Category Archive for ‘reviews’
Posted on April 11th, 2014 in reviews
Delighted to say that I got a quote for Half a King from some George RR Martin guy. Not familiar with his work myself but apparently he wrote some Game of Thrones thing which is quite popular at the moment…
“Joe Abercrombie does it again. Half a King is another page-turner from Britain’s hottest young fantasist, a fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page one and refused to let go.”
In all seriousness, it’s always great to get a quote from a popular author, but George is one of very few living writers that I think had a big impact on the way that I write. When I first read A Game of Thrones back in the 90s (oh God, can it really be nearly 20 years ago?), I saw summed up in that book a lot of things I felt had been missing in commercial fantasy – the shocks, the grit, the vivid characters, the moral ambiguity, the brutal disregard for convention. Seeing that you could write a book like that and still stay firmly within epic fantasy was a big inspiration to me, and without A Game of Thrones I don’t think the First Law would have been as it is, if it happened at all. Admiration is always great, but admiration from people you admire is that much greaterer, so I’ll hope you’ll allow me this moment of insufferable smugness.
Should you hold George’s opinion in as high esteem as I do, you might consider preordering Half a King, or if you’re still undecided reading a considerable extract over here…
On another note, I love that I’m in a profession where at 39 you can be considered young and exciting. Ryan Giggs is considered a freakish old man for continuing to play football past 40…
Posted on February 19th, 2014 in reviews
Advance Reader Copies of Half a King have been out in the wild for a couple of weeks now and a few bold pioneers have already read and commented upon them, and I must say the onslaught of positivity is almost enough to thaw the splinter of deadly ice I have for a heart. Shall we go over a couple? Why not. Just for you guys. Not for me. For you.
NYT bestseller Robin Hobb:
‘I’ve enjoyed Abercrombie’s books before but this one had an exceptionally tight focus on the protagonist that I really liked. And the story does not compromise anywhere. It’s a coming of age story but that trite description does it no justice. No spoilers here, just a whole hearted recommendation.’
NYT no. 1 bestseller Patrick Rothfuss:
‘I’ve been a fan of Abercrombie’s stuff for years. His worldbuilding is great, his characterization is marvelous, he writes an amazing action scene … That said, sometimes I put down one of his books and think to myself, “Well, I guess everything sucks and everyone in the world is awful and we’re all pretty much fucked in the end, aren’t we?” Sometimes his books leave me feeling a little bleak … This book didn’t hit me that way. I got all the grit that I love in Abercrombie, and the craft, and the character. And the book was grim… but it never got so far as being bleak. Simply said, I think this is my favorite Abercrombie book yet. And that’s really saying something.’
NYT no. 1 bestseller Rick Riordan:
‘I’m a big fan of Abercrombie’s stark gritty fantasy books for grown-ups. His fiction pulls no punches and takes no prisoners (unless those prisoners are later tortured and executed). So I was curious to see how he would approach the world of young adult fiction in Half a King. The answer: brilliantly … As in all Abercrombie’s books, friends turn out to be enemies, enemies turn out to be friends; the line between good and evil is murky indeed; and nothing goes quite as we expect. Abercrombie also throws in his trademark dark humor and got me to laugh even during some grim scenes. With eye-popping plot twists and rollicking good action, Half a King is definitely a full adventure.’
Myke Cole, author of Control Point:
‘HALF A KING can be summed up in a single word: Masterpiece … It’s a coming of age story. It’s a Viking saga. It’s a revenge tale and family drama and the return of the prodigal son. But most of all, it’s this: a short time alongside people as weak and blundering as we are, and in the midst of it all, as heroic. Far too short a time, as it turns out. What a wonderful book.’
Sam Sykes, author of Tome of the Undergates:
“holy crap this is a good book … Half A King is full of all the adventure I’ve come to expect from Abercrombie and a tenderness I never knew he had. There’s infinitely more to Joe Abercrombie than we ever thought.”
Sound good to you guys? Thought so. It’ll be out in July in the UK and US…
Happy Birthday to Me. Happy Birthday to Me. Happy Birthday dear MEEEE-EEEEE. Three cheers, anyone?
