Out in the Red Country, the past never stays buried.
A couple of months before Red Country was released, I won a proof copy in a giveaway by Gollancz. Now, for anyone that knows me – this was a pretty big deal. Not only am I a huge Abercrombie fan, but I also got the opportunity to meet Joe (by pure coincidence) two weeks later. It was a surreal experience, speaking to one of your favourite authors for the first time, before his latest book even comes out and saying “Hey Joe, I’ve read Red Country. It might just be your best book yet.”
I devoured Red Country in a couple of days. The western imagery, the “Abercrombian” characters, that dialogue. Everything about it was exactly as I had expected and then some. Before I read Red Country, my favourite novel in the “First Law” canon was Best Served Cold. But Red Country is a close second – and on some days, depending on my mood, its equal.
In Red Country, we follow the journey of Shy South and her cowardly old stepfather Lamb, as they hunt down the outlaws who burnt their farm and kidnapped Shy’s little brother and sister. In true western fashion we meet prospectors and duellists, journey by wagon train, meet the natives and have showdowns in saloons. All mixed with a dose of Abercrombie’s particular brand of cynical, shot-in-the-arm fantasy.
The one thing I took out of my experience with Red Country, more than anything else, was that this felt like an ending: an ending to the first “Arc” in the world of The First Law. Upon finishing Red Country, it felt like I’d come full circle, but that something new is just beginning.
But although it feels like an ending, it also feels like the start of something bigger.
I’ve been following these characters intensely, ever since the moment when Logen Ninefingers fell off that cliff in The Blade Itself. Ever since I first heard the cynical, sneering thoughts of Sand dan Glokta in my own head. And of course, the first time I met the scheming, alcoholic mercenary himself, Nicomo Cosca.
And now that I have read Red Country, it feels as though I am as ready to move on as so many of these characters have over the course of the series. Craw and his aching knees, accepting that he is at his best with blood on his sword; Glokta accepting his mutilations; Shivers and his new world view. The characters have moved on to the next phase of their stories, and I am ready to join them.
Abercrombie has done this in Red Country by focusing the majority of the novel on two completely new point of view characters. Normally, we are used to jumping into the heads of characters we know or have met in the past – and usually more than two main POVs - but not in Red Country. Abercrombie introduces an (almost) entirely new cast of characters. And by the end of the book, I loved them as much as those older ones we have followed ever since the beginning.
With every book in the series, Joe has extended the scope of his world, pulling back the curtain and revealing a little bit more each time. We had the North and the Union in The Blade Itself; the Old Empire in Before They Are Hanged; Styria in Best Served Cold, and even more of the North in The Heroes.
In Red Country, we are introduced to the Near Country and the Far Country. The desolate west of the world. It’s a world of prospectors, cowboys and despicable saloon owners.
In the journey that we go on as readers in Red Country, we meet friends new and old (and a few enemies, too). We’re dragged along at a rapid pace of discovery and violence; just like you would expect from Abercrombie. The world is vast and desperate, vicious and bloody. The characters are as well drawn as ever, the set pieces spectacular and the lines of dialogue as quotable as ever.
Sure, there are a few problems – sometimes this vision of the west feels a bit stereotypical. The “antagonists” aren’t drawn as well as may be expected from Abercrombie – their motives aren’t always clear.
But really, I feel like I have gone on the journey for the last six books along with these characters; felt their pain (Shivers!) their sadness (Gorst!) and their pain again (Glokta! Craw! Everyone!).
It feels like the end of an era, and the beginning of something new. Something exciting. I for one can’t wait to see what Joe Abercrombie does next. And as the man himself would say…
“Never fear, gentlemen.” Cosca ginned as he scratched out the parting swirl of his signature. “We will seize the future together.”