After diving in several months ago into Joe Abercrombie's "First Law" series, I have finally finished The Red Country the most recent of the books set in this world. I decided to write this blog entry as spoiler free as I can so that I can convince as many people as I can to give his books a try, and to explain why I enjoyed them so thoroughly for people who have not read them before. I read many fantasies. I read stories set in worlds modern and ages past, in societies much like our own and those completely foreign. When I say that Abercrombie's books out "Game of Thrones" Game of Thrones I do not say so lightly.
|Aww yeaaah dragons!|
|Alright, alright get here already|
Instead of focusing on epic struggles, Abercrombie's books focus on more broader questions of morality and fate, whether men and women can every truly be good, whether goodness is a relative term. It is for this reason that I actually found his later "First Law" books: Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and The Red Country to be better than the original trilogy. Best Served Cold combines the elements of the best heist stories and the best revenge stories, a mixture of John Wick and Kill Bill, featuring a women (Monza Murcatto) whose drive for vengeance is both satisfying and sad, and a man (Caul Shivers) whose attempts to create a better life, to become a better man, ultimately culminate in him becoming a worse one, while also asking the question whether revenge can ever truly be satisfying. The Heroes plays out like the best war movies: a single three day battle told from a variety of perspectives, while simultaneously examining what heroism really means. Finally, The Red Country, a beautifully crafted Western with elements of Shane or Yojimbo, featuring a man with no name (though his name is quite obvious) and a plot reminiscent of The Searchers, but with interesting twists, that forces the reader to examine whether leaving the past behind us is every really possible. At the conclusion of Red Country, many loose ends from the previous books are concluded, but the war between the Union and Gurkhul remains, nothing is really "over." According to Abercrombie, there is another trilogy set in the First Law world in the works. He could very well go on to write more books set in this world or he could never write another one and it wouldn't matter. He doesn't have to. You read his books for his stories, for his characters, NOT because you particularly care who "wins" in this big and epic struggle. He can go on and tell smaller stories that ultimately resonate more with me as a reader because his characters are more important than the "epic" part of the story he is telling.
|Ugh don't even get me started|
Abercrombie's books are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There are racial characterizations that, for a lack of a better word, are "problematic" as is common in many Western fantasy stories. However Abercrombie does do a far better job than Martin at least in integrating characters from different backgrounds with different ethnicities. Monza Murcatto and Shy South and Ferro are fascinating characters, but Abercrombie still could have done a better job with his women. All because you like something doesn't mean that you completely ignore their faults. However, if you are somebody who enjoys Game of Thrones the show or The Song of Ice and Fire the series, I would say pretty unequivocally that you will enjoy the First Law books as well, and you may see, as I did, the areas in which they succeed more than Martin's works.