Reactions

Posted on December 5th, 2012 in reviews

Reviews of Red Country continue to roll in.  Not satisfied with one, Locus have reviewed it twice.  Graham Sleight said, among other things:

It’s commonplace to say that what’s changed most in fantasy over the last few decades is diction, but it’s still a shock to run into a book like Red Country.  It’s not just that the characters say “fuck” a lot – they do, and, unlike some fantasy authors, Abercrombie doesn’t get diminishing returns from that.  It’s that the language is part and parcel of these characters’ lives, which are very far from those of princes and princesses … The book isn’t perfect, and the dialogue sometimes lends more to screenplay-ese than what real humans might say … but it’s a book that remains pointed, driven, and sharp.”

See?  It’s not just that the characters say “fuck” a lot.  Although, of course, they do.  Faren Miller, meanwhile, said:

Red Country takes the action to the untamed frontiers, a far country where elements of our Wild West mutate and run amok … The subsequent description mixes irony, filth and feelings without constraint, as Abercrombie does so well … As for our heroine, the only thing particularly shy about her is her name.  She’s an antidote/antithesis to high fantasy’s sheltered princesses and fairy queens … a woman of the frontier, born and raised to make her way through all its dangers, even in changing times.”

Another good review from Jason Heller at the AV Club.

A pall of gallows humor still hangs over the story, but rarely has Abercrombie had so much fun while rollicking through his colorful cast’s foibles and witty dialogue—and rarely has he dished out so much straight-for-the-heart poignancy. And the Western motif gives him leeway to expound movingly on the noble-savage stereotype, not to mention cram in plenty of brawls, wagon chases, and an achingly anticlimactic showdown that reinforces Abercrombie’s strengths as a subversive yet celebratory purveyor of fantasy … Abercrombie is still a relatively young writer, but with Red Country, he’s deepened his gleefully bleak fantasy with a newfound wealth of wisdom, sentiment, and yes, warmth.

Pointed, driven, and sharp.  Irony, filth, and feelings.  Not forgetting wisdom, sentiment, and warmth, who would have thought it?

Red Country’s been out about six weeks in the UK, and about three in the US, and sales would appear to have been better than ever both sides of the pond.  Although I daresay there’ll be plenty more response to it the general pattern is settling down.  To whit, from where I’m sitting – the professional and semi-professional reactions have been better than ever, and the coverage has probably been wider than ever, which is most certainly a good thing from where I sit.  With the grass roots, so far as one can assess the roots without ripping up the lawn, the picture is more mixed, as it always is.  Plenty of people expressing love and delight, plenty expressing mild to strong disappointment of one kind or another, plenty of people saying it’s my best book or my worst, and lots of contradictory details – it’s too long or too short, too cynical or I’ve gone soft, has my best and most vivid characters or pale shadows of previous efforts etc. etc.  But then the exact same thing has happened with all three standalones.  Often when someone comes into a comment thread to say they particularly disliked one or another, someone else chimes in to say it’s their favourite.  I’m strangely pleased with that, actually, as it suggests to me that the books succeed to some degree in offering something different, suiting a different balance of tastes.  I’d hate to become entirely predictable, don’t you know.

Trying to get some kind of objective grip in this stormy sea of subjectivity, which is the kind of stupid pointlessness we authors (or at any rate this one) indulge in, there are already 117 reviews on amazon uk and us, averaging a healthy 4.3 and 4.4 stars respectively, and not a 1 star in the bunch (yet, and that’s not an invitation), which makes Red Country my third highest rated book in the UK and my highest rated in the US (where generally my ratings are a tad lower).  On Goodreads it’s rated at a 4.43 average, way the best of my books which are otherwise grouped between 4.07 and 4.22.  Still, it’s only got some 700 ratings so far compared to some 20,000 for The Blade Itself, so there’s a strong possibility that average will drift down a little over time, as early enthusiasm dissipates and more evil nay-sayers come forward to voice their wrong-headed criticisms.  One of those many Goodreads reviews contains what may be my favourite comment about the book: ‘It’s like Oregon trail on crystal meth’.  I continue to watch this process with interest, of course.

Oh, and my other books still exist, it would appear.  The lovely people at Geek Syndicate’s Scrolls Book Club have been discussing The Heroes in depth, and very complimentary they are too.  Well, of course they are.  If they weren’t, they’d be horrible people.

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  1. I’m halfway through it, so far I like it more than BSC but not *quite* as much as The Heroes.

    Still, it’s good stuff, can you do a fantasy version of ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ next please, Joe?

  2. When the Geek Syndicate say Oregon Trail, do they mean this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oregon_Trail_(video_game)

    ?

  3. Hey Joe,i have all your books,im re reading the heroes and will start on red country this weekend,next comes a trilogy right?set a decade after red country right?a new generation of characters i guess,so when will we see the gurkish side of things?also best regards and thanks you for writing this insane roller coaster of a universe,all the best,Pedro

  4. Goodreads is fairly useless for rating books in a series against each other. Naturally the cynics, non-fans and egregiously wrong-headed will drop off over time, leaving an increasingly smaller pool of those predisposed towards liking the author to vote. See Malazan – according to Goodreads, book one is the worst in the series and the likes of Toll the Hounds stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Deadhouse Gates. No one in the real world believes this.

