings

I still have a big stack of fantasy titles I want to get through this year, but this is going to be an awful tough one to top.


Keith said...

I've been intending to read this one just as soon as I get BEST SERVED COLD read. Probably be when classes aren't in session due to their length. I'm like you. While I tend to agree with Leo Grin in general, I strongly disagree with him about Abercrombie, who's one of the freshest voices in fantasy in a long time. Highly recommended.

David J. West said...

Thanks Keith. While I liked Best Served Cold, it had more of that nihilistic, nobodies-a-good-guy feel to it.

Paul R. McNamee said...

The Blade Itself is in my to-be-read pile. I really need to step up my reading rate again.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've seen these books on the SF book club flyers and they look intersting. so far I haven't bought one. I think maybe I should.

David J. West said...

Paul-related to my browsing post at the Man Cave, I found The Blade Itself in a pile at the thrift store. I had never heard of Abercrombie at all but giving it a quick once over, decided what the heck and I bought it for maybe 2 dollars.
I was sold!
And as much as I liked it, that feeling kept on through the rest of teh trilogy-with the third installment being one of my all time favorites.

Charles-I'm inclined to think you'll dig it for the dark humor, action/violence and overall feel.

Bruce D. said...

Interesting review. As much as I enjoyed the First Law trilogy, I've held off buying this book because I found Best Served Cold just too relentless in its bleakness. Maybe I'll reconsider.

David J. West said...

Bruce, I felt roughly the same about Best Served Cold-it didn't appeal to my heroic fantasy craving, some parts were good but others... whereas with the First Law Trilogy, I have already reread portions just for the sheer enjoyments sake.
A few things relate back to BSC but you wouldn't be lost if you missed them. The Heroes is to my mind closer to the First Law in presentation and feeling. I know I'll reread it.