Yes, indeed, another year has flowed beneath the bridge at ever-increasing speed and I am 39 today. It’s round about 12 years since I started writing The Blade Itself back in 2001. Some 9 years since I signed my first book deal, and 7 and a half years since The Blade Itself was published in 2006, would you believe. Got a feeling it’s hard to argue that I’m new on the scene any longer… An interesting year this has been. Didn’t publish any new novels, but I made some big deals for three and wrote most of two of those.
Let’s break it down a little, shall we…?
A YEAR IN BOOKSELLING – In spite of all my complaints, I really can’t complain. No new novels published, though I did have short stories in a couple of anthologies: Legends and Dangerous Women. The Blade Itself continues to come out in languages and territories that have yet to be exposed to the sunny radiance of my literary presence – I think we’re up to nearly 30 translation deals now. Partly due to the huge success of GRRM’s Game of Thrones, I’m sure, The First Law books, especially the trilogy, would seem to be selling better and wider than ever. Which is nice. I’m told all six books, in all languages and formats, have sold somewhere around 3 million copies now, which really does beggar belief for stuff I dreamed up in the middle of the night for my own amusement. Less travelling this year, but a much enjoyed second visit to my pals at Celsius in Spain, and my first trip to Russia saw 250 people in a bookstore in St. Petersburg and a sleeper train back to Moscow with a very nice man who works in oil and gas called Mikhail. I spent most of June locked in negotiations for the publishing of my new YA (ish) trilogy which will be starting in July in the UK and US with Half a King, more detail on all of that over here. It looks as if 2014 might be a very big year for me…
A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – A strong year, especially at the start and end. Quite possibly my most productive ever, certainly since 2007ish when I was finishing the First Law, long before I was a full-time writer and there were so many child-based and administrative demands on my time. I wrote the second half of Half a King, revised and edited it, planned Half the World and drafted three quarters of it, and wrote three short stories. Overall the move to a (slightly) different style of writing does feel like it’s done something to refresh my interest and recharge the batteries though, you know, it’s amazing how fast work becomes work again…
BOOKS – A level of reading that makes last year’s pitiful level look amazing, and most of what I did read was non-fiction about vikings. One thing that I did very much enjoy was Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles starting with The Last Kingdom. Strongly written adventure stuff with some great battle scenes and a feeling of authenticity. I burned through four of them while in Russia, then got stalled on the fifth. Perhaps a slight sense of diminishing returns when read back to back. Otherwise, my tottering to read pile just gets ever higher. Don’t think that bad boy’s going to get any smaller, now…
TV and FILM – Boy it’s been slim pickens film-wise, I have to say, adding considerably to my ongoing conviction that the interesting stuff mostly happens on the small screen these days. Can’t think of anything that really did much for me at the cinema since I squeezed into the most packed viewing ever to see Les Mis back in January. Those big scifi and superhero blockbusters I saw didn’t do masses for me. I liked Star Trek Into Darkness a hell of a lot more than its predecessor, but that isn’t saying all that much. Kick-Ass 2 was entertaining but not exactly deep. Pacific Rim I thought was mostly nonsense and, no, geekdom, not in a good way. Man of Steel I didn’t even enjoy thinking about watching. The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug was a good deal better than the first instalment but a long way short of the Lord of the Rings, with the story bloated up like a steroid-popping body builder losing all charm and personality in favour of ACTION and SPECTACLE. Ah, well. TV was a great deal more promising. Breaking Bad got better and better (or possibly worse and worse) though I haven’t yet seen the final episodes so SHUT UP SHUT UP. Game of Thrones Season 2 was good, sometimes very good, after a slightly wobbly oversexed start. Hannibal was largely riveting stuff with some awesome design and some great performances, Vikings was an interestingly off-beat and authentic-feeling effort that I look forward to the continuation of, Hell on Wheels 1 and 2 were also promising. Justified Season 3 continued