The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie

“Ah! Tea! Nothing seems quite as terrible once there is a cup of tea in your hand, eh?  Would anyone else care for some?”
There were no takers.  Tea was generally considered an unpatriotic Gurkish fashion, synonymous with moustache twiddling treachery. “Nobody?”

A raw, salt of the earth epic, The Heroes, of which there seem to be exceedingly few, and even then they are not, in any way, classic, drops you back into the world of the 1st Law Trilogy like a sack of potatoes.  Set over a few days of an attempt by the Union to topple Black Dow from his ill gotten throne of the North, I would almost say The Heroes asks the question if there really are any heroes in war, but the title actually refers to an outcrop of rocks on a hill.  The Heroes though, is filled with a bewildering army of great complex characters playing in a simple scenario.  It’s like Tolkien, but with bollocks.

Prime players include Curnden Craw, an old hand whose knees creak everytime he stands up, Prince Calder, the scheming coward out to regain his fathers crown, the brilliant Bremer Dan Gorst, desperately trying to regain the kings favour, Finree, the ambitious generals daughter and the enigmatic Bayaz, who I’m not sure if it would be safer to have on your side or not.  Abercrombie takes you down to the dirt and chaos of army life and battle, and where there isn’t really good and evil, just two sides fighting over nothing much.

Some characters return from the 1st Law Trilogy, although it’s been so long since I read them that I couldn’t remember many, and there is a nod to Best Served Cold but this is easy enough to read on it’s own. As with Abercrombie’s books, it is not necessarily what is happening, but who it’s happening too that makes The Heroes great, the dialog in particular is as coarse and sharp as the axehead on the cover, and there were many laugh out loud moments, which reminded me in many ways of Terry Pratchett.  Corporal Tunny, one of the best characters in the book, seemed the twin of corporal Nobby Nobs from the Ankh-Morpork watch. Abercrombie certainly has a satirical look at his subjects, but has a lot more grit that the Discworld.

By the end of the final day, there could be some winners, there are certainly a lot of losers, but once you start a life of fighting, can you ever stop?

Red Country, his 6th book is something of a Western apparently, but a further trilogy set in the 1st law world is planned, and I’m looking forward to them already.

For reasons known only to himself he’d taken his shirt off and was standing stripped to his waist – Father of Swords over one shoulder.  “By the dead,” muttered Craw “Every time we fight you’re bloody wearing less.”
Whirrun tipped his head back and blinked into the rain. “I’m not wearing a shirt in this. A wet shirt only chafes my nipples.”
Wonderful shook her head. “All part of the hero’s mystery.”

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