Book Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Copy of Book Review (58)

Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he keeps smashing those books out the park.

So yeah, this is another Joe Abercrombie review. But I have done all of his First Law novels now, so if you are sick of reading about his books on here then you have a bit of a break… Until September when The Trouble With Peace comes out! Mwahahaha!

Red Country is a story of revenge. It is the story of Shy South and her adopted father, Lamb, as they chase the band of outlaws who burned their home and stole her younger brother an sister across the wild plains of the Far Country. It is the story of them learning that, no matter how much they run, their pasts will catch up with them.

Red Country is, at its heart, a Western novel that just happens to be set in a Fantasy world. It has so many of the classical features of a Western: the dirty frontier town, the vast expanse of wilderness inhabited by hostile ‘savages’, a group of people undertaking a journey to find a new and better life for themselves. But alongside that, it brings the secondary world  of the First Law and all the fantasy that that brings. And, quite honestly, the two mesh together so well here! Abercrombie’s gritty and honest writing style, and the fact that he isn’t afraid to shy away from the worst of humanities traits, really fits well in with the Western genre. It is safe to say that greed, violence and back-stabbing deals are all on show here in plentiful quantities.

So what else can we say about this book? Well, it is a Joe Abercombie book so I have to mention the characters. I know it is a bit repetitive, so I don’t want to say too much as we all know his character work is great, but you have to be realistic about things: the characters are going to get talked about.

Our main POV character is Shy South and, I’ll be honest, she isn’t the most interesting character Abercrombie has done, in my opinion. She is a bit like a less driven Murcatto from Best Served Cold with a bit more of a conscience. But, what she is great for is being the POV that shows off some of our other characters. The first character she gives us the best view of is Lamb, her adopted father. Lamb isn’t who he first appears. She knows him as a bit of a gentle giant, in fact she knows him as a coward. he’d rather be humiliated than have a conflict, but their journey brings out another side of him that she hasn’t seen before. And I am sure you’ll all love working out who he is. The other character she brings the best out of is the other main POV character, Temple. Temple is a lawyer in the employ of a band of mercenaries hired by the Union to undertake some pretty unsavoury acts. But Temple has something unique amongst mercenaries in this world, he has a conscience and this comes into conflict with his natural cowardice as his disgust at what he and his erst-while comrades are doing grows.

Alongside our main characters, we also get a whole raft of little cameos from Abercrombie’s other First Law books, from Superior Pike of the Inquisition to Nicomo Cosca. Cosca is a particularly interesting character in this book as, in previous books, we have always seen him from a character on his sides point of view. He’s been the lovable rogue of the universe so far. Here, not so much. Our characters in Red Country are very much victims of Cosca’s antics and ambitions. I have heard that some fans didn’t really like this take on Cosca – I even saw someone call it character assassination – but I liked it. We all know that most of Abercrombie’s characters aren’t really good people and we kind of just like them anyway despite their ‘faults’, and Cosca has definitely been a character like this.

One thing that has been incredibly consistent across all of the standalone novels has been the fast pace. Best Served Cold, The Heroes and Red Country all get started on the main plot almost straight away and never really deviate. Though with this one the plot deviate slightly more than the others with the sub-plot of the politics of the frontier town of Crease. In fact, for me, this sub-plot had the best scene in the book in terms of excitement and tension – and it was only half way through the book!

So overall, what did I think of Red Country? Well I loved it, but honestly, I think it is the weakest of the three standalones. Which is strange because in some ways I think it has some of Abercrombie’s best work. Maybe it is because I’m not actually a huge Western fan. Probably has something to do with it. But yeah, go read it. It is fantastic and you’ll get some great characters who will go through hell (like all Abercrombie books) with a tough, gritty style of writing that always feels true and packs a punch, but isn’t overly flowery.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Well, I for one, love westerns, so a fantasy western sounds right up my street. Never read anything from Abercrombie before, so do I need to read anything before this, or will it as you say, stand alone? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have heard that others started with this book and it successfully stands alone. So yes, you could totally read this on its own. You won’t get the full experience with one character, but you would need to read the whole original trilogy to get that – and that’s a lot of reading to just enjoy a small part of this book.


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