February 23, 2015 by McDowski
“So you love war. I used to think you were a decent man. But I see now I was mistaken. You’re a hero.”
This standalone novel from Abercrombie is the only novel in his repertoire that has a subtle title. The Heroes. It could be called that because a lot of the action takes place at a site in the North, with large boulders on top a hill that the Northmen call The Heroes. Or it could be called that because the novel is about characters like Bremer dan Gorst, Black Dow, Shivers, Craw, and others who excel in fighting and war. They are, in their own way and to their own people, heroes.
The story takes place about five years after the events of Best Served Cold, and eight years after The First Law trilogy. Union commander Lord Marshal Kroy is leading the Union forces against the much smaller Northern army that is now led by Black Dow. One of the primary POV characters in the book is Bremer dan Gorst, the large, strong, heavily-muscled and squeaky-voiced expert swordsman who we last saw in the trilogy as a Knight of the Body (one of the personal bodyguards of the King). A lot has happened to Gorst in the eight years since, and not for the better. After the events of Best Served Cold, Gorst has lost his position as the King’s guard and is now toiling away in the Union’s company, tasked with chronicling the events of the war in his (rather emasculating to him) capacity as Royal Observer. But Gorst is not an observer. He is a fighter. A killer. And how can he not fight, when fighting and coming within an inch of dying is the only thing that makes him feel alive?
Meanwhile, Prince Calder is in the North, forced to fight the Union after his pregnant wife is taken hostage. Calder is doing what he does best: scheming and plotting a way that he can find himself in a better situation while not being in the line of danger himself.
Curnden Craw is a veteran Named Man of the North, one who is considered a ‘straight edge’ much like his former mentor, Rudd Threetrees, a dying breed of Named Men who still believe in honor, doing the right thing, and living the old way. Craw is leader of his Dozen (who rarely equal dozen people) a group of skilled Named Men (and a Woman) who are tasked by Black Dow to retake and hold the hill that they call The Heroes.
The entire plot of The Heroes takes placed over a period of three days. I was impressed by how much detail and engrossing plot Abercrombie managed to squeeze into this short a time. The novel is more action and battle-based than any of his other works, and it really cements what Abercrombie fans have known since his first book – the man knows how to write a fight scene. The battles are vivid and clear, and even without the benefit of a map you never lose where you are or what is happening. One fight scene in particular, involving a set of rotating one-and-done POVs in a quick and brutal close quarters – was masterfully done, and is my favorite fight scene of any book I have ever read.
The characters are wonderfully drawn out and realistic. You won’t have any cookie-cutters here. In addition to the above POVs, we also get a few others as well as some old favorites. The Dogman makes a few brief appearances, as does Bayaz, and Black Dow of course. We also have a significant (albeit non-POV) role for Caul Shivers, appearing more deadly and menacing than ever.
The Heroes is a fantastic novel. Written by an ever-improving Abercrombie, it is both entertaining and thoughtful, making one wonder about the supposed glory of war, and is masterfully written. It was, and remains, my favorite novel by Joe Abercrombie. I have no hesitation in recommending it, nor do I in giving it a perfect 5/5 rating.