Joe Abercrombie, Red Country (2012)

red-country

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: Red Country

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 451

Series: First Law World #6

Abercrombie’s Red Country is in many aspects a continuation of the First Law Trilogy, the review of which was incidentally one of our first Two-shots. After all, Logen Ninefingers, known in the North as Bloody-Nine, is one of the main protagonists of this bloody fantasy western. And if that comes as a spoiler… Well, it’s on the back of the freaking cover, so we don’t count it as a spoiler – though probably some of the book characters would disagree ๐Ÿ˜€

In many other aspects, however, it’s as standalone as Abercrombie’s novels go: it takes place in a fundamentally different part of the First Law world, on the very frontier of the Western continent, Far Country. This part of the world is no more peaceful than Angland or Styria: torn by gold fever, hostile encounters with elusive aboriginal people called Ghosts, and inhabited by the shattered dreams of people who ran away from their past, hoping for a new opening, Far Country only seems serene from far away. But its biggest selling point, especially for the Lamb, was the pronounced lack of Bayaz.

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Ola: Oh, lack of Bayaz was definitely one of the biggest selling points of the whole endeavor for me. That, and, obviously, the presence of Logen. I’ll be frank here: Abercrombie is a terrific writer, imaginative and skillful, but the conspiracy theory underlying all his books, mainly that all events are manipulated by an impossibly powerful cabal of near-immortal wizards, is something that significantly lessens my enjoyment of his work. But Logen Ninefingers, hands down the best male character in Abercrombie novels, always lifts my mood – and that says something, for Bloody Nine is the coldest, ruthless killer in the whole First Law world. Well, he is that, a berserker the North tells stories about, and at the same time he is a kind, shy stepfather to three orphaned kids.

Piotrek: Well, as a staunch dis-believer in conspiracy theories, I find it very amusing that here we really have a cabal of world-controlling l(w)izards ๐Ÿ˜‰ And I find Bayaz to be a great anti-Gandalf, he was one of my favourite characters of the First Law trilogy. Still, the very favourite did not make it, and Logen definitely fits into the top 5. Here, trying to get away from his bloody past and lead a good, simple life, he is once again a very complex, compelling protagonist, and the fact most of the other characters know, for once, less then the reader – why, I found it very satisfying.

When he needs to get back into his old, ruthless self, even if it’s from the noblest of reasons, I kind of knew where it’s ultimately leading, and it gave the novel a whole new layer of grimness.

Ola: Is it me or is the Unforgiven vibe rather overpowering here? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Elderly William Munny, played by none other than Clint Eastwood, had been the meanest, nastiest outlaw the West had seen – before he settled down, married and fathered a couple of kids, all the while trying to atone for the sins of his past. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any reader of this blog that there is something very Eastwoodian in the way I imagine Ninefingers.

Clint-Eastwood-Unforgiven

Piotrek: It could be a great role, and a chance for Eastwood to get into the king of genres, fantasy. Well, not now, but… 10, 20 years ago?

Ola: I must admit, if not for Logen, and Nicomo Cosca, to a lesser extent, I would consider this novel among the least successful works of Abercrombie. It is plodding, slow-burning, decidedly too long and too crammed with good intentions to maintain the cleanliness of Abercrombie’s usual style or to measure up to the ecstatic cruelty of The Heroes – and to make things worse, neither Shy nor Temple as the notional protagonists didn’t really click with me – but Logen’s arc really compensates for most of these flaws. There is something irresistible to see a character going through so much growth: the realization of what he’s done, the stubborn, continuing attempts to atone for his past sins, the humility and safety of his anonymous everyday existence… and yet the twists of fate time and again draw him against his will into the very thing he tried to escape from – violence.

Piotrek: Maybe he overdid it a bit, with Shy and Temple, to give us a bit of hope in a younger (our age, +/-?) couple that actually achieved redemption. But it was all within the conventions of the genre. And I simply bought the book as a whole, as an exercise in genre-bending. I was looking for the tropes, and they were there, done aptly, not always brilliantly, sure… that is a great fantasy-western that does not quite reach the level of Unforgiven. The whole wagon travel through the planes was really nicely done

Logen’s arch, though, and Cosca’s… both epic in their ways, dwarfing other storylines.

Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Piotrek: Logen’s arc ended in a scene taken from Shane, one of the great classical westerns that also inspired Logan’s authors. Hero comes, shrouded in mystery, saves the situation, and then, understanding the settled life is not for him, he goes away.

Ola: Oh, but Shane’s ending, analyzed so stunningly well in The Negotiator, is far from being straightforward. Besides the famous dispute whether he lives or dies at the end, the concluding scene with Shane riding away from the life he led is an admission that his attempt to start anew had been, in the end, a failed one: that our nature, however much we’d like to disown it, will always out. It’s not about choice, quite the contrary: it’s the realization that the choice was an illusion, and that the one thing you cannot escape is your self.

