What is on my nightstand this week: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
Never really had a problem with re-reading a book. There are so many gad-awful books hiding behind sycophantic reviewers and pretty, pretty covers that sometime curling up with a good, or perfectly adequate, old friend is not only acceptable, but recommended. For much of my adolescence I re-read Dune by Frank Herbert on average every eighteen months. Later, the entire Sandman series by Neil Gaiman helped me through college and the initial disappointments of working and adulthood. Now, I am working through a re-read of the whole Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin and host of other SF/F luminaries.
Not, that this book and the re-read is of the same caliber or reasoning as those books. A couple years ago I started following my favorite authors on social media and organizing them off into lists to be consumed at my leisure. At the time I paid close attention to who authors I knew re-posted. And then I started following people they re-posted and on and on and now I have a list of authors that regularly will post more messages than I can find time to read in one day, in the time it takes me to walk to work. Some authors are just damn chatty. One of the 2nd or 3rd connections of an author I followed was this strange brit with a silly user name (@LordGrimDark). After a bit I decided to try out books from authors Ii followed but had never read.
Which brings me full circle, in more than one way to Red Country. Billed as a stand alone novel set in the universe of a larger fantasy epic. A perfect jumping on spot for a new reader, I foolishly thought. The marketing bastard who sold it that way, well he earned the cut from my hard earned dollar. This book is a stand-alone novel in the same way that the later Heinlein novels could be read stand-alone, if you didn’t mind missing out on what made those books great, the chance to go and revisit characters so well written that they jumped off the page and became friends. So, you could look past the navel gazing and repetitive nature of Heinlein’s last few, and just enjoy the book like a mediocre cocktail party where you got to visit with old friends you thought you would never see again. Not that Mr. Abercrombie has Heinlein’s failings, but he does have the old man’s deft touch at pulling well crafted characters, who managed to ingratiate themselves, even if they are the worst people you could imagine. Which is why rather than a cocktail party, Red Country is more like being stuck in a wagon trail to hell with the cast of Conan the Destroyer (the shitty Arnold Conan movie with grace jones), and some good friends.
I read this book and felt like I was at a middle school party for a school that I never went to. I could understand everything that was happening, and on some level it might have been fun, but I was missing something. I did not know why this person dancing with that person was weird or why that person hating that other person was perfectly logical. And sure, the slam-dancing was fun, and I only almost got into a fight. But, I really think there was more going on.
Re-reading this book gives it a whole new level of tension and seeing some of these characters again, worth the re-read.
This is why I cannot recommend this book as a good starting point, go pick up The Blade Itself and then read all the rest before you get here. And, if you have already read those I assume you will have or are going to read this one anyway. So, really this is like the worst book to have reviewed if you were looking for a good recommendation.
TL;DR review:if you have no read The First Law Trilogy and the previous two “stand-alone” novels, go read those first. If you have, well clearly you have or are going to read this one.