Red Country review

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Red Country is the third stand-alone novel by Joe Abercrombie, all of them set in the same world as his First Law trilogy but some years later. It should be the last one before a new trilogy, of which the details are scarce.  It was released in October 2012.
They burned her home.
They stole her brother and sister.
But vengeance is following. 
Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she'll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she's not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old step father Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb's buried a bloody past of his own. And out in the lawless Far Country the past never stays buried. 
Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust . . .
Westerns. They are the portrayal of a time when everything seemed to be possible, to reach for new opportunities in a harsh new land full of pioneers.  Gold digging, colonization, fame or hunting and preaching the savages.  They also represent a specific period in the American history where morality was questionable and the open plain unforgiving.  However, what we like in them is certainly not simply the setting but the opportunities, the solitary heroism and the conflicts it creates for uncommon folks to tackle.  That's what Mr. Abercrombie is wrapping this new story around.  And when Westerns are concerned, grit is usually about... what a perfect fit for the author!

The setting/worldbuilding conceived for Red Country by Joe is amazing.  Mostly so because at times, while I was skimming through the pages, I imagined the classic main road with the wooden boardwalk of a small town with the cowboys standing on their steads, women on a balcony with a plunging neckline, the dusty plains and the native menace to white man.  I almost imagined that the heroes didn't have swords but guns.  Putting that into perspective with the world the author has already created and in which he incorporated a region fit for the genre, even if he pushed the idea too far in small occurrences by using many clichés, I would say that the feat wasn't easy but it was masterfully accomplished.

The long wandering of colonists is also at the heart of the book but it creates a sluggish motion in term of pace.  The story is slow to pick up and seems to struggle to find the right rhythm but it's dead on in several scenes, when action is involved or when protagonists have discussions requiring biting remarks. However, with everything set in place, the characters step into play and the multiple switches of point of view makes the book a crowded place but full of interesting voices.  They come in new flavors and with several good old returnees, as we are now accustomed to see from Joe with his previous stand-alone.

From the well-known crowd, a favorite of everyone is reappearing at long last (I don't think I need to name him...) as Lamb,  the famed soldier of fortune Nicomo Cosca is back in force and good old Shivers adds his grain of salt. The return of this drunkard mercenary leader of dubious conscience and honor is a blessing for the book, both because of the deeper character development he gets and the black humor tone he surrounds himself with. We see him in a new light, a true incarnation of Joe's writing style as he roams the land in search of rebels.  As for the protagonist we were all waiting for, at first, it was a deception to see that I cared less about his new-found life but in the end, his choices became legitimate and the prospect of his past came back to make him act, to the benefit of us readers. We should always trust Joe!

As for the new crowd, above all, we discover Shy and Temple, the characters at the heart of the story­. Shy is an ex thief who now has people to look for, her brother and sister, who by being kidnapped, trigger the run around the Far Country, Lamb in tow.  The dedicated girl will soon meet with Temple, Cosca's lawyer who has been a Jack-Of-All-Trades for most of his life and is trying to find his own way for the first time.  He comes as a comic relief at times but his point of view and lack of backbone in this business is quite refreshing, clashing with Shy's resourcefulness.  They both bring something fresh to this dark tale.

With everything I have said so far, you must think that Red Country is simply amazing.  Well, there was something that nagged at me throughout the book and it's casting a bit of a shadow on the book.  I didn't feel that the purpose of the main protagonist Shy and her entourage is one of huge interest.  You might say that the journey one takes is more important than the destination but that destination ought to have a compelling aspect whatsoever.  Moreover, at the end of the road of the Red Country, we find people who are not really developed, the Dragon People (neither are the ghosts, the native equivalent). This was a surprise for me coming from Abercrombie.

There is enough struggles, mischief and opportunism between the different factions to get over that fact but it doesn't feel like a story written with a decisive plan in mind. It seems to flow with the situation, to discover itself.  Hopefully, there's still a significant dose of the author's trademark to keep the novel a thrilling reading experience.  There's less gore than usual (not that it matters that much) but witty talk, engrossing characters and even more importantly, a vivid, cunning and stunning writing style keeps it all together.

Joe Abercrombie is a seasoned writer acquainted with greatness and even if Red Country is still a very good book, I don't think it's Joe's best.  The book will still be a blast for any fan and I think that it can be read alone (but you'll miss on the cameos/returning cast).

Technically, Red Country's cover was my favorite of 2012.  The covers of Abercrombie's three last books with maps on the background, weapons and some blood always charm me. That awesome map can be found in the book and at my index. The quotes at the start of each section are still present and the Gollancz paperback edition of the book stands at 451 pages.

Red Country review score :

Characterization............. 9 /10
World building............... 9.5 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 /10
Story.............................. 8/ 10
Writing........................... 9 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8.5 / 10


Enjoy!

Joe Abercrombie page
Best Served Cold review
The Heroes review

1 comments:

Micaella Lopez said...

Mr. Abercrombie does it again.

What an awesome, awesome novel. I would have liked to see more of the First of the Magi and his schemes.

I love this mans books, the only sad thing about this is that I have to wait a year or more for another publication from this author. Ah well... I'll just go re-read all of his novels again and maybe both of Mark Lawrence's.
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