Piotrek: And here Logen agrees. We don’t have to. It makes for a great conclusion to a journey of one anti-hero, anyway.

Cosca, on the other hand, is not redeemed. A mercenary that occasionally pretended to be more than a thug, ended up as a common robber and we could see there was never much difference anyway.

END OF SPOILERS

Ola: Cosca had some great lines, and his story served as a wonderful counterbalance to Logen’s arc – the two stories eerily similar in some aspects, depicting two lives filled with violence and following the same winding, ruthless, painful route, yetย  arriving at totally different destinations. This might actually be the only book in which Abercrombie makes a moral stand of sorts, in defence of ethical values, in which the effort is not entirely doomed (not only, but also, because of the aforementioned lack of the evil wizard :P). And that’s another of the main selling points of Red Country – at least to me.

What is not so great, apart from the apparent difficulties in wrapping up this book, to which Abercrombie admits freely on his blog, is the villain of the piece: the Ghosts. I appreciate the difficulties in transplanting a straightforward 18th century Western to our modern times so as to not offend the evolving sensibilities – especially with regards to the issue of dehumanization and demonization of the enemy, yet, as a result, the Ghosts are papery and completely unconvincing. Their whole story arc seems half-baked, a literary primum movens necessary to put in motion the subsequent events of the book – but then, Red Country is a character-driven novel.

Piotrek: I have to agree here. We do not spend enough time with them, they do not fit well. But I love what their big, almost woken-up Dragon turns out to be ๐Ÿ˜‰ In their defeat we have a defeat of the mysterious by the efficient, technical, forward-looking civilization triumphing over the fantasy. I wonder, how Bayaz will keep the strings of power – perhaps it will be even easier, when he changes robes for a suit?

Ola: Spoiler for A Little Hatred – it is ๐Ÿ˜‰ And who he could have become if not a bankster? ๐Ÿ˜›

Piotrek: I’d say the story could use some more work. I kept expecting to learn about some connection of the Ghosts to Bayaz’s arch-adversary. Ultimately, there were only a pretext.

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So, we have a few great arcs, we have a conclusion or two, and actually a preview of the technological progress that will define the new Abercrombie’s trilogy. I say, great stuff. Not as great as Best Served Cold, but great nonetheless. And another proof that he’s not that grim nor dark, at heart, as he always finds a way to bring some warmth into his novels, and confirm one or two traditional values ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ola: Heh, I’d say better than Best Served Cold, which holds the least appeal of all Abercrombie’s novels to me ๐Ÿ˜› So, better than Best Served Cold, on par with the First Law trilogy, but not as good as The Heroes ๐Ÿ˜‰

Score: Ola: 8.5/10, Piotrek 8.5/10

35 thoughts on “Joe Abercrombie, Red Country (2012)

  1. Well I skipped the spoilery part of this review, but the beginning was fun! I donโ€™t know why I donโ€™t get along with Abercrombie. I think heโ€™s just too long winded for me.

    And poor Logen Ninefingers took too long to become Bloody Nine in book one. Iโ€™m not sure if I want to continue the series or not. Maybe when Iโ€™m in a better mood?

    This sounds like fun though. Does Logen spend a lot of time as the Bloody Nine? Maybe Iโ€™d enjoy the standalone more.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I added “end of spoilers” line, in case ๐Ÿ˜‰
      If you feel magnanimous one day, give Abercrombie a second chance – the subsequent books are much better than the first, and the story gets tighter and sharper.
      Red Country is very much like The Unforgiven – there is a certain time at the beginning where the Lamb fights against his nature, but it quickly changes ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yet hands down the best Logen’s fight takes place in First Law trilogy, so you might want to go back to it one day ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 2 people

      1. So The First Law actually was my second shot at Abercrombie. I read A Little Hatred in November. Reading them side by side, I do appreciate how much heโ€™s improved.

        I think when people speak of him though they always say โ€œgrim darkโ€. Between The Last Kingdom and Mark Lawrence, Abercrombie isnโ€™t really close.

        HOWEVER, I have been wondering if itโ€™s just a first book problem I have with him. Both books just feel like all set up for later books and it tests my patience if you know what I mean? Thereโ€™s basically no plot at all in The Blade Itself. And the plot in A Little Hatred is stronger but really slow to reveal itself. Iโ€™ve been thinking maybe with book one out of the way id like book two? But at the same time if Iโ€™m not getting along with him how many books do I really give him to convince me? He could tell the stories heโ€™s telling in significantly less words. And this is weird coming from a Stephen King fan, but I definitely am not the sort who appreciates extra words or flowery prose.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yeah, I know what you mean. I actually don’t like this category, grimdark, it’s a bit of make-believe to me, and so vague almost anything can be called it. I think Abercrombie is put in this category because he exhibits a certain ruthlessness toward his characters that is quite unique – he seems to have almost no compassion for any of them, and he rarely depicts them in favorable light, opting instead for a rather demeaning view. Still, he does showcase a certain hierarchy of values in his books, even if for most part they are unacknowledged or outwardly denied. So, depending on your definition, he’s either grimdark or not ๐Ÿ˜‚

          I’d say A Little Hatred is not a good book to start – much of what you might take as inconsequential stems from the previous trilogy and The Heroes. But I too did finish it recently and was not wowed ๐Ÿ˜‰ As for the First Law trilogy, I think it improves with each installment ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I mean- itโ€™s grimdark in some ways? But I guess I thought there were more battle scenes involved. Less torture, less political maneuvering. I can see why it is grimdark… but it just doesnโ€™t fit my definition of it.

