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    The Heroes (Hardback) By (author) Joe Abercrombie


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    DescriptionThey 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.

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    Nasty, brutish and 500 pages long4

    John Middleton The Heroes is a simple story about a pointless battle in the middle of nowhere. We are never told the reason for the battle - although it is clear that it is a mere skirmish in a much bigger war than most realise, especially if you have read the First Law trilogy and/or Best Served Cold. This being Joe Abercrombie, there is mud, dirt and death in abundance. There is no "good vs evil" here, with good and evil on both sides. Actually, on both sides there is not a lot of good, and even the evil is of the mundane selfish type rather than of the "evil overlord planning to rule the world" variety (that stays well and truly in the shadows here).
    There are 6 main points of view, with the tale told in the now standard rotating POV style. On the Union side, we have disgraced swordsman Bremer dan Gorst, the ambitious Finree dan Brock seeking advancement for her husband, and Corporal Tunny, who defies description save as a combination of Flashman and MacAuslan. But having said that, here is Tunny described to some new recruits:
    "Boys, this here is the famous Corporal Tunny, one of the longest serving non-commissioned officers in General Jalenhorm's division. A veteran of the Starikland rebellion, the Gurkish war, the last Northern war, the siege of Adua, this current unpleasantness, and a quantity of peacetime soldiering that would have bored a keener mind to death. He has survived the runs, the rot, the grip, the autumn shudders, the caresses of Northern winds, the buffets of Southern women, thousands of miles of marching, many years of his Majesty's rations and even a tiny bit of actual fighting to stand - or sit - before you now. He has four times been Sergeant Tunny, once even Colour Sergeant Tunny, but always, like a homing pigeon to its humble cage, returned to his current station. He now holds the exalted post of standard bearer of his August Majesty's indomitable First regiment of cavalry. That gives him responsibility-" Tunny groaned at the mere mention of the word. "-for the regimental riders, tasked with carrying messages to and from our much admired commanding officer, Colonel Vallimir. Which is where you boys come in."
    On the Northern side, there is the straight-arrow Curnden Craw, the scheming "Prince" Calder, and raw wannabe hero Beck.
    There are also a number of other perspectives we see only fleetingly, for one reason or another.
    But not all points of view are equal - Calder gets the bulk of the story, and is almost, but not quite, the protagonist of the whole story. And therein lies the problem I had with the book - I loved it, could not put it down, but the lack of a protagonist to tie the story all together meant it seemed to lack a "golden thread" and somehow just did not live up to its considerable promise. I guess that's a way of saying that I thought I the book could have been better - or rather, that I could have liked it better. Mind you, after complaining that the books lack a true protangonist I also would have liked to have seen a lot more of Corporal Tunny, who probably has the least screen time of any character, so at the end of the day I'm wanting to have my cake and eat it too.
    The Heroes, by the way, are a stonehenge like collection of rocks on a hilltop. There aren't many human heroes on the battlefield.
    This book works as a standalone story, but is better read as part of the greater Abercrombie ouvre - in which it is a short pause, a sideshow, and yet providing a little depth to the stories already told and those yet to come (there are 4 more under contract, apparently). There is dark humor, mud, blood and gore here, toegther with snatches of what might almost be heroism, but is more likely stupidity. It's not Abercrombie's best work - I think that was Best Served Cold - but its gripping, honest, and well worth the read. by John Middleton

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