to improve on the sparky character-led police hijinks of the previous two series. Spartacus Vengeance was more of the same brilliant/awful lurid schlock. The Danes offered us a great final season of Borgen, and a not-so-great final season of the Killing. The French offered us the initially gripping and ultimately baffling The Returned. Sons of Anarchy I find watchable enough in the main but I wouldn’t be that bothered if I saw no more. Dexter still offers a few things to like but is really dribbling away by Season 6. I enjoyed Season 2 of the Walking Dead in spite of many issues, however they’ve sorted out most of those by a storming Season 3, the end of which I haven’t quite got to. Probably the most pleasure I got out of TV was soaking through my t-shirts with tears watching the full five season run of Friday Night Lights. You wouldn’t think a show about a Texas High School football team would be my cup of tea at all but, heavens, the acting, the scripting, the storytelling, the commentary on american life, the raw emotions. Brilliant Stuff. I’m tearing up again! Help me, coach, teach me how to be a man! Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose…
GAMES – After a slightly disappointing 2012, 2013 will be remembered as an absolutely vintage year. Good stuff often happens at the end of a hardware generation and some of this year’s releases were particularly noticeable not only for their technical strengths but for their strengths in character and narrative. The White-Knuckle Tomb Raider Reboot then the Mind-Bending Bioshock: Infinite both delivered powerful central story lines. For me, in spite of a far smaller budget, Telltale’s harrowing Walking Dead video game got closer to the holy grail of interactive drama than the fascinating yet flawed Beyond: Two Souls. Grand Theft Auto 5 was pretty triumphant however you look at it. The one player campaign may not quite have had the depth and thematic cohesion some of the previous outings offered, but for sheer quantity of content and realisation of a living, breathing, beautifully detailed free-roaming game world it is untouchable, and its multiplayer incarnation was rich and varied enough to get me finally playing something online for a significant chunk of time. In spite of the fierce, fierce competition, though, my game of the year has to be the magnificently stark and uncompromising The Last of Us, which for boldness, characterisation, detail of setting, richness of experience, seamless fusion of action and story and sheer narrative drive from first frame to last set new standards for scripted games.
BEST REVIEWS – No new books means no significant splurge of reviews, and I must confess that I’m finding reviews as a whole just a lot less fascinating than I used to. Partly it’s that you see the same points and arguments repeated over and over, partly it’s that I’m just not as fresh and interesting and review worthy as I once was, partly it’s that when you put together a hundred reviews of a book you tend to see pretty much every viewpoint expressed somewhere, and partly it’s that there seems to be less and less connection between the critical and commercial spheres and, I dunno, the commercial sphere just interests me a lot more. It seems more honest in the main. I get bored by the contempt for success and the celebration of obscurity you seem to get from a lot of ‘serious’ critics. Still, no doubt when people start to react to Half a King I’ll be glued to the interwebs for every grain of opinion once again…
CONTROVERSIES – Ongoing criticism of cynicism and darkness in fantasy, not to use that elusive term ‘grimdark’, caused me to write a post on The Value of Grit early in the year, which prompted a fair bit of response, but in a way it’s a reheating and re-examination of a familiar circular argument. There’s a degree to which, once you’ve spent a fair bit of time about the internet genre scene, you start to see the same comments and controversies coming up over and over in one guise or another and you’re forced to wonder whether you have any further substantial contribution, or even frothy outrage, to offer. That, and the fact I’ve talked about pretty much every aspect of the publishing scene at one time or another has caused me to cut back on the blogging slightly this year. I’m still going to be talking about TV, games, whisky, publishing, my forthcoming work, and all the other stuff I’ve always talked about when there are substantial posts to make, but I’m also reasonably active on Twitter these days (@LordGrimdark), and some of the smaller comments and announcements (not to mention arguments) are happening over there…
Happy new year, readers!
