Author: Joe Abercrombie
Series: First Law World #5
They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud.Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.
Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he’s far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it’s his own.
Prince Calder isn’t interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he’ll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn’t have to fight for it himself.
Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?
Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail.
Three men. One battle. No Heroes.
I had plans of reading this book much earlier this year, but first it got lost during the delivery and, while I was waiting for the second delivery, I decided to clean my ARC list and promise myself to stop clicking the request button for a while (keep posted to my blog if you are dying to know how that ended… spoiler alert: badly!!). So this book of the First Law World was pushed back for later and now I won’t be able to be up-to-date with this saga for the the first book of the new trilogy that it is going to be published next week. I’ve always been a terrible planner…
We travel again to the lands of the North, to a small place called The Heroes (a bunch of big stones in a circle) in the valley of Osrung. There, the final battle between the North and the Union takes place during several days. There are many people involved in both sides of the conflict, but some of the main pieces are: Bremer dan Gorst, former Knight of the Body who fell in disgrace in the weird events of Sipani and is eager to make the King proud again. Curnden Craw, an honest man fighting for Black Dow, who is more concerned about the well-being of his friends than the politics of war. Prince Calder, one of Bethod’s sons who is tired of being the laughing stock of the North. Finree, the well-intended wife of Harod dan Brock with a mission to clean once and for all the dark shadow of her husband’s father. Beck, a young and inexperience Northman who dreams to go to war to get a name for himself. And Tunny, a veteran Union soldier with enough few morals to make some profit during war. As it is usually said: heroes in both sides. Or maybe no heroes at all…
Judging the story by itself and its development you could say that we are in front of the weakest book of this saga. The foundations of the reunion in The Heroes is pretty simple: the North and the Union are facing each other in the final battle. Some days the Northmen are the ones with the advantage and others is the other way around. The battles are epic, but the conflict itself is rather basic. So, what makes this book so great? The answer to that question is, without any sliver of doubt, the amazing display of characters. This is not a book about a war. It is a book about the people involved in that war. There are not good guys or bad guys. There is just a bunch of people trying to make the best of a situation they didn’t have a saying about. An amazing way to tell the story of a battle, if I can say so.
Yes, the main focus are the characters, but the conflict itself and its resolution is pretty importat for the big picture of the First Law World. It is another cogwheel of that machine that keeps spouting, little by little, details for the bigger and more secretive war going on between Bayaz and his minions and Khalul and his followers. I made it perfectly clear before that I love to hate the backstabbing bald and this book adds several items to the long lists of the reasons I have to wish him a painful death. One that involves prolonged torture, fire, dismembering, flaying and several sharp objects protuding from his body. And that is me during a good day… He makes my blood boil everytime he is in the book, but when he does what he does best… I get so cold. I’m afraid of him. I’m afraid of that chess game he is playing where all his pieces are pawns he can get rid of at any time. And those pieces have names and faces that I love: Jezal dan Luthar, Glokta, West and many more. With that rotten baldy playing god… I’m alweays afraid for them.
Even writting about him makes me nervous! So, let’s change the focus to other characters. One of the strenghts of this book is getting to know Bremer dan Gorst a little better. We already knew he was a good and loyal guy, so it is a bit sad to see him almost depressed about his new position in life after the Sipani events. He looks defeated, without any kind of hope of getting back to his old self. He seems to believe his only way of redemption is through war, so he dives into battle without much care about his well-being. The development of this character reminds me a little bit of Shivers at the end of the previous book. Both of them are in a dark place that brings out the worst about themselves. That situation actually breaks my heart and I wish for them a better outcome. But, knowing the author’s style… it is more likely to see them in even deeper mud.
The biggest surprsie for me has been Calder. We knew about him from the first trilogy and we knew he was, pardon my rudeness, a fucking idiot. So I wasn’t expecting to like him that much to the point of rooting for him during the events in The Heroes. He is aware of his checkered past and wants to change, be a better version of himself; but the North is a harsh place with harsher inhabitants; so his quest is not an easy one. I enjoyed a lot his tight relationship with his brother, even though they are day and night they fit together pretty well. Overall, I think he is my favourite character of the book and the one who is in the middle of the most interesting twists and revelations. I’m eager to read about his role in future books… if he lasts that long.
The other stories are also good and enjoyable, with Craw and Tunny showing us how to take care of the men at your command and Finree’s adventures in the battlefield of politics. But I must highlight that small character called Beck. What a beautiful story about expectations and reality. I’m glad that Joe spared him from his mischievous writing style, so the poor guy could have a happy ending, somehow. We know this writer is not known by his unyielding mercy toward his creations, so I’m thankful that Beck has rediscovered his little portion of happiness. I don’t think my heart could have taken a repeat of Shivers’ or Gorst’s stories.
I have nothing but praise about this book and I’m already counting the days to start reading the next book of this saga. I have no idea where is going to take me, but I bet is full of mastercrafted characters like the previous ones.