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The Heroes
Joe Abercrombie
Gollancz, 678 pages

The Heroes
Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie was born in Lancaster, UK in 1974. He went to Manchester University to study Psychology, then moved to London. He found work at a TV Post-Production company, leaving two years later to become a freelance film editor. In 2002, he sat down and began to write, completing The Blade Itself, was completed in 2004 and bought by Gollancz in 2005. Joe now lives in North London with his family.

Joe Abercrombie Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Best Served Cold
SF Site Review: Last Argument of Kings
SF Site Review: Before They are Hanged
SF Site Review: The Blade Itself

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dominic Cilli

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Joe Abercrombie is to fantasy literature what Quentin Tarantino is to action films. They are both decidedly twisted, prone to moments of extreme violence and write very real characters and acrid dialogue that doesn't pull any punches. High on my wish list, right next to winning the lotto and marrying Penelope Cruz, is to see Quentin Tarantino direct an adaptation of The First Law Trilogy.

The story told in The Heroes isn't a complicated one. It's a three day battle between the Northmen led by Black Dow and the King's Army or "Union" who are allied with some of the Dogman's men. For those of you familiar with Abercrombie's work, you'll surely recognize those names along with many other characters that make appearances from his previous works like Lord Bayaz and Caul Shivers. The title Abercrombie chose is slightly misleading; The Heroes for most authors would refer to some glorified set of characters that through acts of valor elevate themselves into what people think a hero should be. However, in typical Abercrombie fashion, The Heroes refers to a rock formation on the high ground of what will eventually become the site of some of the bloodiest and most brutal fighting the North has ever seen. If you know Joe Abercrombie's writing you know he doesn't write stereotypical "heroes." Joe's heroes are all flawed in some way and half of them are real SOBs. Abercrombie shows us how easily one man's hero can be another man's villain and you certainly won't find any Sir Lancelot types in his writing, If that is the type of character you want to read about, I can recommend many different authors, but not Abercrombie. The battle scenes in The Heroes are fantastic, action packed, bloody and ultimately comprise the bulk of this novel. He not only gives many of his characters the chance to show off their battle prowess, but shows us the battle from a variety of very different character types often switching viewpoints quickly. For example, Abercrombie will take us from the viewpoint of someone taking an axe in the head then immediately switch to the person who has just swung the axe. It's quite clever and we get to see the fighting through the eyes of cowards, madmen, incompetents, master swordsmen and cold blooded killers. However, in the end, Abercrombie is constantly jogging our memory that the idea of war and the reality of war are two different things.

The Heroes reminded me a great deal of one of my favorite books of all time the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. For those of you unfamiliar with that work, it's the story of the battle of Gettysburg and it garners my highest recommendation possible. It was brilliantly written and highly entertaining. (For those without the time to read The Killer Angels, fear not. It was put to film almost exactly as it was written in the TBS production called Gettysburg. So you can cheat, watch the film and find it's almost exactly the same experience as reading the book, even down to some of the dialogue.) The reason I mention this novel is because The Heroes reminds me in many ways of The Killer Angels or any real good civil war novel. The Heroes unfolds and is structured very much like that other novel was. The Heroes is divided into sections and chapters with each section being one day of the battle and Abercrombie has added some very nice battle maps before each day of battle allowing the readers to better visualize the changing positions of the various armies and helping us to better understand the battlefield. This should appeal greatly to fans of civil war and tactical military novels, as well as fantasy junkies. Furthermore, the Northmen are fewer in number, but with much better leadership and warriors, superior knowledge of the land and better battle tactics, while the Union is better armed, much more numerous, but suffer under inferior leadership, disorganized tactics and bad ground. The Northmen hold the heights and both flanks and have a host of battle tested veterans manning them. This is eerily similar to the situation faced by the North and the South in Gettysburg as civil war buffs will tell you.

Overall, The Heroes is a blast to read. Abercrombie doesn't write the most lovable characters, or the most complex storylines, nor will he amaze you with his profundity. Joe Abercrombie just simply knows how write and how to tell an entertaining story and I simply love his twisted sense of humor that has come to be an important part of his style. His final products turn out to be much greater then the sum of their parts and the man simply has "it" and is easily one of the finest writers of his genre.

On a final note, when I contacted Joe Abercrombie before his last novel Best Served Cold was published, he told me it was going to be a stand-alone book that took place on a different continent with new characters and some minor characters from The First Law Trilogy. Perhaps his plans have changed. After the battle and near the end of The Heroes Abercrombie gives us a little foreshadowing as we are told that the remaining Union forces are to ship off to Styria to contend with "that notorious she-devil Monzcarro Murcatto, the Snake of Talins," the protagonist of Best Served Cold, So we may see some sort of tie-in novel next which would be a wonderful idea. If Abercrombie keeps writing at this level, fantasy fans have many years of terrific reading ahead. The Heroes came right at the end of 2010 but it should still land on our top ten list, AGAIN and it might just be the perfect lead off hitter for 2011 which promises to be one of the best years fantasy literature has seen in a while with books by Steven Erikson, Tad Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, Scott R.R. Baker and many others due out later in the year.

Copyright © 2011 Dominic Cilli

When asked to write a third-person tag line for his reviews, Dominic Cilli farmed the work out to an actual 3rd person, his friend Neal, who in turn turned it over to a second person who then asked his third cousin to help out and this person whom Dom doesn't even know then wrote in 8th person Omniscient mode "Dom's breadth of knowledge in literature runs the gamut and is certainly not bounded by the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. One thing I can say with certainty is that of all the people I don't know who've ever recommended books to read, Dom's recommendations are the best.


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