One of my favourite sf&f bloggers, Justin Landon, is doing a reread of the entire First Law over at Tor.com. This week there’s a little introduction, some discussion of the series’ place in the gritty fantasy pantheon (or Grimdark, if you prefer that term), the controversial assertion that I’m older than Brent Weeks and less good-looking than China Mieville, and an examination of the prologue. I believe Justin’s going to be covering two or three chapters a week thereafter, as the mood takes him. If you’re taking on the books for the first time, you might not want to broach the comments there, which get more than a little spoilery. But if you were considering a reread, now might be the time to do it, and pitch into the discussion…?
Of course, a REBUY is the only option for the true fan.
There was a time I ruthlessly tracked down and linked to every shred of opinion about my books I could find anywhere on the internet. This was inevitable, but I’m not sure entirely helpful for anyone involved. These days it takes something of particular interest to stir me, and I cannot help but notice an opinion on Best Served Cold from none other than NYT no. 1 Bestselling author Rick Riordan:
“When mercenary general Monza Murcatto is brutally betrayed by her employer, she decides to take revenge against all odds, regardless of the consequences. Sounds like a simple plot, but nothing is simple about the way the story unfolds. Loyalties change, good and evil become increasingly hard to distinguish, friends become enemies who become friends again. The relationships and turns of fortune are every bit as punishing and convoluted as Game of Thrones, and I mean that as a compliment. Abercrombie makes you care about each character, no matter how flawed they are. It was also great to see old acquaintances from The First Law series pop up here and there in this book. If you’re looking for an engaging story with epic adventure, plenty of violence, and characters who are three-dimensional (at least until the author puts them through the meat grinder and they come out flattened!) definitely check out Abercrombie’s work.”
Also interesting (to me at least) was an in depth review of The First Law at Shelf Inflicited. Loads of spoilers in this if, for reasons I cannot fathom, you have yet to read that seminal example of gritty modern fantasy (strange use of lower-case ‘i’ is original):
“i felt attacked; i felt like the rug was pulled out from under me; i felt as if all that i held to be important and meaningful were simply false constructs based on lazy thinking and a complacency with what i have automatically considered as “good”, as “right”. being challenged like that is a rare thing. i like.”
And finally, good news! Red Country has been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Society’s Robert Holdstock Award for best fantasy novel. That’s my third time in a row on this particular ballot, but with Lou Morgan, Margo Lanagan, Graham Joyce, and China Mieville also shortlisted, I shan’t be holding any breath…
Thought I’d post a few little things which came my way via twitter. First off, a brilliant piece of what you might call done-for-the-joy-of-it Red Country art from British Comic Book Artist Gary Frank:
It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted any reviews, as well, but there’s a particularly insightful (not to mention complimentary) one of The Heroes from the aptly titled Unclekins:
“All the key ingredients that made Abercrombie’s earlier books stand out – the very real feeling characters, the naturalistic dialogue, the genuinely sharp wit … are present and correct. But it’s the story it tells that makes The Heroes an audacious book.”
And finally a few of my favourite blogger/critic/genre-commentator type people have been simultaneously posting their lists of 50 Essential Epic Fantasy works, and what do you know, the works of Joe Abercrombie appear on three of the four. Liz Bourke was the first to unleash her life-changing praise upon me:
“I read the first book. I didn’t really like it. But Abercrombie’s success – and, consequently, his influence on the features of epic fantasy – can’t be denied.”
My books are poor, but my success cannot be ignored! Better than the other way around, I guess. Justin Landon was more enthusiastic:
“George R.R. Martin started the modern grim fantasy, but Abercrombie perfected it. His work is biting, and harsh, and riddled with black humor. Essential.”
And Jared Shurin of Pornokitsch had a little more to say:
“Like any other trend, a couple people (Martin, Abercrombie) did something really, really interesting – they explored the idea that ‘actually a fantasy world would be really brutal/disease-ridden/awful on a day-by-day basis’. Their commercial success was immediately followed by dozens of pale imitations, all based on the false assumption that readers love them some diseased brutality. It is always easy to poach an aesthetic. The actual underlying insight? Harder to copy.”
