The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie
5 Stars out of 5
This book is f******g awesome!
The Heroes is one of those books that changed me. For the better, or for the worse, I’m not sure yet.
When I first picked this book up I was initially drawn to the cover – great artwork!
I began to read it in bed, on my phone, with white text on a black screen. This was for the express reason I wanted as little light as possible so I could fall asleep quickly.
Yeah, that didn’t work out! Within minutes I was bolt upright, light on, and disgusted.
Disgusted by the language. It was, it was, it was f******g awesome. I’m Irish, swearing is like Mother’s milk to us, we get our first dose early in life.
Now when I say it changed me, I mean that I had never before read a book that was so unapologetically real. As a writer myself, I was always brought up to believe that crude language would age, and would limit your book. Well, I think The Heroes takes these rules, and s***s all over them.
Now, we start this book with Curnden Craw, a Northman. We meet this secretly cowardly battler as he fumbles his way up a steep, grassy hillside in the Valley of Osrung. He’s making his way to the top where he will find an ancient ring of stones inhabited by other Northmen. Only these Northmen fight for the Union, which is South. Simple. Craw fights his way up the hill past the awesomely phrased ‘bullying wind’, and so begins the tug of war for this simple hill in the North.
The premise is so crushingly simple it hurts my tiny little mind. Two sides, three days, lots of bastards, they win some, they lose some. But what happens in the midst of all this swearing and sharp metal, is that we see Abercrombie weave a tapestry rich in characters so gleefully flawed, that it’s hard to care what happens to them one way or another, because no matter what happens to them, it’s bloody (BLOODY) entertaining. I take that back for Craw, I really gave a damn about him.
We meet some real dicks in this book. Prince Calder – the superbly realised Cock of the North. He’s such an amusing character that I snorted with laughter so loud at his first verbal assault of Broad Tenways, that I woke my wife. Needless to say, I didn’t explain in full florid detail Prince Calder’s choice words. He’s a prick, but you’ll love him.
There is also Bremer dan Gorst. A self-loathing, shrill voiced human-tank. I’ve read this book several times, and every time, I find myself liking Gorst less and less. This is brilliant as he is complex, layered, sympathetic and frankly terrifying. Not one to get stuck in a lift with.
Black Dow, the ‘King of the North’, a man so evil he’s killed ‘more men than winter’, is again, an evil bastard, yet I found myself quite amused by him, so good is the dialogue. His hand gestures made me laugh aloud aplenty also.
There is a supporting cast full of some of the most memorable and amusing characters about: Caul Shivers (actually, he’s the one you don’t want to be in a lift with), Whirrun of Bligh (wielder of the father of swords and inventor of the cheese trap), Wonderful, Beck (Red Beck to you), and my personal favourites, Corporal Tunny, and the ruthless pairing of comic gold that is Deep and Shallow.
If salty language does not offend you (let’s face it, if it did, you’d have stopped reading a while ago), and you are not queasy at the rendering of blood on a page, then this my friend, is the book for you!
Abercrombie stands a simple premise of a war of attrition on the shoulders of outstanding characterisation, heart-pounding real action, and dialogue that will have you s******g with laughter. You probably wont give a flying s**t for the lives for most of the cast though, they are all so corrupted that any potential demise is probably deserved, and let’s face it, they’ll probably do it in manner so blackly funny it will be worth it.
5 Stars is the least it deserves. Get the Audio book too – Steven Pacey was born to read The Heroes – he masters every character and gets the darkly comic tone perfectly.
Read this book. Not tomorrow, today.