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Joe Abercrombie

Gollancz (2012)

ISBN 978 0 575 09583 0

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

It’s no surprise that this latest novel from UK author Joe Abercrombie is dedicated in part to Clint Eastwood. Nominally a fantasy novel set in Abercrombie’s world established in the First Law Trilogy, it is quite the western homage, where quick swords, daggers and crossbows replace six shooters.

Abercrombie conjures a world in which magic is fading – he portrays berserker rage a la Dungeons and Dragons very well, but there are no Merlins or Gandalfs here – and an industrial revolution is around the corner – there is gunpowder, printing presses, early signs of steam power. There is a real sense that the practitioners of unmitigated violence who stride this stage, mostly veterans with more regrets than ambitions, have had their day.

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Joe Abercrombie

Gollancz (2011)

ISBN: 978 0 5750 8384 4

Reviewed by Gillian Polack

Joe Abercrombie is one of those writers whose name is being bandied around a lot right now. The two things I’ve heard about him is that he’s the anti-Tolkien (actively so, taking the heroic war tropes of the Great Fantasy Novel and squeezing them like soft cheese until they turn into something else) and that he’s George RR Martin without the splendour. Both are partly true, but what I found when I read The Heroes was a fantasy retelling of the grungier and more miserable aspects of the Napoleonic Wars.

The story centres around a valley. Specifically, it’s about the various efforts to take and keep some standing stones on a hill. The stones are called “The Heroes” and the publicity material that comes with the book makes a large play of there not actually being any heroes in the book, that war is not about heroes. This isn’t strictly true. Quite a few of the characters get their heroic moment. They move for an instant outside their usual, or the stretch themselves, or they have a self-realisation and do something impossibly stupid or brave or they change the game just a little. Some of the characters have lives that happen only within the context of the war while others try to use the war as a political tool to gain advancement in their lives outside. All of this adds up to an ensemble piece. Small heroes whose lives become important for a moment before they fade into the background.

Unlike many novels about fantasy worlds at war, The Heroes is not very fast-paced. It’s more like Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage in that respect. It’s a series of very closely interconnected small lives that make up a bigger picture which in turn makes up the picture of the valley with its armies and blood. It’s a tale of war as seen by the human eye. The bird’s eye view comes from standing back and seeing the novel as a whole and realising what a mess this very small arena of violence is and that the bigger arena is probably no more salubrious.

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Joe Abercrombie

Gollancz (2011)

ISBN: 978 0 5750 8384 4

Reviewed by Ben Julien

This is a book of dirty, muddy, bloody writing, putting the reader square in the midst of the battles, in the heads of the commanders and in the proverbial with the common soldiers. At times superlative, The Heroes is deftly paced and spiced with existential philosophy and violent psychosis. It is a familiar formula for Abercrombie fans, but the work of a writer growing more competent with each book. The setting of The Heroes sets it apart from his other works – this novel is almost a historical treatise on a famous battle. It is all the more complex for dealing with all sides, all the major protagonists.

In fact, the novel is an endless circular examining and feeling of the battles from a dizzying array of characters’ points-of-view. There are many, many battles, but Abercrombie has effectively portrayed the politicking and manoeuvring of the powerful, and the tedium of the common soldier between the fighting. It’s an impressive feat and one that never had me becoming impatient.

This is an attractive package. A big book, with maps enough to please. Abercrombie has said before on his blog that he isn’t a fan of world maps, but I think he (or his publishers) have made the right choice in this case (albeit that the maps included aren’t of a ‘world’ but of a single location). The background cover art itself the map and shows where the various buildings and terrain are laid out which does help to visual the fighting.

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