The Heroes

With Best Served Cold, I felt that Joe Abercrombie had matured as a writer. It was the author's most ambitious work to date, making me eager and curious to see where he would take us next. The Heroes is another morally ambiguous work with many shades of gray that should leave Abercrombie's growing legions of fans clamoring for more.

Here's the blurb:

They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.

Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he’s far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it’s his own.

Prince Calder isn’t interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he’ll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn’t have to fight for it himself.

Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?

Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail…

Three men. One battle. No Heroes

"Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley." Given the fact that most of the action occurs around the Heroes, a ring of standing stones set upon a hill in the middle of the Valley of Osrung, the worldbuilding in this book is not as impressive as that found in Best Served Cold. I thought that Abercrombie's Mediterranean setting truly came alive in that novel. Still, the harsh realities of the North are portrayed adroitly, with all the grit, violence, and wit that have become Joe Abercrombie's hallmarks. Wonder of wonders, The Heroes also features a map (at least the US edition does), which came as a nice surprise!

Once again, characterization remains the author's bread and butter, and Abercrombie doesn't disappoint. Although I feel that Monza Murcatto is Abercrombie's most fully realized character to date, The Heroes features the POVs of a number of interesting characters, chief among them Prince Calder, disgraced Colonel Bremer dan Gorst (whose narrative was at times hilarious), and Curnden Craw. Finree dan Brock was a well-drawn female character, but in the end I felt that everything surrounding her storyline came together a bit too easily. A few familiar faces such as the Dogman, Bayaz, and Caul Shivers also returns to have their part to play in the unfolding battle for the North.

As was the case with Best Served Cold and will likely be the case with future novels, Abercrombie's black humor helps create somewhat of a balance with the more violent and gruesome scenes. The author's witty and humorous style and tone allow him to get away with sequences of graphic violence that, coming from other writers, would probably be more shocking. And though The Heroes is as dark, brutal, and gritty as Best Served Cold, you will frequently find yourself chuckling out loud in spite of everything. Joe Abercrombie imbued this one with a healthy dose of cynicism, making it an even better reading experience.

Since the bulk of the action takes place during a three-day clash between the Union and the Northmen, the narrative is more tightly focused than any other Abercrombie work. Hence, the pace remains crisp throughout, with not a single dull moment between both covers.

The Heroes appears to be a set-up novel, paving the way for Abercrombie's upcoming fantasy western which will take place in the South. It's obvious that Bayaz has his own hidden agenda. As a badass cross between Belgarath the Sorcerer and Doctor Evil, Bayaz is becoming increasingly annoying. Hopefully the next book will help shine some light on what he's truly after, because more and more he's becoming a distraction that is taking a little something away from the tale. For me, at least. I'm curious to know why he appeared so intent on weakening both the Union and the Northmen during this conflict. Playing both sides against one another is all well and good, but here's to hoping that Abercrombie will elaborate on Bayaz's motives in the near future. I'm also curious as to why such an inept core of officers were sent to lead such a vast martial endeavor against Black Dow's bloodthirsty forces . . .

Those who haven't appreciated Joe Abercrombie's previous books will find nothing in The Heroes to make them reconsider their opinion of the author. But for Abercrombie fans the world over, this one will be a doozy!

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

2 commentaires:

Elfy said...

You and I felt much the same about it, Pat, although my personal favourite was Craw.

Anonymous said...

Loved Abercrombie's first 4 books for his dark and humorous social commentary. However, The Heroes takes one concept and shoves it down your throat over and over. This one was his weakest novel, and if it wasn't for fans seeing characters they fell in love with previous titles, it would be thrown in he recycle bin. Terrible novel.