Monday, April 1, 2013
Book review: "Red Country" by Joe Abercrombie
This weekend I finished reading "Red Country" by Joe Abercrombie. It took me only three days - not that the book was short, but it was so good I just couldn't leave it. I was really into "The First Law" trilogy, but its sequels "Best Served Cold" and "The Heroes" were not as good, so I had fears that all future books will be each a bit worse than one before. Because of that, I wasn't really following the hype around "Red Country" and didn't know much about it, which turned out a great thing because there is one big surprise in here!
"Red Country" has two main characters, which has most of the POVs. Shy South, a young woman with dark past, lives at a farm with his brother Pit and sister Ro, and their stepfather Lamb, in a region called the Near Country. After Shy and Lamp come back from bartering one day, they find out that somebody burned their farm and kidnapped Pit and Ro. There is nothing left for them but to follow the trail that will ultimately lead them to the Far Country, a place with no laws and under gold-rush. Shy is at first fearful that her violent past will surface, but the somewhat fall in background as she slowly realizes that her stepfather, quiet and cowardly Lamb, has a violent and bloody past of his own, none bloodier... Unknown to them, the Near and the Far Country are soon to be visited by famous and notorious mercenary Nicomo Costa, and his even more notorious Company of the Gracious Hand. Important member of this company is Temple (the second main character), their lawyer, a man who always takes the easier path. But even he is slowly realizing that sometimes you can't take the easy path, as the Company plow through the Countries in search for gold, spoils and rebels...
I somewhere read that Abercrombie models his books to different style every time: "The First Law" trilogy was classical epic fantasy, "Best Served Cold" was film noir/thriller, "The Heroes" was (anti) war book. Following this pattern, "Red Country" is a western, but placed in Abercrombie's fantasy setting. We have the almost desolate Far Country made of far-stretching planes (Wild West), nomadic savages Ghosts (Indians), trappers, lawless city full of saloons and whorehouses... I am not really a fan of westerns (not that I dislike them, though), so I had some second-thoughts about this book, but Abercrombie colors everything with his gritty style so everything ends well (or bad, if you are a character in his book).
In my post reviewing "The Heroes", I wrote that Abercrombie is not so good with plots, but that he is great with characters. Well, here he is still great with characters, but he is also very good with the plot. I wasn't able to guess where the plot will take us next during whole book, which is a very good thing. This gets especially interesting somewhere after the middle of the book - you have a big fight that fills like a finally, but there is still another half of the book and you have no idea what you can expect.
Both new and old characters are very good. Shy and Temple are very complex, expressing doubt at their every action, never sure in anything. Abercrombie really makes you feel like you are in their heads. And occasional POV from supporting characters are very interesting. Especially that little stream of POVs before the battle with Ghosts on the plains.
But the biggest news is that this book features HIM!!! And by him I mean one of your favorite characters from "The First Law" trilogy, whose name I will not mention to avoid spoilers. I was completely unprepared for this fact, so it came as a big surprise. Even more so, Abercrombie plays with his old readers by giving hints to whether it is him or not. But when he reveals him completely, there is really no doubt about it - it is him in all his vileness and complexity.
"Red Country" is as gritty as Abercrombie's books usually are: blood, sex, violence, cursing, general evilness of the world... All is here. I was surprised though with how this book reminds me of "The Black Company" books, with its sentiment of melancholy, how things are never going be the same. There are a lot of older characters here, characters that are out of their prime, but still have to give everything because there is no one else... Also, as usual, there is a minimal use of magic - actually, except brief showing of Magi Zacharus, there is no magic even in mention.
In conclusion, I was surprised with how good "Red Country" is, if you are into darker and grittier fantasy. Wonderful characters, very interesting plot and style, and of course, one of your favorite characters. This is recommendation for both fans and non-fans (even though they should better start with previous book than here). I will expect the next book with big hopes this time.