Monday, August 1, 2011

Book review: "The Heroes" by Joe Abercrombie

I have read all five Joe Abercrombie's books now. I really adored his first book "The Blade Itself", but unfortunately he also suffered from the problem that troubles many debutantes: sequels are never as good as original. Thankfully, the original was so good that sequels, even though not so brilliant, were nevertheless great books. Then, after first trilogy, Abercrombie wrote a stand-alone novel, with same setting and some old characters, but following different plot: "Best Served Cold". Book was still good, but far from first one in quality. So when I learned about "The Heroes", I was a bit afraid that it would follow this decline and be not so good. I am happy to say that, even though not in level with original "The First Law" trilogy, "The Heroes" is very fine book in his very own style.

First I must explain something. I read once that screen-writer don't know how to write description, but they have a way with dialog that makes characters feel live (it was in Raymond E. Feist's novel "Faerie Tale"). I don't know what film-editors exactly do, but Abercrombie (as ex-one) sucks with plots and excels with characters. Well, I can really say it absolutely suck (only relatively compared to his characters), but they are not as complex or original as they could be. You can feel it is here only to support its characters.

The same it true for his latest novel "The Heroes". We follow are large cast of characters in course of several days: a preparation for battle, three days of pitched battle, and the short description of its consequences. For the battle itself, although central to book, I don't think it takes more than three (short) chapters. Plot is carried by dialog and inner monolog of characters.

And such characters they are... Prince Calder we know from before. A son of dead King Bethod, he is not in very best of circumstances, since the throne of his father is now occupied by Black Dow, who is not his best friend. On the other hand, he has no options but act as Dow's best friend, due the fact that Dow has his wife (one of only two persons Calder cares about). But that will not stop him doing what he does best: scheming. Curnden Craw is a new face, a Named Man in different circumstances. He is "the last honest man in the North" and honesty is not really on price now. After spending his life fighting, he is constantly thinking about retirement, but there are not many things he knows to do except fight. And Bremer dan Gorst is an old character, but first time with POV. Due to his shyness and quiet manner (result of his girlish voice) everybody believes him to be an honest and worthy man, a real hero. But Gorst is actually a very sad man, whose only wish is to return to King's grace and he will not exactly chose his was back there.

Except these three "main" characters, we have a host of other. Some of them we know from before and they haven't changed much: Bayaz, the First of the Magi, Black Dow, Dogman. Some we know but they are much different from before: Lord Marshal Kroy, Shivers and General Jalenhorm. And then there is bunch of new faces: Finree, Kroy's daughter and wife of Colonel Harod dan Brock; Corporal Tunny, a picturesque member of Union army; Beck, son of Shama Heartless, who only wish is to live up to his father's name; and many others.

In some ways, Abercrombie books are a study of human evil, cruelty and ignobility. I think that he exaggerates some, but this is what gives his book this unique feel. A consequence of that is that you can never know what to expect, which is rare for fantasy books. For example, in "The Wheel of Time", you know for the start who if the Good Side and who will (or better to say, who should) win in the end. With Abercrombie, you don't know who is the good side and who should you cheer for; but you know, that even after somebody "win", it will not feel like a victory. In this way, it is very similar to "A Song of Ice and Fire".

I also have to bring up the fact that Abercrombie doesn't rely on his old characters. I am biased about it. From one side, Logen Ninefingers/Bloody Nine and Sand dan Glotka were his best creations and I would really like to travel with them again (or at least to know more about what happened with them, because they are splendid characters). On the other hand, I appreciate his decision not to recycle old characters until they transform in something less.

To summarize, "The Heroes" is a very good standalone book. Not Abercrombie's best, but deserving to read. I hope to he will continue the good work and give us more of his unique characters. And I would advise to all who haven't already, to read "The First Law" trilogy, his best work.

No comments:

Post a Comment