Saturday, November 10, 2012
Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
When I first heard that Joe Abercrombie's 2012 Circle of the World standalone novel was going to be a western I wondered exactly how the author could accomplish that in a pre industrial world which had not yet developed the hand gun.
The more I heard about Red Country in the lead up to it's release, the more it seemed that Joe Abercrombie had not only done that, he'd accomplished it with his usual style and wit.
Right from the opening page of Red Country it's very obvious that this book is very much a western. It doesn't have guns or steam trains, but everything else is right from the western playbook. There are elements of everything from the early dime store novels telling action packed stories of hard fighting frontiersmen to more recent warts and all TV shows like Deadwood.
There's a dedication to Clint Eastwood at the start of the book, and you could really see the grizzled old actor playing a character in the story. There's bits of True Grit, The Searchers, The Unforgiven and the aforementioned Deadwood, as well as any other western film or TV show you'd care to name. Despite all this the book fits in well with the previous five Circle of the World novels (The First Law trilogy and the two standalones Best Served Cold and The Heroes).
It's a fairly simple tale of search and revenge. Shy South and her seemingly mild mannered, confrontation averse step father Lamb, return to their small holding to find it burned and their hired hand killed. There is no sign of Shy's younger brother and sister. Shy's not a lady to cross and she loves her siblings. Whoever took them is going to give them back and pay for the doing of it with their blood.
Shy and Lamb will meet up with infamous mercenary captains, discredited actors, slippery lawyers, legendary frontiersmen and hunted rebels. They'll lose some of their own, they'll fight the local natives (called Ghosts), the mercenary company of Nicomo Cosca and each other. They'll also confront their own pasts. That's the thing about the west in this world, everyone seems to go there to outrun their past. In one surprising case they'll even find love out there amongst, the dirt, mud, blood and death.
It's a sprawling novel that is an immense amount of fun, despite the genuinely epic feel of Red Country it is one of Abercrombie's shortest books, my copy weighed in at 451 pages, and they flew by.
It is a genuine standalone, but having as characters from the previous 5 books pop in and out of the story it gives some extra context to have read some of the earlier work in the same setting. A question that has been haunting readers since the end of The Last Argument of Kings is also answered, so if you don't want to be spoiled for the opening trilogy, it's an idea to at least read that first.
Joe Abercrombie always hits the mark for me and Red Country is no exception. The Heroes remains my favourite of his books, but Red Country is definitely going to make my top reads of 2012.