Now and then I just like the idea of talking about other writers' works. So, today, because I’m on my fourth book by the same author, I thought I’d mention Joe Abercrombie. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the man, but if I do I’ll likely shake his hand. His writing is some damned fine work.
Not all that long ago I was talking with Charles R. Rutledge about fantasy and the fact that I hadn’t read it in a very long time. Mostly because I kept running cross the same bloody story and not much of anything else. Basic premise I saw far too often came down to something like this: a boy who dreams of being a famous warrior lives in a peaceful land and longs for adventure. In the standard issue twist of fate, he gets his wish the hard way when an Ancient Evil (it could be a single sorcerer or an evil warlord, but inevitably there would be minions of that Ancient Evil) would come back from the distant past and start destroying the peaceful kingdom of Nothing-Exciting-Ever-Happens-Here. That boy would then experience a coming of age that likely involved the destruction of his peaceful little town (and possibly the enslavement of all his friends and family, plus that cute girl he just knows he’s destined to be with) and said boy would run away and happen across the inevitable magic item that was foretold to save the world from the return of the Ancient Evil. Along the way he’d likely meet a bitter nobleman, a wizard or two, a few archers and a thief. They would all be an important part of his coming of age experience and would all prove to be the best allies a young man could ever have. Also, there would either be another girl, even feistier than the one he left behind, or the one he left behind would show up and they would end up together in the end. Oh, and some sort of critter that would endearingly be like the team mascot and save the day a few times.
Now, to be fair, I probably only ran across five or six variations of that theme, most of them involving elves, dwarves, dragons and the occasional wizard. But it was enough to turn me away from the fantasy genre for a long, long time.
Charles told me he had the cure for that. And the nest time we got together, he brought me a few books to read. At the top of that stack was a trilogy of books by Joe Abercrombie, THE FIRST LAW Trilogy, comprised of THE BLADE ITSELF, BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED and THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS. For lack of a better way to put it, Abercrombie apparently looked at all the same books I did when I was younger and used them as a perfect example of what not to do.
The FIRST LAW trilogy weaves the tales of multiple main characters—I hesitate to call them heroes, when some of them are really not very nice people—and spins them together into a tapestry of political intrigue, warfare and sorcery and, gasp, realism. The story is about a world in the process of upheaval. Things are changing, though for better or worse is anyone’s guess. But there are players involved in making things happen, there’s a barbarian, there’s a swordsman, and there’s a torturer. Oh, and there’s a wizard. Maybe. He could just be bluffing, really. He’s behind a lot of machinations, but he’s also the last one to tell anyone at all what he’s up to.
The characters are fleshed out, living, breathing figures, some of them brave, some of them cowardly, some of them heroic some of them damned near demonic, and very few of them at all what I expected. I, who had sworn off of reading fantasy ever again, could not put the damned books down. I, who read at a snail’s pace these days (listen I work a fulltime job, and I write full time and there are only so many hours in the day) burned through the books at four to five times my normal reading speed and hungered for more.
I thanked Charles, of course. And he in turn showed up with more books, but we’ll get to those later. Right now I’m still going on about Abercrombie’s works. Well, actually, I have my own writing to get back to, so I’ll only say a little more. Recently Charles suggested BEST SERVED COLD to me. It’s a book that takes place in the same world. I’m just over halfway through the story and once again I find I’m reading more than I really should, and gleefully giving up sleep to make up the difference. It has been a very long time since I willingly sacrificed sleep for a novel, but BEST SERVED COLD is well worth the sacrifice. Once again the characters are delightfully human, and sometimes brutally flawed.
About two weeks ago Abercrombie’s latest in the same world, RED COUNTRY, came out in hardback. I’ll be buying it. And I’ll be buying it soon. Mister Abercrombie has pretty much gotten a fan for life in me. Unless he suddenly starts writing about elves and long lost rings, that is.