Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
Abercrombie stormed into the fantasy like no other. His debut book ‘The Blade Itself‘ was an instant hit and his trilogy is now pretty much a staple to everyone’s recommended reads. His strength is his characterizations. He is able draw the reader into the heart and soul of the characters, any flaws or bad character traits are accepted and any that provoke anger are soon to be dispelled in consequent chapters. All of his characters go through hardship and because of this, is why we are so drawn to the characters.
Red Country is about a small family who owns a farm. Shy South, the protective big sister of Ro and Pit, is a woman bent on forgetting past mistakes and living her new life to the letter of the law. Her past has made her an angry person, often verbally abusing Lamb her “father”, who she deems as a coward. However, she also regards him as a father figure as he looks after Ro and Pit as if they were his own (He’s kind to her as well). Perhaps giving them the childhood that she never got.
Lamb is a hulking brute of a man. He has seen many winters and through them has lost a finger but traded it for many scars. Yet, for someone who is such a hulk, he avoids confrontation at every avenue, he can’t barter or haggle, he doesn’t want to fight and just bobs his head when Shy yells at him. What happened in his past that has totally paralyzed him now?
After a day of bartering and selling her crops, Shy and Lamb head back to their farm. As the last hill was crested, they find only the smoking ruins of their farm. Gully, one of their workers is hanging from a tree; Ro and Pit gone.
The corner of Lamb’s mouth twitched but he didn’t look at her. “We’ll follow.” Like it was a fact agreed on. “Might be we can talk this out. Buy’em back.”
“Buy’em back? They burn your farm, and they hang your friend, and they steal your children and you want to pay’em for the privilege? You’re such a fucking coward!”
Still he didn’t look at her. “Sometimes a coward’s what you need.” His voice was rough. Clicking in his throat. “No shed bloods going to unburn this farm now, nor unhang Gully neither. That’s done. Best we can do is get back the little ones, any way we can. Get’em back safe.” This time the twitch started at his mouth and scurried all the way up his scarred cheek to the corner of his eye.
“Then we’ll see.”
I think you can safely assume what this kind of book will entail. What Abercrombie does well in this book, like all his others, is the characterization of his POVs (point of view). You really get to know the characters of this book, you feel their strengths, their weaknesses and their desires.
There are other main POVs in the story. A man named Temple who is the Lawyer to Nicomo Cosca, infamous leader of the mercenary band called The Gracious Hand. Through him we get reintroduced to Nicomo Cosca (who made his first introduction in Best Served Cold) and other recurring characters. With that said, like all stand-alones you don’t have to read the previous books, but the book contains more depth when the other books have been read (especially this one, compared to Best Served Cold and The Heroes).
Ro the sister of Shy also gets a few pages from her POV. Through her thoughts and feelings, we gain even more understanding of Shy and the woman she is.
Now, to the nitty gritty. Red Country is perhaps the most anticipated book by Abercrombie, but after reading it, I felt it was very weak compared to the other 5 books he has written. Yes, he does stay true to his style and perhaps he has gotten better at writing scenery and describing locations. The town called Crease was a good example of this, but then again, when comparing to Crease, Ashranc another town was severely lacking.
There were lots of little semantics throughout the story that irked me. Stories that were left untold. I’m not sure whether or not Abercrombie was afraid to make this book a tome. It sits at 451 pages, but I thought it could have been a 600-700 page book if he flesh out more parts of it. In this modern age of fantasy, we are blessed with many good books; my friend often says that is has ‘spoiled me’, after I critique a book to him. I’ve read lots and lots of good books over the last 10 years and I like the little details that add up. You can’t pan away from a difficult situation and then moments later have that situation solved ‘off screen’, even if that said character is awesome at what they do.
I thought Ro should have had many more chapters in her POV. Her captors are interesting, I wanted to know more but I was left with a feeling of wanting. You can argue that this is a sign of a good writer (I don’t dispute) but with the way this book ends, I thought Abercrombie should have elaborated more. If you look at the series The Daylight War, you get many chapters and character background of both ‘the good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’. It makes for better reading in my opinion.
With all that said, Red Country is still a good book. It is well written and I guess my biggest critique is that it needed to be longer. As an Abercrombie fan, I can see that he has grown as a writer and this bodes well for his next trilogy.
If you haven’t read any of his books. I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point, just because I feel you would get more out of this book once you have read his first four books. Either read The Heroes first or go straight into the deep end with The Blade Itself.