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REVIEW: 'Red Country' by Joe Abercrombie

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 stepfather 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…”


I've always described Abercrombie's work, when moving past the simple Dark Fantasy description, as Game of Thrones without all the happiness and joy. Yes, that's a bit of a knock about how bleak his books can be, but also a compliment to Abercrombie on his writing. He has earned a fan following for his gritty stories and whatever my personal feelings about his work, his writing has always been fantastic, from plot to dialogue to descriptors.

Leading up to Red Country, Abercrombie had said he studied a great deal of western style stories and it shows in his work. If you took the six shooters out of some of the best western novels and dropped swords into their place, you would have the setting for Red Country. The characters, the travel, the hopes and the plans, the environment and enemies, all come together toward that end. And it works. More than any of his other novels, all of which have been good, in this book the setting and writing style mesh perfectly.

Like his last two novels, Best Served Cold and The Heroes, Red Country is set in the same world as his First Law Trilogy, but is a stand alone. Returning readers will be more than happy to see some fan favorite characters return, but first time readers can still easily follow the story with no knowledge of the books that came before it. As for those readers that like their fantasy stories light on magic, they will be very satisfied with this book. Though magic exists in some small form in Abercrombie's world, it really doesn't make an appearance in this book in any substantial way, and the overall tone of the world is one that has started to move away from the fantastical and into the hints of an industrial age.

Normally, I avoid digging too much into describing the story and one of those reasons is spoilers, but I wanted to address the ending. I have no intention of giving anything away, but I feel as though the ending is an important part of any story and where it leaves the characters, and the reader, when they close the book, has some of the biggest impact on how one feels about what they just read. All of Abercrombie's endings to date have landed a bit sour with me, not because they were unhappy, though they usually are, but because it often left me not liking any of the characters. After all, no matter how dark your world is, your readers have to be able to find a few characters they enjoy.  So far, in his books, characters I liked throughout an entire story often suddenly took a path that left me hating them in the last couple chapters (if they lived).   It left me not really caring to revisit those characters or that world again, the fact that I always do is a testament to how good his writing is.  To that end, I simply wanted to say that Red Country has probably had one of the better endings of his books, not that it was happy, but that it seemed fitting. For the first time after closing one of his books, I didn't feel like I needed a break from unrealistic bleakness, but instead that like I wished I could stay a bit longer in his world.


As I said in the opening paragraph, fans of dark fantasy or something like George R.R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series will be instantly familiar with the tone of Abercrombie's work. I would also tell fans of westerns open to other genres to give this a try, but, above all, any fantasy reader should be giving Abercrombie's work a read. He is one of the best writers in the genre right now.

Red Country comes out in the US on November 13th, and is out now in the UK.

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