Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Heroes By Joe Abercrombie || Book Review

War: where the blood and dirt of the battlefield hide the dark deeds committed in the name of glory. THE HEROES is about violence and ambition, gruesome deaths and betrayals; and the brutal truth that no plan survives contact with the enemy. The characters are the stars, as ever, and the message is dark: when it comes to war, there are no heroes...
Curnden Craw: a ruthless fighter who wants nothing more than to see his crew survive.
Prince Calder: a liar and a coward, he will regain his crown by any means necessary.
Bremer dan Gorst: a master swordsman, a failed bodyguard, his honor will be restored - in the blood of his enemies.
Over three days, their fates will be sealed.

Introduction: The Heroes is a standalone novel set in the world of the First Law Trilogy from Joe Abercrombie. Mr. Abercrombie although relatively new to the fantasy genre has become quite the phenomenon, by writing 'gritty' fantasy which is humorous, frequently sarcastic and cynical, occasionally sentimental, and always entertaining. I had been looking forward to The Heroes since reading his excellent short story 'The Fool Jobs', published in the Swords and Dark Magic Anthology, which introduces Curnden Craw and his crew.

Classification: The Heroes, is more military fiction set in an alternate world than anything you might expect from a fantasy novel. Readers would have come to expect a certain level of stark realism in the writing of Mr. Abercrombie but 'grit' in The Heroes far exceeds anything ever previously written by the author.

Analysis: The Heroes, finds the Union and the North-men once more at each others throats and details the blood-soaked, gore-splattered events of three days of battle. Although The Heroes is a standalone in the vein of 'Best Served Cold', it is a very different novel. 'Best Served Cold' had a full cast which was an incarnation of nasty, traitorous bloodthirsty and murderous scum; in The Heroes we actually have characters that do not embody all of the most hateful human characteristics possible into their individual personalities. On the contrary, we actually have a number of likable albeit flawed characters struggling to do the best they can in the worst of circumstances.

"Always do the right thing sounds an easy rule to stick to. But when's the right thing the wrong thing? That's the question."

Mr. Abercrombie's protagonists are Heroes by necessity and circumstance, as always. . He argues that heroes as we think of them are only to be found in songs and stories; that real men are not nearly so invincible or infallible. Also that the men are fickle, and dead heroes are generally soon forgotten, while new living ones take their place. He says courage and cowardice are products of circumstance and in the right circumstances a coward may just be capable of great feats of valor and heroes may run with their tale between their legs.

"When a man dies in peacetime it's all tears and processions, friends and neighbours offering each other comfort. A man dies in war and he's lucky to get enough mud on top to stop him stinking."

More than anything, The Heroes is about the horrors and futility of war. The author spends much time de-glorifying the whole business of war and fighting in general. According to him war is a game between politicians, with the soldiers as the pieces. He also discusses how war dispossesses many of even the most meager of possessions and elevates others beyond their highest hopes.

"wars were all about rich men's ambitions and poor men's graves"

Mr. Abercrombie thrusts the reader neck deep into battle in all its horrific, blood covered, filthy, and sweaty detail. Mr. Abercrombie spares the reader nothing; with limbs and all assortments of body parts flying around, there are no clean, heroic, glorious deaths.

"That's what war does. Strips people and places of their identities and turns them into enemies in a line, positions to be taken, resources to be foraged. Anonymous things that can be carelessly crushed, and stolen, and burned without guilt. War is hell, and all that. But full of opportunities."

The author refers to death just waiting around the corner not waiting or caring for our position, wealth or power; and how in battle courageous and skilled men can die while the most cowardly and idiotic men survive. The undeniable truth of our mortaility is a theme ever present.

"The Great Leveller's lying in wait for all of us, no doubt, and he takes no excuses and makes no exceptions."

Mr. Abercrombie writes with his characteristic wit and humor and sometimes the humor catches one off guard. He never takes himself too seriously; one instant he's setting up a scene involving a major confrontation between his two best warriors/heroes, getting the readers adrenaline flowing, the next he's writing something like this:

"A meeting of champions! All gritted teeth and clenched buttocks! All glorious lives, glorious deaths and glorious … glory?"

The Heroes is not fantasy in the traditional sense, with the author subverting many fantasy elements and completely leaving out others. Sometimes there's too much grit, enough to bother someone in the mood for a traditional fantasy novel. These, in my opinion, would be the only 'flaws'.

Conclusion: A witty writing style, plenty of plot twists, vivid action scenes and a cast of characters one can easily root for, makes The Heroes a winner on many levels and will keep you reading well into the night. The Heroes is easily Joe Abercrombie's best work to date and is a masterwork of military-fantasy fiction.

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