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The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
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    The Black Company by Glen Cook (Rouge2507)
    Rouge2507: fantasy battles told from the point of view of soldiers
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A gritty and realistic fantasy war book, that is more heavy on the war then the fantasy. The plot is simple and not engaging as the book is more about the characters as individuals and their struggle. It is essentially about being a wartime hero and what that means in the perspective of the hero. It is deep and dark, with plenty of ridiculous conversations to lighten the mood. The writing of the characters are great and realistic. There are also a lot of characters that it is quite confusing in the beginning, especially reading it via audiobook. ( )
  renbedell | Sep 3, 2016 |
I enjoyed it, but nowhere near as much as The Blade Itself and the rest of the trilogy. It was competant enough, but there were no other plotlines other than "there's a war on" which meant it was a little less satisfying overall ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
Heroes are quickly fashioned from the basest materials. Quickly fashioned, and quickly replaced." (pg. 356).

The Heroes is author Joe Abercrombie's attempt to write a straight war novel in a fantasy setting. Indeed, rather than any fantasy book I can think of, the closest similarity in my opinion to Abercrombie's book would be Bernard Cornwell's style of historical fiction. The Heroes depicts a battle set over three days in the fields and town surrounding 'The Heroes', an old monument reminiscent of Stonehenge. It follows Cornwell-esque characters as they navigate this battlefield, and includes maps showing the area and the dispositions of the two armies. In fact, if you replaced the strange names and the rare flourishes of magic (there is a wizard plotline which is rather undercooked), you could easily see this as another piece of historical fiction, perhaps set in Viking or medieval times.

And this, for me, is the flaw in the book. If you want to read historical fiction, you could choose Cornwell or any other number of authors and, as such books are often heavily researched and based on fact, you might learn something – even if you should take such 'faction' with a pinch of salt. As The Heroes is set in a made-up fantasy world, you have the entertainment without the bonus educational value. Even when discussing the nature of men and war, Abercrombie rarely advances beyond a sort of "war – what is it good for?" vibe, talking about how war is never heroic and glorious but only brings out the worst in men (i.e. the characters say stuff like "it ain't like they say it is in the movies/books/songs").

Many won't care about such things and will just be happy with the entertainment factor. But even here – treating it solely as a fantasy novel – it is lacking. As it is set in one area over three days, there's little of the exploring and world-building (beyond hints in the dialogue) that makes fantasy such an attractive genre. Maybe this won't be an issue for those who have read Abercrombie's previous books set in the same world, but it was for me. (On that note, I'd like to say The Heroes does work as a stand-alone fantasy novel. There's one or two noodle incidents which left me hanging, but for the vast majority of the time I never felt left out for not having read any of Abercrombie's previous stuff.) So whilst The Heroes' selling point is its unorthodox blend of the fantasy and war genres, there are better 'pure' fantasy and better 'pure' war novels out there.

Although it may seem like I'm being rather negative towards the book, I did really enjoy it. Yes, its grittiness and cynicism can become wearying as the novel goes on, but I was pleased I immersed myself in this battle. There may be few dramatic shifts in the action, but the characters are engaging and we get a good appreciation of just how much can change over the course of a few days. The battle scenes are well done, with Abercrombie employing some good techniques to inject pathos (such as having point-of-view characters kill unnamed people on the enemy's side, only we – the readers – know why they are because we have been following their own PoV chapters on the other side). There's also a good chapter about 140 pages in where we jump from one new character to another, as each is introduced and killed by the subsequent one. It is a technique similar to one I remember from The Iliad, and is good at demonstrating that these are rounded people who are dying, not brainless cookie-cutter warriors.

By the end of the book, I had tired of it. After three days I wanted to be off that battlefield, and The Heroes' ending did not help me here. Caul Shivers' defining moment was foreshadowed, but it still felt irregular in how it came about; the protestations about how "anything that wins is fair in war" (pg. 447) rang hollow given the circumstances. Bringing one character back to life (or rather, one who everyone thought had died on the field but was instead captured) seemed unnecessary; it would have been more interesting if the other guy hadn't handed over the chain. So whilst I was glad to finish the book, for the most part I had enjoyed the experience, particularly when in and amongst Curnden Craw's dozen. I wouldn't want to take back the time I spent reading The Heroes, and whilst I realise that doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, I was glad to have gotten down in the mud." ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
Curnden Craw. Bremer. Calder. Black Dow. Whirrun of Bligh. Finree. The characters and battles that populate this book are gritty, real, and horridly believable. Their stories are simple. Their lessons learned, harsh and unforgiving. What a bloody read. ( )
  apomonis | Jun 2, 2016 |
A three-day battle between the savages of the North and the civilized men of the Union. Love love love the dual perspective of carnage, ineptitude, and opportunism. Them borders ain't going to redraw themselves, however. This is exactly how I view war.

"He didn't much care for charging unsupported into an empty mass of barley himself, especially since a good part of the regiment was still clogged up in the shambles of men and equipment on the bad roads south of the river. But an officer has his duty. The battle field was no place for independent thought and perhaps his superiors simply knew better than he did. Alas, experience did not support that conclusion." ( )
  dandelionroots | May 11, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes. - Bertolt Brecht
A rational army would run away. - Montesquieu
You can't say that civilization don't advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way. - Will Rogers
I'm not sure how much violence and butchery the readers will stand. - Robert E. Howard
You never have to wait long, or look far, to be reminded of how thin the line is between being a hero or a goat. - Mickey Mantle.
Dedication
For Eve
One day you will read this
And say, 'Dad, why all the swords?'
For Eve. One day you will read this and say, 'Dad, why all the swords?'
First words
'Too old for this shit,' muttered Craw, wincing at the pain in his dodgy knee with every other step.
'Too old for this shit,' muttered Craw, wincing at the pain in his dodgy knee with every other step. High time he retired. Long past high time. Sat on the porch behind his house with a pipe, smiling at the water as the sun sank down, a day's honest work behind him. Not that he had a house. But when he got one, it'd be a good one.
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Book description
They say Black Dow's killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they've brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he's far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it's his own. Prince Calder isn't interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he'll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn't have to fight for it himself. Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him? Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail. Three men. One battle. No Heroes.
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Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail. Three men. One battle. No heroes.… (more)

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Orbit Books

2 editions of this book were published by Orbit Books.

Editions: 0316044989, 0316193569

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An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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