Cynical characters, fast pacing, and a hell of a lot of blood. I think that sums up Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy novel The Heroes pretty well.
Abercrombie is fast becoming one of my favorite modern fantasy authors, due in large part to books like this. Set in the icy wastes of the north, The Heroes focuses on a three day battle between the barbaric Northmen and the international superpower known as the Union. There are plenty of fighters on each side, from veterans to raw recruits, from kings to prospective kings, and they all have a part in the festivities.
(Many a spoiler herein.)
First off, the battle scenes are good, and I mean really good. So good that I’d be willing to call them Abercrombie’s best; certainly some of the best I’ve ever read. The deaths are visceral, the descriptions grisly. For example, one of my favorite chapters employs a technique I like to call “Point-of-View Relay” (I’ve already copyrighted the term––anyone else who uses it from now on owes me money). We start the chapter from the point of view of a supporting character. That character runs around a little, does some fighting, and eventually gets killed. Then we switch to the perspective of the guy who killed him, and we follow him for a while as he does some fighting of his own. Eventually he’s killed, and then we follow his killer, and so on. It’s inventive, and a great way to put the reader right into the action.
As far as characters, there are a lot to like. The scheming Prince Calder is one of my favorites, as is the scheming Finree dan Brock. (In case you didn’t notice, I really like the schemers, and Abercrombie offers plenty). I’ve always been a big fan of Black Dow, and Bayaz is a welcome return as an excellent villain. If you read my blog on Best Served Cold, then you already know about my soft spot for Caul Shivers. I like Curnden Craw, too, though I can’t help but feel that he’s too nice to have the same moral complexity of Abercrombie’s other characters. A likable character, certainly––but not very intriguing. And I’m not a fan of Ishri, either. Ever since she said something like “I’ve still got it” in Best Served Cold, I’ve never been able to take her seriously.
Other problems I have with the book…well, not many. Could’ve used a bit more tactics, I thought. Most of it was just who goes where, followed by fifty pages of slaughter. Fun, but I thought that could’ve been a little better.
All in all, a very enjoyable read, with a huge cast of characters and plenty of gory fun. Some of those characters lack the snap of previous books, however, and I found the tactics to be a bit less prominent than advertised. Still, it’s an undeniable good time.