Friday, 18 February 2011

The Heroes review

The Heroes is a new stand alone fantasy novel by Joe Abercrombie. This review will have some light(ish) spoilers, but isn’t rife with them.

It’s set in the same world as his previous stuff (First Law Trilogy and Best Served Cold) and features some new characters and quite a lot of old ones.

Unusually for Mr. Abercrombie, it does feature not one but various maps, though these are of a tactical/battlefield rather than national nature.

The Heroes is also unusual in that it has a very large character list for its size, which is quite handy as it enables different parts of the sizeable battlefield to be written about with known characters. The battle takes place over a number of days, and pits the Union against the North (the Union is approximately a civilised medieval(ish) kingdom, the North are more akin to Saxons or Vikings with a looser concept of armies and hierarchy).

The number of characters who end up dead is pretty high, and it’s difficult to tell which side will prevail, and whether the main characters will survive either way. As is expected from the author, it’s well-written and crammed with delightful violence.

There’s no one single protagonist (there are three), and the battle is very much painted as a clash of equals, rather than either an imperialist domineering power or a gang of thuggish, idiotic barbarians tussling with a noble foe.

I enjoyed the book, and liked a number of the characters (particularly Beck), though the battle’s conclusion was not to my taste. It’s a little too melancholy, and could use a spot of light relief. Due to the large number of characters, the ending goes on a little bit, but it’s quite nice to see where certain people end up, and it certainly doesn’t drag like the end of the film version of The Return of the King.

It’s gritty and filled with the futility and capriciousness of war, but I do think it lacks a little bit of focus due to the large number of characters. I thought it better than Best Served Cold, and not as good as the First Law Trilogy.

Would I recommend it? Yes, in a word. I raced through it, and the only significant disappointment was that I’m now, once again, in need of some fantasy to read.


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