    I always find it amazing how one can find an almost unlimited range of completely polarised opinions, all written with an assurance and erudition to convince an unwary audience that this particular person is the one true voice of reason. I imagine it’s enough to drive you mad.

  5. @Luke Scull

    Yes, it must be totally maddening, and I think that with the endless forums on the internet we’re reaching some kind of saturation point in the cult of opinion. We should be starting to realise that opinions are fundamentally worthless in and of themselves, that we should only care about a person’s likes or dislikes if we care about the person him/herself (and who cares about anyone else on Goodreads?), or if they can put forward interesting ideas or insights, which would place their response more in the realm of analysis or criticism than kneejerk opinionating. Even worse are people whose sole reaction to a work is defined by their disgust at a single element or scene, like we need to read novels with a rape whistle around our necks.

    Common sense and popular opinion don’t count for anything. Well, that’s my opinion at least…

  6. Joe,

    Your ability to garner positive reviews is only surmounted by your abilities in storytelling. Segue from ass-kissing into a question that I’ve been meaning to ask for some time now…

    With the Hobbit trilogy (trilogy! trilogy?) kicking off this winter, and with Game of Thrones firmly engrained in our culture, I’m waiting for your own work to get the visual media treatment.

    I ask out of curiosity: If you had a say in the matter, what kind of adaption would you want your books to come in? Television, live-action movie, anime, claymation, what? Also, what are your gut feelings on how you would have to change the story to make it fit in its new media form? (I’m assuming in this high fantasy that you have extreme creative control over the content.)

    It took many decades for a respectable LotR movie to be made after Tolkein’s original works, but Martin’s stories are being reformatted for the small screen before he even has attained completion. After your own First Law trilogy, your books tend to be stand-alone but sequential. It seems like the time for your own multimedia rise would be now.

  7. Oi Abercrombie, where is the reference to my glowing review? I’m hurt. HURT. (Great book though)

  8. Think of all that money that you’re raking in Joe… All of those bottles of whiskey you can buy.

    What is that smell? The smell of success and by success, I mean wealth.

    Congratulations, you deserve it. Kind of…

  9. Mr. Donovan, he missed off mine too, the bounder.

    I think it’s definitely better than Best Served Cold or The Heroes, and probably better than the First Law Trilogy (memories of that are fading a little, though, and I’m not sure comparing a stand-alone to a trilogy is fair).

  10. Not that we are egotistical in anyway. I agree Thaddeus, its his best so far. Joe improves with each book.

  11. The problem is that now, whenever something even *remotely* optimistic happens in the book (Temple builds the shop, for example) I cringe. Because it’s an Abercrombie, surely, nothing *good* can come of it…

    (like I said am only halfway through)

  12. Hey, Joe, I was wondering if you know about Nick Cave and, if so, what your opinion on him is? He wrote several western films (Lawless, The Proposition) and some of his music (particularly “Let Love In”) has a western edge to it.

  13. Aaron, if ever there was a perfect artist to soundtrack Joe’s work, it’d be Nick Cave.

  14. Damn Goodreads only allowed me to give it 5 stars.

    Pretty damn sure it’s a lock on my favorite fiction of the year.

    Bravo Joe

  15. Now that we’ve met ghosts I’m wondering if that’s where Black Dow’s missing ear went.

  16. Just finished Red Country, and it is my favorite of your work so far! I had high expectations for this one, and you didn’t let me down. Again, I tip my hat to you!

  17. Glad to hear it’s gotten such glowing reviews. It surely deserves it. I’d say Red Country hits a solid third place after The Heroes and BSC for my list of favorite books, but even in third place it still solidly beats virtually ever other fantasy book out there.

    It’s definitely weird reading the Cosca sections in Red Country. In BSG and First Law Trilogy he seems like such a likeable antihero. But then you see in Red Country and you realize what a dick he really is. Well played, sir.

  18. I’m one of those who didn’t like Red Country as much as The Heroes. When I finished reading The Heroes, I thought that you were one of the best fantasy authors around.

    Red Country, in my humble unimportant opinion wasn’t as good because my expectations differed. I didn’t expect some grit and ‘fucks’ but a book from a damned good author (I’m sure you’ll agree). That’s why a lack of range bothered me. The Red Country wasn’t too different in tone from your previous books. The characters seem to be constructed in the same exact way, the two sides of a person’s nature perpetually at war. Glotka, Luthar, Logen, Shy, Temple,….they’re pretty much This vs That. The only suspense is which side would triumph.

    I still enjoyed the Red Country.

  19. Thanks for the podcast plug, Joe. Loved The Heroes and really enjoyed the chance to chat about it in full. Hoping to nab Red Country for Christmas. All the best, Dion.

  20. Hi Joe, a couple of things:

    (1) Well done for not becoming “entirely predictable”.

