Book Review: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Apologies, dear readers, but I have been quite ill this week and have not played a game nor kept up with the gaming news. I honestly do not have much interesting to talk about on the gaming front.

So instead, my constant readers are getting a special treat, a somewhat literary review of a book in the fantasy genre. Because gamers like fantasy, right?

Anyway, I submit for today’s consideration Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes. For those not in the know, Abercrombie is a Limey bastard who writes gritty, realistic fantastic fiction that does not even get close to the “anti-hero” mark. His protagonists are varying shades of villain, and his villains merely the least palatable of the characters.

The Heroes UK Cover
The UK gets better book covers than the US. Discuss.

The Heroes is his second-stand alone novel in his as-yet unnamed world that resembles late-Middle Ages Europe and Africa. It deals with several characters from the first four novels, and while it is not strictly necessary to have read them, I think I would be lost with The Heroes if I had not read The First Law trilogy and Best Served Cold.

Intrepid readers should beware, however. Abercrombie does not pull punches; graphic sex, torture, mutilation, battle and blood are fairly common centerpieces to his chapters. I cannot recommend Abercrombie to the squeamish or faint of heart.

But for those willing to wade through literal rivers of literary gore, Abercrombie offers something truly special: his prose is deft, his characterization is spot-on, and when he adopts the point of view of a certain character, he really helps that character find a unique voice.

Abercrombie also manages to subvert most of the common tropes of fantasy literature, which make his familiar-sounding stories (cantankerous Old Wizard recruits Northern Barbarian and Pretty-Boy Prince to go adventuring On The Far Side of the World!) seem totally new.

Joe Abercrombie
Surprisingly not as trollish and ugly as one would expect.

The Heroes tells the story of a battle, a battle that will decide two things: the fate of the free, quasi-barbarian north, and the ever-changing struggle between centuries old wizards with a grumpy feud.

The one area where Abercrombie lags behind other authors is in his world-building. Abercrombie made a conscious decision not to engage in expository world-building, and as such, his world often feels a little thin. We get flashes, glimpses of places, but nothing more. Talins is corrupt but beautiful, with a stinking criminal underworld. Adua is a corrupt and pitiless city where the rich rule and the poor are starved. The Gurkish Empire is ruled by despots and despotic religion.

Still, if one manages to forget this world and simply revel in the fresh, character-driven narratives, the story more or less falls together as a complete whole.

So for fans of sword-swinging action, scars (lots of scars), Action Girls who will totally knife someone in the back, and double, triple, and quadruple-crosses, I heartily recommend the works of Mr. Abercrombie.

7 comments

  1. Europe (and by extension Australia) ALWAYS have better covers than the US, but I would wager that we pay twice as much for the privilege.

    You do a good job of selling the writer, I’ll have to check him out once I’m done with the book I’m reading.

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