Book Review – Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Sometimes you go to rate a book on Goodreads and it makes you rethink every book that you’ve ever rated, before. RED COUNTRY was that book, for me.

When I started reading RED COUNTRY, I did not know that it takes place in the same world as the FIRST LAW TRILOGY. I had read Abercrombie’s short story from DANGEROUS WOMEN, so I was familiar (a bit) with Shy South, but there was no telltale clues that Shy’s world and the world of Bayaz, Glokta, Logen and Ferro were the same. Discovering that A.) This was the same world and B.) That there were some spillover characters–was like receiving a late birthday present. I was giddy.

RED COUNTRY is to epic fantasy what toe nails are to hair–It’s slightly related, but it isn’t really the same thing, at all. This is a western, reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and, ironically, Mark Millar’s brilliant comic, OLD MAN LOGAN.

It is the wagon train and the hardscrabble, sinew-and-bone frontier folk. It is dusty and exhausting and wear-through-your-boots toiling. It is not pretty–no courtly meetings or feasts with the nobles. It is the very definition of the word ‘gritty’–and yet, it is also a freshening of a world that we’ve spent more than a thousand pages exploring.

Here, in RED COUNTRY, we see new, deeper sides of characters we thought we knew. We scrape away all of the magic and the spirits and the politics and the city and we encounter a raw, bare-skinned tale of a family. They are broken and battered and not always very kind to one another. They don’t even share blood. But make no mistake, this is a family saga, and it is beautifully rendered, even in its brutality.

I have contended, previously, that Abercrombie’s strengths lie in the exquisite characters that he creates, and RED COUNTRY is no exception. I am repeatedly drawn to, and amazed by, his dexterous handling of “gray” characters. Each and every one of the people that populate this book is deeply flawed. They are cowards, bastards, murderers, thieves–monsters. They are beautiful, horrible monsters, and he makes us love them, in spite of their weaknesses, despite their failings. He is so successful in doing this because he shows us the contradictions within them–the murderess that fights for her siblings, the coward that wants desperately to be brave, the savage killer that sings his children to sleep. Over and over, I find myself drawn to his characterizations because they have the stink of real people on them. No one is perfect. We are all flawed–tiny, monstrous failings, fracture each of us.

There are a handful of scenes in this book that, due to avoiding spoilers, I will not further discuss. However, I would like to say that I was moved by this book in a way that THE FIRST LAW books did not emotionally move me. There are scenes and events within RED COUNTRY that made me cry, that made me laugh, that made me hold my breath in fear. There is a myth in THE FIRST LAW world, of a nine-fingered Northman–bloody, barbaric songs are sung about him–The Bloody Nine.

This book, for what it’s worth, made me a believer.

*** I am very eager to now read Abercrombie’s other books–THE HEROES and BEST SERVED COLD–both of which also take place in the FIRST LAW world.***


Finales, Finales, Finales…. WARNING – Spoilers Abound. (HIMYM, TWD)

This has been a week full of finale words, final episodes–finales seem to be popping up, everywhere I look, and I have a few thoughts on some of those that I’ve encountered, this week.

First–last night, we said goodbye to Ted, Barney, Marshall, Lily, and Robin on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. My husband and I have been watching, faithfully, since we stumbled onto the show on Netflix, back around Season 3. We caught up, over the summer, and this has been a show that we religiously DVR’d and shared, together. The thing that I have loved about this show has always been its sense of humor. Beercules, Slapbets, High Infinity– these are the kind of really stupid, really hilarious “in-jokes” that we may have done, when we were younger and drunker. I have always loved the fact that the gang stayed together, through weddings and almost-weddings, babies and new jobs, heartbreak and new homes. I have always loved the gang.

That being said, I bought into the premise of the show because I believed that in the end, Ted gets to be happy. All of his struggles, and his loneliness, and the Zoes and the Sexy Pumpkins, Stellas and Victorias–all of it would be worth it, because in the end, he met the mother of all his loves. And, he did. Except that half an hour after he met her, she was gone, and I feel, as a viewer, that we got scammed. We’re left, in the final scene, right where we started from. 

