Red Country by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

Red-Country-UK

Bane of Kings reviews his second favourite book of 2012, Red Country, written by Joe Abercrombie and published by Gollancz in the UK.

“An epic, awesome standalone fantasy novel that I really enjoyed. One of gritty fantasy’s best Authors, Abercrombie is right up there with George RR Martin.” ~The Founding Fields

Red Country was the first book that I brought on my Kindle Fire that I got for Christmas, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s my third Abercrombie novel that I’ve read, after The Blade Itself and The Heroes. And I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t put this novel down, and I was glad that I was reading this on a long journey allowing me to read this in pretty much two sittings – It’s just one of those books that I couldn’t put down. And whilst it may not be my favourite Abercrombie book (The Heroes holds that title), It’s still a very good one and better than most of the stuff that I read that was released in 2012 (all of it apart from Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns, as it turns out).

Shy South comes home to her farm to find a blackened shell, her brother and sister stolen, and knows she’ll have to go back to bad old ways if she’s ever to see them again. She sets off in pursuit with only her cowardly old step-father Lamb for company. But it turns out he’s hiding a bloody past of his own. None bloodier.

Their journey will take them across the lawless plains, to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feuds, duels, and massacres, high into unmapped mountains to a reckoning with ancient enemies, and force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, a man no one should ever have to trust . . .

There were a few things that prevented Red Country from being as awesome as The Heroes, which I’m going to talk about before I start saying how good this book was. There were a couple of pacing issues that I had with the book, for certain sections I felt dragged out for me. Other than that though, the novel was epic – and even though I don’t read/watch a lot of westerns (despite one of my favourite films being The Magnificent Seven and one of my favourite debut novels of 2012 being Lee Collins’ Western/vampire book from Angry Robot), Red Country was still really epic, as Abercrombie manages to include enough fantasy in this book to make it feel like a fantasy novel rather than a western. Sure, there’s the traditional western cliches thrown in there – bar fights, wide open spaces, wagon trains etc, but Abercrombie’s writing manages to save this book from being very poor indeed, after all – it was billed right from the get go as a Fantasy Western. And I’ll admit that the only reason that I picked this up was because it was Abercrombie. 

And he didn’t disappoint. For those expecting one-dimensional, cliched fantasy characters such as the arrow-wielding Elf, the kickass female warrior, the elderly wizarding mentor and the farmboy who just so happens to be a chosen one, then you should know by now that Abercrombie’s not going to give you that satisfaction. We get Shy South, Lamb (who everyone knows by now is Logen Ninefingers – even I knew this before starting the novel, and even though his identity isn’t revealed at all in the novel by name, you still know that it’s going to be him), Cosca and more, all these characters are varied, and most of them aren’t very friendly at all. This has a lower dramatis personae than The Heroes and that is because it’s a more personal, character-focused novel. Lamb is the key character here and whilst we don’t get a POV from him in the whole novel, he still manages to remain the driving force at the centre of the novel. Abercrombie manages keep fans of Logen and the First Law Trilogy happy by including old faces, and manages to do so in such a way that newcomers can jump right into Red Country without reading any of his other work.

The action is plenty in this novel, and whilst it starts of slow, when it gets towards the end, things really start to kick into gear. Abercrombie has proved in The Heroes and in The Blade Itself that he can write action and write it really well, and I’m really looking forward to what he can come up with next. I was utterly engrossed in this book and there is a good reason why, for me – Red Country is my second favourite book of 2012. Abercrombie gets almost everything spot on. However, despite its flaw, the rest of the book more than makes it up for me. And yes, even with the flaw of the pacing – I’m going to give it 5/5. Not many books can have pacing issues and still get perfect marks, but Abercrombie has managed that for me. Red Country is him writing at almost his highest level, and I can’t wait to see what he will give us in 2013.

Verdict: 5/5

The First Law World: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, The Last Argument of Kings, Best Served Cold, The Heroes, Red Country,

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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  • Dale Pearl

    I loved Red Country. I understand the parallels that many make by labeling this a western but realistically most fantasy novels with fit into either Europe’s medieval times or America’s wild west. The tempo and pacing of this book I actually found to be substantially better than the other first law books. In Red Country you could feel the pulse of the separate story lines beginning to merge, for me it was almost like a hidden story. On top of that the prose, the dialogue was superb. I came away with over 120 quotes from this book, probably the same number I caught from the first law 1-3 combined.

    One thing we can agree is that Joe is right up at the top as far as fantasy writers go right now. George Martin… yes he is good but 1 book every 5 years doesn’t cut it and Mr. Martin also leaves you hating half of the wretched characters. Joe has this way of making you absolutely adore the bad guys. Remember Glotka? Yes he was freaking awesome!

    This book gets my vote for best fantasy in the past 20 years. Out of the thousands of books that I have read I place this one squarely at the top. Since reading this book I haven’t stopped dreaming about it or lounging around imagining that I am in Creasine, standing in a crowd watching Logan AKA Lamp pulling out Golden’s moustache.