Review: Red Country

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Red CountryRed Country by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I’ve been meaning to read some more of his work since then and I finally decided to pick up Red Country because it was getting a lot of praise.

I liked it quite well, but I don’t think I liked it as well as the First Law trilogy. It was really very good in many ways, but I didn’t think the story was quite as interesting. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it felt a little aimless at times.

The characters were solid. I liked Shy, Temple, and Dab Sweet all well enough. They were fairly diverse and interesting. Lamb was my favorite of course. I don’t want to give anything away, but those who have read the First Law trilogy will be thrilled by Lamb I’m sure.

I wasn’t that excited about Cosca though. He was also in the First Law trilogy, but to a lesser extent. He was just such a repulsive character, I really got tired of him by the end.

Perhaps the best part of the novel was the setting. It definitely had a “wild west” feel to it even though it was set within the same world as the First Law trilogy. I thought that was pretty cool.

Regardless of all of the connections to the First Law trilogy, this novel is a standalone and I don’t think you would need to read the trilogy first. If you have, then there will be a number of connections that you’ll get, but if you haven’t, I don’t think it would really matter.

Overall, I liked Red Country. It was an interesting and entertaining read. It was definitely a bit different than other fantasy novels that I’ve read, largely due to the setting, and that was kind of refreshing. Recommended.

2011 Reading Roundup, Part II

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As I mentioned in my previous post, 2011 was an awesome year for me when it came to reading. I read and listened to some really fantastic novels and I wanted to give them a little more credit than I was able to before.

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

One my favorite podcasts is the Sword and Laser, a science fiction and fantasy-themed book club, and the hosts continuously lauded Abercrombie’s first fantasy trilogy. After such glowing praise, I had to check it out and, damn, I’m glad I did.

The First Law Trilogy is what they refer to “post modern fantasy,” which I guess means that it’s grittier, grimmer, and somehow more realistic than the high fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien and his contemporaries. As it turns out, I loved that style. The characters were flawed, there was no clear line between good and evil, and the plot was an intricate weave of politics and gruesome warfare. Plus, it featured one of the most awesomely vicious characters I’ve ever come across: the Bloody Nine.

Now, this trilogy isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t like blood, this series isn’t for you, but, otherwise, it’s a great modern fantasy trilogy and I recommend it highly.

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

Believe it or not, I actually followed Pat’s blog for several months before I picked up The Name of the Wind and, in that time I learned something: Pat is an awesome dude and he writes a very honest and sometimes very humorous blog. So, going in, I had pretty high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. The Name of the Wind was amazing…I absolutely loved Kvothe’s adventures.

Now, I actually timed this out pretty well and finished the first novel right as the second was published and as soon as I finished The Name of the Wind, I tore into Wise Man’s Fear. Rothfuss’s second novel was also very good, but, despite it’s massive acclaim, I actually liked the first novel a little better. Regardless, I cannot wait to see how the story ends! The Kingkiller Chronicles are highly recommended.

The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks

I actually picked up the whole trilogy on Amazon.com for no other reasons that I had heard of the author and it was a great deal. As it turns out, it was a steal! Although it was the last book I read in 2011, I’m pretty sure The Way of Shadows was my fastest read of the year. I just could not put it down. I’m currently reading the third book in the trilogy now, but I would already recommend it highly to any fantasy reader.

Neil Gaiman

One of my reading goals of 2011 was to try out some new authors (I actually tried out many new authors), but I was especially eager to find out what the big deal was about Neil Gaiman. After reading The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere, a couple volumes of The Sandman, and, most importantly, American Gods, I think I understand. Neil Gaiman gets fantasy. His writing perfectly embodies that sense of awe and wonder that truly make a story a thing of magic.

The bottom line is this: I’m really glad I found Neil Gaiman this year. If you haven’t read his works, seriously, you need to get on that!

Well, I think that’s all I really wanted to say. I don’t know if 2012 can top 2011, but I’m up for the challenge.

Review: Before They Are Hanged

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Before They Are Hanged Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To put it bluntly, this book was really bloody good, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it was really bloody and good. Before They Are Hanged, and the First Law series in general, is a perfect algorithm of violence, intrigue, character development, and world building.

The Violence

Damn. Joe Abercrombie knows how to write a good, bloody fight. One of the best parts of the novel is that Abercrombie’s style is one of cynical realism. Fights are confusing and nasty. Battle isn’t all glory and honor in reality, it’s really more fear and desperation. That’s how Abercrombie chooses to portray it throughout the series and it works for me. That perspective is a nice change of pace, although at times it can be a bit gory for my tastes.

Intrigue

I think the best stories have a bit of mystery. The First Law trilogy is no exception. There are so many things that are not fully explained that allow the reader to speculate and theorize about. I really love to try to put the pieces together from the hints and clues left by the author.

Character Development

The First Law trilogy has a very unique set of characters, the likes of which I’ve found in no other fantasy series. What’s strange is that, despite their obvious flaws, they really grow on you. When I first started reading The Blade Itself, I disliked most of the characters, but by the end of that novel, I was very wrapped up in their stories and I genuinely cared about them.

One of the reasons that I believed that occurred was because the characters develop over the course of the story. Sure, they may not go from villain to hero or they may have setbacks, but they do change to some degree over time and become more likable.

In particular, Logen and the Northmen are my favorites. They are just so much fun to read. They are oh so crude, but they are also insightful in a way that is so simple that it has the trappings of wisdom.

World Building

You might call Before They Are Hanged a road novel. Much of the story is spent on an epic journey that shows off a lot more of the circle of the world than we saw in the first novel. Overall, I think that Abercrombie puts together a pretty unique geography that is enriched with an interesting and mystery history.

Overall, Before They Are Hanged was an excellent read. The First Law trilogy has quickly become one of my favorite fantasy stories. I would recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach!

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Review: The Blade Itself

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The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do yourself a favor, stop reading this review right now and go buy this book. If you like Fantasy at all, you won’t regret it. If that isn’t endorsement enough, keep reading.

For the past several months, I’ve been hearing great things about Joe Abercrombie and The Blade Itself, most from Veronica on The Sword and Laser podcast (which is one of my favorite podcast by the way), but I was busy reading other novels. I put the novel on my “to read” list, received it as a gift for Christmas, and just finally picked it up in May. Now, I wish I had picked it up sooner!

Admittedly, I wasn’t immediately wowed. In fact, it took me a little effort to get into the novel, but, once I did, I was sucked in. I think the biggest thing that slowed me down at first was the characters. I wasn’t immediately captured by major cast. They aren’t your standard Fantasy characters–there is no orphaned kid, no long-bearded wizard–and they took some time to grew on me. Once they did though, I couldn’t put the novel down.

Of all of the characters, I have to say that I was most drawn to Logen. The Bloody Nine. Damn. The guy is the definition of the term “badass.” However, I really liked all of the characters. They are so much more realistic that I’m used to. They are flawed; they are jealous, angry, and petty; they have regrets. But underneath it all, you can see that there is a measure of good in them. Perhaps it’s only a glimmer, but you can see it.

The novel is often referred to as a post-modern Fantasy and I think the way the characters are written is one of the key factors of that assessment. Nonetheless, the novel still has many of the classic elements of a typical Fantasy. There is still magic, wizards, knights, swords, and fighting. But the tone is different than most Fantasy novels and I like it. No, I wouldn’t want every Fantasy novel to be like this, but it is a nice change of pace.

Overall, I thought the novel was fantastic and I can’t wait to read the next one. I highly recommend this to all Fantasy readers!

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