Which would be cute, and sweet, and “Awww” worthy, EXCEPT that nearly all of those above mentioned struggles can be traced back to the fact that Robin didn’t want Ted. Remember, way back in the first few seasons, when Ted was in love with her and she “just didn’t feel that way.” Remember how it drove him to the brink of misery. Then, in one, fast-moving hour, Robin and Barney marry and divorce, and she suddenly realizes (once Ted is happily with Tracy and having kids) that it was Ted, all along. So, she spends 15 years, alone, abandoning the gang because she just cannot handle the agony of seeing everyone else happy. Until, in the end, Ted comes crawling back to her, french horn in hand. Because Robin is his drug. 

I call an Intervention. Ted suffered, while Robin was with numerous guys–including Barney. Ted stayed, until she was well and truly married. For the gang. For his friends. Robin turned tail and ran. I wanted to love the ending… and instead, it made me feel sad. This doesn’t feel like a happy ending. This feels like a precursor to couple’s counseling and Ted’s kids screaming, “We were wrong, Aunt Robin. We’re about to torch your car.”

The rest of the episode had its moments, and I was most moved by Barney’s falling-in-love with his daughter. Did anyone else think that #31 wasn’t so much a one-night-stand as a birth-mother that he had made arrangements to adopt from. We never see her, there is never any mention, after the birth, of her. My own theory is that Barney truly changed for Robin, but he knew that she wanted out, so he gave her an escape route. He loved her enough to do that for her. I think that Barney, post-divorce, was more act than ever, and that as he saw Ted and Tracy, Marshall and Lily raise their families, he knew that he wanted that, too. I think that Barney, honestly, is the character that learned the most, over the course of the series. And the scene when he looks into that baby’s eyes and says, “You are the love of my life…” Oy.

In other, obsessive T.V. news, THE WALKING DEAD wrapped up another season, this week. I’m of mixed emotions about this season–I really hated that they brought the Governor back. I felt like that story had been wrapped up, and it felt a little gimmicky, the second time around. I have honestly enjoyed the character growth of Daryl, Carol, and Michonne. In the episode “The Grove,” Carol showed more brutal common sense and honest bravery than any other character in the series ever has, except perhaps Carl when he has to take care of Laurie, after she dies in childbirth. It was, I think, a high point in the series.

I am interested to see how the gang gets out of the cattle car and takes care of Terminus, and I’ll even forgive the writer’s the soft-core line, “They’re screwing with the wrong people.” Because… FCC, damn it. In truth, just seeing Rick come back to life has been a worthwhile study in human suffering. Losing Hershel was a blow, losing the prison was terrible, but it took the insane, horrible threatened rape against Carl to make Rick remember that there is no room for the weak in the apocalypse. I’m excited to see him embrace his inner monster.

Because that is what we are seeing, now. The walkers are hardly the enemy, at all, anymore. Man has become the monsters (The Governor, Terminus Peeps, The Claimed Gang, that chick that wanted to feed Rick to her zombified hubby). The question is no longer “Can we survive the plague?” The question is, “Can we survive each other?”

Also this week, I finished the final installment of Joe Abercrombie’s THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY. The final book, THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS, was everything that I hoped it would be. If you are interested in a full review, you can check out my Goodreads page, but suffice it to say, I loved these books. Abercrombie has won me over. I’ll read anything that he publishes, because the man knows his stuff. Gritty, compelling, beautifully flawed and human–his characters will be floating around in my mind for a good, long while.

Thus ends my obsessive media-related rant. I’m scratching away at the outline for Book 3 and I’ve written the Epilogue, already, which will conclude the series. It makes me smile, and tremble a little. But there is much to do. And, now that all of the above stuff has ended, I have plenty of attention to pay to GAME OF THRONES in, oh, 132.5 hours. Give or take.