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The Heroes; or, Greek Fairy Tales: For My Children Paperback – May 10, 2000
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I was an English major once upon a time, and used to read plenty of serious literature. But as I've grown older, I have less patience for that kind of fiction. Writers of genre fiction, and fantasy in particular, haven't forgotten that great books are ultimately about great storytelling. It's about putting interesting characters in tight spots and seeing what happens. Everything else is secondary.
And The Heroes is a bloody great story. It's tightly focused on a single battle over a three-day period. The action is well done, but it's mainly the very flawed characters making good and bad decisions in desperate situations that make the story so entertaining. Each chapter has a point-of-view character, and the tone and style change, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, as the story shifts between them. (The dialog and language of the northmen is just one example, and Abercrombie deliberately draws some humor out of this.) Each chapter reads like a well-honed short story, with a mini story arc for that particular character. I found each of the points of view interesting and entertaining -- there wasn't a single chapter where I found myself skimming to get to the next good bit, because every page is a pleasure.
There is a theme here (the nature of heroism), but it's not heavy handed and adds some emotional depth to the story. I even had a tear in my eye at one point. But mostly the book struck me as honest, funny, touching, and vastly entertaining.
If you have read the earlier books, you’ll recall that a conflict, provoked by the manipulations of two rival magical forces, has been brewing between the Union and the barbaric Northmen who are probably best compared to the historical Vikings. When The Heroes opens, the Union is staging forces to fight. At this point, after much provocation by both sides, the Union is marching as the aggressors and the Northmen are on the defense.
The conditions that the combatants live in vary greatly depending on which side they are on and their station in life. Abercrombie paints a realistically harsh picture of both sides of the battlefield. It’s gritty, dark and, as a soldier, I can say that it’s an excellent depiction of what combat and the movement and life of a soldier would be like in these conditions. For the Northmen it’s rough living, carrying things on their back and living off what they can hunt up or scavenge. The Union is better provisioned, but the Nobility and Officers live in much superior conditions than their conscripted troops.
On both sides of the battle we follow a number of different characters who, in their own way, make mistakes and act honorably or dishonorably. But even when we see heroic or altruistic acts performed, Abercrombie shows us the counterpoint to those actions, the second and sometimes third order motivations that prompt them. So, the awe-inspiring swordsman, the all-powerful wizard, the conniving military wife, the slacker, the grumpy old soldier, the vicious Leader, the devious young man, and the untried new warrior all teach us about honor and courage…. or the lack thereof. Their stories don’t follow the straightforward and expected course; instead, these characters are led through trials and tests that they handle in very different ways and the resulting twisted paths are captivating to follow.
The other thing that is really amazing about Abercrombie’s storytelling is how realistic the combat can be. Things like the strategy of staying on a line with your fellow soldiers makes so much sense when you see how an uneven line can be exploited. His depiction of the rigorous training that the Champion of the Union forces puts himself through translates brilliantly into actual combat prowess. These are the sort of logical underpinnings that take a good story and make it into something truly profound. The why that explains a hero’s greatness is so often overlooked.
The Heroes is brilliant storytelling. The cover reads, “Three men, One Battle, No Heroes” and that is a perfect description. Joe Abercrombie’s latest book should be at the top of your list and even if you have not yet read the previous novels that are set in this world, you should still read The Heroes. Gritty, harsh, powerful storytelling that takes you into the crucible of combat and lets you see how the perception of the hero is not always the reality of the hero.
There is a cast of character and all of them are interesting, from the good people (not many of those) to the bad people (lots of those). It is like Game of Thrones. It is a great story that focuses entirely on a battle and the characters that make up that battle.
There are lots of twists and turns and you just know you do not want to have been there. It was not fun for anyone except the First Magi.
This is Joe at his best! Although he is always at his best. I am reading EVERYTHING he has published. I LIKE THIS GUY.
Again like his previous books there is Great action and allot of it considering that its a 3 day battle. Similar to how he describes his characters, Abercrombie describes war in a very realistic way. Its not something to be glorified and have heroes triumphing over the odds. Even though its a fantasy novel, he shows us how bloody and savage war is. That it is confusing, at times boring and will make even the bravest man scared enough to shake in his boots.
Even though this all takes place on a battle its not all about fighting. There is allot of scheming going on and furthers the shape of the First Law landscape.
If you are a fan of Abercrombie or have read his previous books, I can tell you that they just keep on getting better.
Most recent customer reviews
I had high expectations for this book, after Best Served Cold convinced me that Abercrombie could write novels that are grim,...Read more
It says stand alone novel. I suggest reading "best served cold" before this.