I’m off up to London for more meetings tomorrow, and there may well be quite an exciting announcement coming soon, definitely for me, and possibly even for YOU. Until then…
Two of my favourite sci-fi and fantasy bloggers, Justin Landon and Jared Shurin, have collected together some of last year’s best essays and reviews from around the blogosphere into a single volume, including Joe Abercrombie’s review of Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself (I liked it, on the whole):
“Speculative Fiction 2012 collects over fifty articles from some of the top bloggers and authors in science fiction and fantasy, including over two dozen reviews. Contributors include Joe Abercrombie, Daniel Alexander, Kate Elliott, N. K. Jemisin, Aidan Moher, Abigail Nussbaum, Christopher Priest, Adam Roberts, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Sam Sykes and Lavie Tidhar.”
I set out on a righteous quest to sweep the blogosphere with navel-gazing on the subject of grit, and I kind of succeeded, although it mutated into grimdark along the way. But then mutations are unpredictable and stick according to the prevailing conditions and the mechanism of natural selection. Who am I to argue with evolution? ‘Grimdark’ it seems to be, now. Discussion has rumbled on, and there’s a handy collection of relevant links at Jenny’s Library, including some I hadn’t come across before. But there’s also been a response from author Daniel Abraham, which I consider particularly relevant and incisive since it’s so nice about my book. Beware of spoilers…
“The book that—for me—embodies the purest grimdark response is Abercrombie’s thoroughly brilliant The Heroes, in which the final moments (and spoilers here, so turn away if you don’t want to know) affirm that the violence will not only continue, but that the heroic men and women who are dedicated to it will never escape it except through death. Honestly, until I read The Heroes, I didn’t have much use for the grimdark projects, and now that I have, I feel like I’ve seen this expressed as clearly, powerfully, and beautifully as anyone ever will, and I don’t have to read another one pretty much ever.”
That’s fine. As long as you PAID FOR THAT ONE.
Posted on February 21st, 2013 in reviews
No sane writer takes individual amazon reviews too seriously. After all, you do get some strange ones.
Of course, most writers are far from entirely sane. But the general pattern is often interesting, even to the mostly rational, and there’s an interesting pattern to amazon reviews of Red Country both in the US and the UK, namely that aside from The Blade Itself, which as my first you’d expect to get most attention, it’s already my most reviewed book.
In the UK, The Blade Itself has 184 reviews, Before They are Hanged 66, Last Argument of Kings 82, Best Served Cold 86, The Heroes 83, and Red Country has just racked up its 100th review.
In the US, The Blade Itself has 393, Before They are Hanged 147, Last Argument of Kings 170, Best Served Cold 166, The Heroes 152, and Red Country 177.
In both US and UK, Best Served Cold is my worst rated book, on average (I know, I really like it too, but hey, your mileage may vary). But in the UK, Red Country is tied with the Blade Itself in fourth position. In the US, Red Country is my best rated book, with not a single one star review (that’s not an invitation).
What is the meaning of all this?
I’ve no idea.
But I’m fully prepared to obsessively monitor the situation.
Few people know better than I how incredibly jumpy people get about covers, so before I say anything else let me reassure the public that mass-market paperbacks of the First Law and its standalone sequels in the original parchmenty style (B-Format, or slightly larger mass market paperbacks about 7.75 inches high) will continue to be printed and sold across the UK and beyond, most recently together in a rather fetching boxed set, in fact. However, as there is an additional A-Format edition (that’s a slightly smaller mass market format, about 7 inches high) of the First Law trilogy with art by Chris McGrath that look like this, there will now be additional A-Format edition of Best Served Cold and The Heroes using the recent US Artwork by Gene Mollica but a lettering style that matches the UK approach and looking like this:
They’re already turning up in Waterstones, in fact. The purpose of this diversification? Well, the B-Format will certainly continue to be the main edition, but issuing an A-Format with a different look hopefully might snag a few readers unstimulated by parchmenty stylings, as well as encouraging a bit of new interest from jaded booksellers and so forth. That’s the theory.
I also note in passing that Locus have put Red Country on their recommended reading list for 2012. You never know, those in search of quality reading material to fill the gap until my next release might find a couple of recommendations on their worth pursuing…