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REVIEW | The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

"Unhappy the land that is in need of Heroes." -Bertoldt Brecht
About ten years after the events of The First Law Trilogy the Union and the North (lead by Black Dow) are battling for supremacy in the region and things have been bloody. But things are only going to get bloodier before it is finished if things like this can ever truly end. One battle over three days will decide the fate of thousands and leave just as many mired in the mud. There are no heroes. Only survivors.

The Heroes brings Abercrombie's biggest cast of characters to date flipping through dozens of view points. Just don't get attached to anyone in particular. This is war and it is a bloody one, but aren't they all? Abercrombie smartly included a persona glossary at the beginning of the book to keep all the players in perspective, but it is best to refer to it only as you need to since it can spoil the surprise of a few notable characters who pop-up.
"Corporal Tunny had long ago acquired a reputation as the fiercest sleeper in his majesty's army. He could sleep on anything, in any situation, and wake in an instant ready for action, or, better still, to avoid it."
The Heroes evokes the feeling of a military Fantasy perfectly as it travels across the battlefield from the view of those at the top to the lowly footmen stuck in the swamps. It reminded me quite a bit of Glen Cook's The Black Company, especially a certain Corporal Tunny. For those concerned, The Heroes is not all the doom, gloom, and causticness of Best Served Cold, which however entertaining you found it left most of us a bit cold. The Heroes livens things up and turns a battle that shouldn't mean anything in a place that doesn't mean much to anyone to an event that changes the face of the North featuring many of the side players from The First Law Trilogy.

Abercrombie really gets you down into the mud and blood of battles entrenching you next to all the warriors as they rise and mostly fall deeper and deeper into the mud with some perspectives lasting only a few paragraphs. The viewpoints flows easily from one scene to the next once you realize how often the view changes. The Heroes is filled with cravens, madmen, the corrupt, and those in to deep to wade themselves out of danger and a few people that aren't as deplorable and just want to live through the day. The story focuses on 3 main figures all of who have their own idiocracies in the style Abercrombie has become known for.
"Dignity ain't much use to the living, it's none to the dead."
One problem I had was the lack of a standout character or two as opposed to Abercrombie's other books. I've always found one or two characters I couldn't wait to get back to such as Logan and Glotka in The First Law or Friendly in Best Served Cold. I know, I know. I like them good and crazy. With the flipping of perspectives so much you get a surprisingly good sense of who most of the characters are that they hardly left me wanting for more. So this might be a case of overdoing expectations.
"Wondering what strange convergence of mischances could have allowed this madness to happen. And what other one might allow him to get out of it alive."
But the action, dark humor, and all the tension kept me captivated and pushing forward along with the fantastic battle sequences that are exquisitely executed. Shivers is even more of a scary fuck than he was in Best Served Cold and would probably appear more so to those who haven't read BSC. The Heroes shows that Abercrombie's considerable talents are being used quite well and while I still didn't fancy The Heroes as much as his Trilogy it is still sure to be one of the best Fantasy releases this year. In the end the story seems very small in comparison to the events of the First Law Trilogy, but it does lead to some tantalizing ideas concerning one of our favorite characters from the trilogy.

The Heroes ultimately makes you think about war and everyone's place in it and how hardly anyone wishes to take part for the right reasons. I give The Heroes 9 out of 10 hats. As if Abercrombie hadn't already cemented his place in Fantasy The Heroes proves he is a modern master. The Heroes can certainly be read as the standalone it is intended as, but you get a lot more out of the characters if you're read The First Law. I can't wait to see what Abercrombie has brewing for us next.

You Might Also Like:
REVIEW | Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
REVIEW | Swords & Dark Magic ed. by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders
VIDEO | Trailer for Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes
REVIEW | God's War by Kameron Hurley
NEWS | Joe Abercrombie Signs 4 Book Deal


Patrick said...

I can see where you are coming from regarding the lack of a scene-stealer. For me The Bloody Nine served that role in The First Law and Friendly follow up in BSC. For me, Whirrun of Bligh filled that role but I would agree that he didn't get enough page time to real dominate any scenes.

Definitely agree that Abercrombie is at the top of the genre. His execution is virtually flawless.

Mad Hatter Review said...

Whirrun was definitely good, but there wasn't enough of him. Also, Stranger-Comes-Walking felt wasted. He played the intimidation factor well in a couple spots but never did much of anything.