Sunday, 4 November 2012

Review: Red Country, by Joe Abercrombie

Red Country is a stand-alone book, and occurs in the same world as The First Law Trilogy and the stand-alone Best Served Cold and The Heroes. This book review will be as light on spoilers as possible.

The story occurs mostly in the Far Country, which is akin in tone to the Wild West, but with a far simpler level of technology. The protagonists are Shy and Lamb, the former being a very rough diamond and the latter an elderly and cowardly man who worked on her farm. The pair find themselves trekking across the Far Country to try and save Shy's younger siblings, who have been kidnapped.

There are fewer characters of note than in The Heroes, the previous book, but this does allow a tighter focus on those who are present and works very well. Shy and Lamb, and others with whom they travel, change and develop significantly during the journey as they're confronted with hard questions and bloody answers.

The world is very well-described, and has an immersive, realistic feel. The disintegration of law and order as people travel further from civilisation towards the unclaimed Far Country and the emotional volatility of hope, despair and stubborn resilience from various quarters fits the leap of faith (some falling, some landing safely) of travelling into the wilderness for a better life.

I must admit to absolutely loving lore, and although it's almost entirely in the background the latter part of the book will be especially interesting for those who love hearing more about the antiquity of the Circle of the World.

Red Country continues Mr. Abercrombie's grey morality, which I rather like, and has an added note of poignancy. I think the tone of the book's more balanced than the previous stand-alones, which erred on the side of darkness. It's still grim and gritty, but there's a bit more yang to balance the yin.

Some versions (happily including the one I got) have a very short story at the end, written by a biographer who plays a minor role in the book. It's very much an appendix sort of story: it's enjoyable to read, but doesn't add anything substantial to the story so those without it are missing a few minutes of reading pleasure rather than any critical information or a hidden plot twist.

It's probably quite clear that I think Red Country's fantastic, but it's not quite perfect. I think that a certain cameo character could've and should've had a slightly greater presence, and that he almost might as well not be there otherwise.

So, in summary: the characters are engaging, the story is simple for the first half but has numerous twists later on and the writing is excellent throughout. It's my favourite book by Mr. Abercrombie so far, and I'm struggling to think of a fantasy I like more.



  1. Hello Mr. Thaddeus,

    I've read your other reviews about Mr. Abercrombie's novels and I enjoyed them so much, I bought the first five books (the first law trilogy, best served cold and the heroes). I'm currently finishing the fifth and I've enjoyed them tremendously. Perhaps even more than A Song of Ice and Fire!

    I'd like to discuss with you an impression that I had after finishing Best Served Cold. I thought, as the third "camp" was formed that, after all the enjoyable hours I spent reading, these books are only the beginning of a much bigger story that is far from over and that the first law trilogy is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg!

    Needless to say I'm very excited to continue reading the series.

  2. I would say that I enjoyed the First Law Trilogy probably more than A Song of Ice and Fire.

    Speaking of which, there's a free online comic of the trilogy that recently started. A new episode gets added every few days:

    There's definitely the sense that the books are just part of a long-running rivalry between Bayaz and Khalul[sp]. I think that the next thing Mr. Abercrombie will be writing is another trilogy, but that won't be for a while.

    I'd like to see more of either the Gurkish or the Old Empire. I really like the idea of a country living on past its prime, surrounded by faded glory and the memory of what it once was.

    What's your favourite part of the Circle of the World?

  3. I've been reading the comic book, albeit I did imagine the characters differently, that didn't dampen my enjoyment of the series.

    I love the cold warish feel of it, I'd like to see more development on "the camps" maybe even in the remnants of the Old Empire, the re-creation of the New Empire in Styria, perhaps even a prequel about Bayaz himself! Or, like you said, a trilogy about the Gurkish point of view. I'd like to see Ferro again, maybe a book about Logen going after her in the South.

    I can't wait 'till the powers start chafing each other once there is nowhere to grow around, I dare say we're not done with Styria yet!

  4. Now that you mention the Cold War Styria does have the feel of a proxy battle away from the 'superpowers'.

    A prequel about Bayaz, (maybe with Juvens/Kanedias too), would be great but all the books to date occur in chronological order so I'm not too hopeful of that. However, I think we could see more of Gurkhul, the Old Empire, Styria and Ferro.

    It'll also be interesting to see how he goes regarding technology. Cannons are definitely to be used, so we could end up with some interesting artillery battles (maybe on sea as well).

  5. That's an interesting point you make about sea battles we are sorely lacking that especially since The Union is supposedly a big naval power. I'd also like to know what happened to the third son of Euz, and the consolidation of the North wouldn't be a bad idea.

    I really got the cold war vibe from the way the two powers funded them in exchange for possible military interventions.

    I wonder very much what Kahlul is cooking up.... I also miss Glokta, my favorite psychopath so far!

    Also, do you know how long after the trilogy red country takes place?

  6. I keep forgetting about the third son. The first two got magic and mechanics/craftmanship, the last got nothing and threw a hissyfit and the third got... er...

    Glokta's my favourite character in the series as well, but the problem with bringing him back would be that it might be difficult to have him be such a good character again.

    I can't give a precise figure, but it's quite a long time, something like 20 years. There's a significant gap between the trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes and Red Country (all of which happen in order).

  7. He got the power to speak with spirits, so Logen is somesort of a descendant. But while the other three get biographies the third only gets a passing mention.

    Maybe we'll get to see Glokta's son? But seeing Glokta himself as a secondary or even a tertiary character would still be pretty grand.

    I know that there is a 4 year gap from the trilogy to BSC, 4 more to TH, I would assume 4 more to RC. Are there any cameo characters in RC?

  8. Oh yeah. I never made the link between Third-Son and Logen, but that would make perfect sense. Good job one of us is paying attention.

    Shivers got a sort of triple-cameo, and there *may* have been a cameo for the lady from... Dagoska, I think the city was called. The place Glokta was sent to defend, and the woman he let go. Some reckon she was the mayor.

    I could've sworn there were more years between The Heroes and Red Country, but I could be wrong.