“Red Country” Review

A fantasy-western hybrid. Sounds fun, right? That’s what Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country. Set in the disputed, gold-ridled landscape of the Far Country, Red Country tells the story of Shy South and her step-father Lamb. When their farm is burned down and Shy’s brother and sister are taken, the unlikely pair go on a quest to get them back. But Lamb isn’t who he seems, and the quest becomes more than they bargained for.

I think it only took me two or three days to finish this baby up. I had such high expectations. Some of those expectations were met. Others…not so much.

The thing that bothered me right away was the prose style. I read a few of Abercrombie’s blogs about his inspiration for the book, and most came from old western novels. Red Country has the kind of sentences that you’d expect to see in those books, full of run-ons and poor grammar and shifting tense. It was definitely a good way to establish the tone and the world, but in general I found it distracting. There were a few instances in which I had to go back and re-read a single sentence two or three times before I could understand what the hell it said. I get that he was going for Western-style prose, but at least for me,  it was kind of annoying.

I must say that I did enjoy the return of Logen Ninefingers, even though Abercrombie really didn’t answer any of the questions I had about him. Well, at least this volume didn’t raise any new questions; it just left me with the same ones I had before. In any case, it was great to see The Bloody Nine back in action. In my opinion, he’s one of Abercrombie’s top three greatest creations, along with Caul Shivers and my personal favorite, Sand dan Glokta. Nicomo Cosca used to be up there, but not after this book.

The Cosca of Red Country was the ugly cousin of the Cosca from The First Law. I think old, bitter, and psychotic are the three best adjectives to describe Red Country Nicomo Cosca. After finishing the book, I remember thinking: What the hell happened to this guy??? Where was the lovable rogue of The First Law? Red Country Cosca was not nearly so fun. He lacked all of the humor and much of the wit that made him so memorable in earlier volumes. And his moral complexity? Nowhere to be found. It used to be that he tottered on the line between good and evil. In this book, he was so far on the evil side that he was probably having afternoon tea with Hitler and Satan.

But Red Country was not entirely without its charms. It was really fun to see Shivers again, albeit in a cameo. His introduction was about as bad-ass as you can get. And the part with the dragon was pretty intriguing. I’ve heard speculation that Abercrombie might write another trilogy next. Could this dragon make another appearance?

This one was tough for me, because it was the first Joe Abercrombie book I’ve had mixed feelings about. While the book did have strong characters and a few memorable scenes, the flat story and slow pacing made it far less enjoyable than it could’ve and should’ve been.

Rating: 6.5/10

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