    Early on in Red Country a few bits did feel a teeny bit predictable. For example, some of Temple’s more wheedling dialogues, or where you contrast what he says with his asides – this latter being something you’re THE master of, but also something that does come to seem … familiar. ‘Course it’s a motif of all the books in your world, so hard to say when or to what extent you should move away from it.

    As for unpredictability, things began feeling pleasantly fresh once we push out into the Far Country.

    As a sort of writer, I particularly appreciated the way you seem to have altered the prose this time — not only to suit the POV characters but also the setting. The Heroes = short time frame, small setting, and most POV characters using short fragmentary sentences. Red Country = vast setting, longer timeframe, and sentences that sometimes threaten to never end. It works because you use the long sentences to good effect — e.g., expressing disjointed confusion or panic:

    ‘Give me the kife,’ snapping his fingers, and Lamb pushed it into his hand and he stared at that arrow, what to do, what to do, pull it out, or cut it out, or push it through, and trying to remember what Kahdia had told him about what the best chance was, the best chance, but he couldn’t fix on anything, and … (etc.)

    (2) “the dialogue sometimes lends more to screenplay-ese than what real humans might say …”

    Perhaps the one criticism I’ve seen that I might sympathise with. Tricky balance though, isn’t it? Even when we may feel that the funny dialogue lines feel a little engineered we still kind of love to laugh at them. Just like with the asides mentioned about — they can feel “familiar”, but that don’t stop us laughing at loud.

    Thanks for another great book.

  21. Do you remember the chap who likened The Heroes to War And Peace (he did it rather well too), I wonder what his reaction to Red Country would be, or perhaps you should send a copy to that odious toad who said you were a bankrupt nihilist.

    “Oregon trail on crystal meth” Funny!

  22. About 2/3 through Red Country so far myself. Greatly enjoying the book for what it is, and I like the more focused storytelling, following two main leads for the majority- nice change from the huge cast of past books.

    That said, is anybody slightly disapointed by the passage of time in these books? I’m not sure how much time has passed since the first law trilogy, or what Logans approximate age was in that. I know Best Served Cold was a few years after the trilogy, The Heroes probably a good 8-10 years past that.

    Red Country? Since Lamb is firmly described as an old gray man (along with Cosca who now seems quite geriatric), and this tale seems to be like it might be his last hurrah (can’t confirm anything on that though, havne’t finished) I can only assume we’ve gone forward another decade or possibly much more from the Heroes, based on Glama’s observations from back when he was exhiled.

    It kind of saddens me to think Jezel, Dogman, and Glotka (though he was sort of *like* an old man to begin with) are now also well past their primes and possibly close to their end of days.

    I just kind of wish we got more time to spend with them. Regardless, another great book from Joe, and as always, can’t wait for the next one. Hopefully we can catch up with that jerk, Bayaz, again!

  23. R.I.P Nicomo, may you always have a place for supper. Can’t wait for your next book Joe!

  24. Red Country was real good. I enjoyed it very much. I listened to the audiobook and having Pacey back as narrator was great. He did such a great job on Kings.

  25. I think that Red Country is an awesome book, but Joe’s worst…
    I still love the trilogy the most. The reason is simple: it was magical. It pulled you in, didn’t let go, and threw one awesomeness after another at you. The characters were larger than life. We loved Glokta because he could be at the same time cool and a torturer, and admired him because we couldn’t do what he did. In Red Country though, the characters have a ‘life is a bitch’ point of view, and just try to survive the day. Which is more realistic of course, but still… Red Country sings to you in a melancholic way, while the trilogy took you for the most exiciting drive you could imagine. Both is good, but latter is better. The trilogy would be Joe’s only books I would rate 100/100 (the only other book on my list with a 100 would be A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold). I would give Red Country a 90, sadly…

  26. Red Country was brilliant. With every book Joe Abercrombie brings new ideas to the table with a literary style that is completely his own. The surprises throughout the second half of the book had me thoroughly riveted right to the last page.

    Quick question: Did I detect a subtle GG Allin reference at one point in the book? If so that has to be most unusual (and amazing) bridge-over to fantasy I’ve ever seen.

    Joe Abercrombie, thank you again for transcending the tropes, and taking us all the melting street bum infested sewers of high fantasy where we belong.

  27. My epic journey is complete. I read every book on that western list you posted ages ago and fell in love with the genre. I even went nuts on some Cormac McCarthy books to pass the time.

    Red Country is so damn good. The humor and witticism combined with your philosphical insights are just kick ass. I could go on and on heaping praise upon the book but who wants to read that? Great stuff, man.

  28. Its important to say thankyou. Love your books Mr Abercrombie => loved this one. Next please.

  29. I’ve just finished Red Country on audiobook via Audible. I love the format and the reader, Steven Pacey, is brilliant!! Oh, by the way, if you use any other reader, again, I’ll stop buying your books! Pacey is bloody amazing! He’s got the perfect voice for this series! I love, Love, LOVE the series, Joe. Keep’em coming.

    aa

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