Red Country. Book Review

Red-CountryBRED COUNTRY by Joe Abercrombie

Gollancz. h/b. £16.99

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

There’s the promise of gold in Squaredeal and now the small town is bursting with hopefuls. But Wist says gold sends folk mad and Shy South is inclined to agree with him this time. Shy doesn’t much like people, but she is good at haggling and strikes a hard bargain; hard enough to keep the kids fed, hard enough to keep Wist helping her out and hard enough to keep her cowardly father figure, Lamb, at her side. Yes Shy South may be a capable woman, but when she returns home to find the farm burned to the ground and the kids missing she knows her strength and resolve are to be tested once again.

Elsewhere in the north there is a solo warrior looking to settle an old debt, a child thief, a town torn between two masters, groups of ghosts attacking bands of innocent travellers who are only interested in making a living, violent rebels, a former carpenter/lawyer/priest wresting with his conscience, a writer taking notes on an infamous character in preparation for a biography, and a soldier of fortune leading a band of mercenaries. They all have varying desires and missions, but somehow the fates will cross their paths time and again.

Red Country is set in the same world as Abercrombie’s The Heroes and The First Law trilogy. The politics of the world are familiar and there are some treats in store for fans in the shape of some of his most colourful characters, and yet Abercrombie also manages to infuse this book with a new feel. This is essentially a western, set for the most part in dry, dusty plains and simple towns where simple folk live out simple lives. It has everything a western needs, from the horses and wagons, brothels and hard liquor, to the bristling, reluctant heroes and their honour codes. Yet somehow Abercrombie also manages to get talk of magic and dragons in there without anything seeming out of place.

This is another fantastic example of Abercrombie’s ability to tell a story in an effective and graphic manner. The action sequences, as you would expect, are bloody, pacey and expertly choreographed to place the reader in the midst of the action. The characters once again are dynamic and the dialogue is excellent, working perfectly to distinguish point of view characters from one another. Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie; say he knows how to satisfy his fans.

Although Red Country is set in a world fans have already seen and loved, this bookwould serve as a good introduction to that world for new Abercrombie readers. No prior knowledge is needed to understand or to enjoy Shy’s story, and she is the predominant character here; despite everything else that is going on, the main concerns are her story, her journey to retrieve the missing children. The plot is solid, the pacing is excellent and the grim humour throughout confirm this as another success of modern fantasy.