Title: The Heroes
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Release date: February 2011
Sources: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5
Joe Abercrombie’s new fantasy novel The Heroes continues in the world set in The First Law Trilogy. This time, he takes us to a single battle fought between the comparatively modern Union and the barbarians of the North. The story is told from the perspective of three Union and three Northern characters who all fight in the battle one way or another. Like Abercrombie’s previous novel, Best Served Cold, a few familiar faces from the first trilogy appear.
They fight over a steep hill called the Heroes, ringed with stones at the top to memorialize dead warriors of the past. As the battle progresses, all the characters contemplate the need for bravery in battle, what a hero truly is, and whether that is anything they would want to be.
The book is in many ways a send-up of war novels as a whole, where the overall context of the battle is never explained because the reader presumably already knows how these two armies came to be facing one another. While the reader is given only vague hints about the historical context of this confrontation, it truly doesn’t matter much to the characters involved. All that is important is the fighting that must be done.
Abercrombie in many ways returns to his bread and butter when he describes the action between these two contrasting sides. In comparison, Best Served Cold followed the action of several battles in the far-off continent of Styria, which was not fleshed out very well. Often the reader had to provide his own idea of what sort of place it was and what sort of people lived there (I found myself imagining Italy before the Renaissance).
The Heroes does not make this mistake. Instead, it is set in the frozen North, a place much easier to imagine and already well established in the previous First Law Trilogy. The two sides are easily distinguishable and, as a reader, you are free to pick whichever side you hope prevails.
Abercrombie seems in his element in a war novel setting, unafraid to introduce military jargon to describe the movements of divisions and regiments while still capable of maintaining a human perspective in the struggles involved. The book focuses on a very short time period (all but the final chapter of the book takes place over only five days) and one specific locale around the Northern town of Osrung.
This is a surprisingly unusual approach in fantasy, where sweeping scale is so often a key element in storytelling. But considering that this is a self-contained novel, having a comparatively tight story is effective and essential, and another element that made this installment superior to Best Served Cold.