Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Heroes The Heroes
by Joe Abercrombie

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

This was a bit of a departure for me, since I normally prefer my fantasy on the high side—where the magic comes thick and fast. The Heroes was more the fantasy equivalent of All Quiet on the Western Front, gritty, realistic, and low in overt magic (though not entirely lacking).

The titular "Heroes" are both a stone circle around which much of the action in the novel takes place, and a theme for the whole book. This focuses on the nature of heroism in a war that is essentially futile, fought between the Union who seem almost Napoleonic in their military structure and style of warfare (with the Captains and Colonels, but without the gunpowder) and the North, who are more your typical fantasy barbarian horde. The politics behind this particular action are complicated, but the reader becomes increasingly suspicious that it’s all down to a feud between mages. So, lots of people get maimed and many get killed for no good reason… like in most wars.

The novel is essentially character-driven, with the plot retreating into background, just the battle progressing as battles do. The map is relatively small, and the timeframe just a matter of days, though there is a cast of thousands. There are three main and several minor viewpoint characters. There is Colonel Horst, whose genuine bravery is conflicted with a serious lack of self-esteem (he is a brawny man with squeaky falsetto voice). There is "Prince" Calder whose intelligence and military cunning are coupled with cowardice and a total ineptitude for personal combat—not good when you’re son of the former King of the North. And lastly there’s Camden Craw, a Named Man and leader of his dozen—who’s really getting too old for this kind of thing. They’re interesting characters to whom interesting things happen—but whether or not they are actually heroes is not so easy to decide.

It’s a novel that is both simple and complex, with some important things to say. Said generally very cleverly and with wit, wisdom and good humour. Some of it said with considerable profanity, so for that and the violence level you’d have to call this an adults-only novel—a pity perhaps, because there are things said here that many a young man needs to hear.

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