            As for A Little Hatred- to be honest- it was kind of fun knowing where all those characters were headed and seeing how they got there! Like Ardee and (Janis? Canโ€™t remember the kings name now).

            I think in terms of writing ability and story telling Abercrombie has grown leaps and bounds though, which is pretty cool to see.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Yeah, that’s true, he’s growth as a writer is really impressive – though I didn’t appreciate A Little Hatred that much storywise; I felt he became quite repetitive, changing only characters, but not the story ๐Ÿ˜‰

            If you want fights, there’s a great fight scene with Logen in the second or third book, but the best battle scenes are in The Heroes.

            Jezal’s storyline was a surprise at the beginning, though by the second book I knew where it was headed and I mostly felt pity for the guy – not to mention Ardee. I guess that’s what I mean by Abercrombie’s cruelty toward characters ๐Ÿ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Oh, but it’s a really good fight scene! ๐Ÿ˜€

            But yes, The Heroes is a standalone, so less investment – and if this book will not make an impression on you, First Law most decidedly won’t either ๐Ÿ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

    1. For me it’s right behind The Heroes, so second favorite ๐Ÿ˜‰ I do struggle with some of his ideas, but I can’t deny he’s a very good writer ๐Ÿ˜„

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  2. Great review guys! I’ve never read any Abercrombie and I don’t plan to either. Nothing I’ve seen for synopsese or reviews gives me any desire to immerse myself in his world.

    Are you both caught up with all of his writings or do you still have several to catch up?

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Lol, I can see that, especially after Bakker! ๐Ÿ˜„ I’d not call Abercrombie grimdark, and there is indeed a bit of fast-food aftertaste in his books, but I still enjoy reading them – there are some really amazingly strong moments, and he can write a fight scene as few others do. if you’d like giving him another chance, I’d recommend The Heroes – a bit more ambitious than his other books, though taking place in the same world.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The guy has merit, I could see that, but I don’t think I’ll ever revisit him again. If I had more time, maybe, but as that’s not going to be the case for another ten years chances are very, very slim at best.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yeah, I feel your pain ๐Ÿ˜‰ And, frankly, there are better authors, and authors more suited to your tastes, so believe me, I do get your position.
            Why ten years, though? We have a saying in Polish: “small kids – small trouble, big kids – big trouble”… ๐Ÿ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Good luck with that! ๐Ÿ˜€ But yeah, the time for reading books might actually grow closer to previous levels – or you’ll learn to enjoy Harry Potter and other kids’ books ๐Ÿ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      For me – it’s only the trilogy and the three standalones. Now I’ll probably read his new books set in same universe, the first of which was just published. None of his YA though, although I’ve read good things.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I’m up to date with most of his books, though I dropped his YA series after the first installment and I’m not planning to come back to it.
      There are things that put me off, and I m guessing they are somewhat similar to what would send you frothing ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I do enjoy his writing skills, and the seemingly effortless way in which he created truly memorable characters. Though I do admit, I had a bout ofAbercrombie fatigue recently while reading A Little Hatred – too much of the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. After being thrilled by A Little Hatred I decided to go back to Abercrombie’s earlier works and acquired both the First Law trilogy and the standalones (with the exception of Best Served Cold, which I already read as my first Abercrombie work and I hope to re-read in sequence). Knowing that Logen Ninefinger, indeed my favorite character once I read The Blade Itself, I’m very happy to know he will feature in this book as well: he and Mad Ben Styke from Brian McClellan’s latest series are amazing characters…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic collab review guys! It’s been a while since y’all actually shared something like this. Always a pleasure to see how both your minds somehow manage to say such common yet distinctive things. Also glad to hear that his other novels set in the same universe are still pretty good. I’ll probably try and dive into his first law trilogy before the sequel to his new trilogy comes out. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      Thx ๐Ÿ™‚ Well, it’s a specific pleasure, not totally grimdark in my opinion, and definitely very modern and ironic, in comparison to, say, Tolkien, but still… very, very good.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks, Lashaan!
      The Two-shots are fun to write, and I’m pleased they’re also fun to read ๐Ÿ˜Š
      Abercrombie writes well, and I personally prefer his “standalones” to the trilogies. Hope you will enjoy the First Law trilogy!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: The Wanderlust Book Tag | Re-enchantment Of The World

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