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Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

  • Date published: 18th October 2012
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing (Hachette AU)
  • Format: Paperback, 451 pages
  • ISBN 13: 9780575095830 ISBN 10: 0575095830
  • Categories: Fantasy
  • Goodreads / The Book DepositoryBooktopia
  • Source: provided for review by the publisher

They burned her home.
They stole her brother and sister.
But vengeance is following.

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she’ll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she’s not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old step father Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb’s buried a bloody past of his own. And out in the lawless Far Country, the past never stays buried.

Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer, Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust…

The past never stays buried…

I’ve never read anything like this before, and while I enjoyed Red Country, it will be a while until I’m in the mood for a similar read again. A Western-come-Fantasy, it’s packed with interesting characters, a vivid landscape, and blood, so much blood.

Shy South. A gritty character if there ever was one, Shy is not only smart and quick-witted, she has a strong sense of self-worth that I really liked. Surrounded by people who aren’t sure who they are and what they’re going to do, Shy’s determination and self-assurance stands out and marks her as the most interesting character in the book. Closely followed by her step-father Lamb, a true wolf in disguise who tries to hide his dark and bloody past, and Temple, who I was surprised to find that I liked almost immediately, and then spent the rest of the novel trying to figure out why. I think it is his honesty: he know he’s not a great human being and doesn’t try to run from it, or hide it.

I found the trek across desert country to be labourious and prolonged, and a little boring. But the other parts of the book were engaging: getting to know the Fellowship throughout their travels, following Temple as he navigates the country with Nicomo Cosca’s raiders, unearthing the enigma that is Lamb. I particularly liked the community in Crease – it’s full of the lowest of the low and the most desperate people imaginable, rich in detail and well crafted by the author. I think Crease and its inhabitants are going to stay with me for a while.

The first half of Red Country didn’t hold my attention – I kept putting it down in favour of quicker, lighter reads that exhibited more obvious magics, but the second half is difficult to put down and simply galloped along. I think, in the beginning, I was also frustrated at the slow introductions to a seemingly never-ending cast of characters, and I felt like I never got to know anyone well at all. Also, it seemed to me that Lamb’s identity isn’t supposed to be a mystery to readers – it serves me right for reading the latest The First Law novel first, but Lamb’s real name is never mentioned and I always felt like I was chasing the secret and it kept slipping away. I guess this is motivation for me to read the original trilogy (of which I own the first two books, but sadly not the first).

Joe Abercrombie’s books come highly recommended, and I can see why! Red Country is a great read, but I think readers would benefit from reading The First Law books in the order they were written, for maximum enjoyment.

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