Saturday, April 20, 2013

Game of Thrones Withdrawal: Part the Second

ISBN-10: 0316193569
ISBN-13: 9780316193566
Published: Orbit, 10/01/2011
Pages: 576
Language: English
George R.R. Martin has long been credited with bringing gritty realism to the realm of fantasy, but he looks positively soft-hearted compared to the criminally overlooked Joe Abercrombie, who has been elevating cynicism to high art in his First Law Trilogy and stand-alone works Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and, most recently, Red Country. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to get to Red Country yet, so I thought I would focus this entry on my favorite Abercrombie book: The Heroes. The entirety of the novel focuses on an epic three-day battle between the rebellious Northern army and the imperialistic Union forces over a worthless hill. The strengths of the book lie in its characterizations-- Abercombie jumps between numerous fleshed-out characters on both sides of the conflict-- his thrilling but entirely un-romanticized fight scenes, and a vein of bitter, dark humor that takes unsettling aim at humanity's worst tendencies.

For a book with enough swordplay and gore to last several Game of Thrones novels, Abercrombie's book is thoroughly anti-war. The title is mostly a sarcastic joke, as even those characters that fight with true heroism often turn out to be psychologically damaged misfits, truly sad creatures that are discarded as soon as the warring ends. In Abercrombie's world, war is an inevitability brought about by human weakness and greed-- there are no good guys, no bad guys, and nobody really wins. In many ways, this is the fantasy novel that Kurt Vonnegut would write, and if that doesn't sell you on it, I don't know what will.

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