The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
I’v never enjoyed military fantasy so much. Hard hitting, sweeping, gritty, awash in blood gore and filth, Joe Abercrombie’s best effort yet. I haven’t read his “Best Served Cold” yet, I’ve heard it’s about a linear singular plot of revenge as the name suggests. His grittiest till date. Well, Gritty is one word that never escapes you when you talk about Joe Abercrombie. I soon plan to get back to his first trilogy, where he had taken the usual fantasy tropes and given them a all a nasty little tweak in the head and produced a best seller that took the world by storm announcing the arrival of a major tour-de-force in the Fantasy voices.
Coming back to Heroes – Remarkable military fantasy that reminds us time and again, that at the end of the war, there are no winners. There are only casualties. To quote Mr. Abercrombie, Luck. Some men have it, some don’t.
The novel unfolds over 3 days of war between the Union (the civilized folks) and the North ( a cluster of barbaric warmongers who keep bickering among themselves). It’s a character study of three to four major characters, all of whom are multi-dimensional, flawed and yet endearing in their own ways. The story follows the war from the POV of all these characters, equally spread between both the sides so you get a pretty balanced view of the whole thing as it unfolds. Smattered with pointless jealousies, blood red ambitions running hot and cold, conspiracies and betrayals galore, an average blood thirsty “gritty fantasy fan” would have nothing to complain. What makes this blood soaked, war story even more attractive is the intelligent pacing and the mini-plots that keeps surfacing through the story. Frequent mentions of heroes from the past books keep popping up, so be warned that you might want to finish his first trilogy. It all flows from there. But heck, not to worry, this serves very well as a standalone and one easily slips into the grim world of Abercrombie’s through the Heroes.
Curnden Craw, a war weary veteran who wants nothing more than to retire and go home, has this last battle to fight for the North. He knows everyone’s a coward but he’s a “Straight Edge” – which means he does things by the right always. Least favorite of mine.
Bremer Der Gorst, the finest fighter south of the Kingdom, formerly First Guard to the King, now is a disgraced soldier whose punishment is to be sent as the Royal Observer of the war. This fellow has some serious issues. Man, I just loved the mental tsunamis that erupt in his mind whenever he gets faced down in any situation. Some of the battle’s bloodiest darkest graphically depicted scenes flow from Gorst. A remorseless killer, I just adored this guy and would love to see him come back in some of Abercrombie’s later works. Joe paints the picture of a man, clearly humiliated and having a self-esteem lower than the whale shit at the bottom of the ocean, who comes alive only when the steel is singing its song dipped in dark blood. Crackerjack of a character.
Calder, younger son to former “King” to the Northmen, he easily takes the cake for the best etched character. Dark, scheming, pure evil and yet, a cowardly skunk, an ambitious man who wants to get the Kingdom back at any cost and is willing to scheme and kill anyone in his way. The depth of this character is unbelievable, as he flits his way from black to grey to white and switches back to grey to …I ain’t telling you what shade he is, but he’s definitely my FAVORITE character of the lot. His chapters are like pure silk, smooth and slick. And am sure Abercrombie enjoyed bringing this meanie bad-ass to life in the pages.
The only major female POV is that of Finree, a girl whose got more steel than a lot of soldiers in the union army and whose ambitious overtures challenges that of Calder himself. Her chapters are smaller, but I still enjoyed this fiery feisty little shitkicker, Abercrombie always wants to paint his lead girls as the ass-kicking bad-ass show stoppers, Finree just about stops short of being that.
Another side character that I truly enjoyed was that of the Corporal Tunny who brings alive the sardonic wit that’s so predominant in his fiction. His words are gems that I’d treasure, “War is 99% boredom and 1% arse-opening terror.” Tedium and terror are the two major emotions in the war.
Abercrombie neatly stitches together all POVs in the backdrop of this useless, yet bloody war and finished off with a flourish, understating that important fact that in a war, there are no Heroes. Only casualties.
His settings are already in place as he borrows from his world that he so painstakingly built in the First Law trilogy. But his characterization is bloody brilliant, gems by themselves and they outshine the bloody dark pall that war spills onto the entire book. I’ve become a huge fan of Joe Abercrombie and have vowed to go back and complete his first Law Trilogy which I’d left off after the Blade Itself.
A full 5-stars, if a book ever deserved one, then that’s this one.