Friday, June 7, 2013

Joe Abercrombie

Have you heard of this guy? He's a fantasy writer. Lance and I have heard of him, and we both seem to think his work is swell. He's written a trilogy and several standalone novels in the same world set varying amounts of time after the trilogy that involve minor characters from the trilogy.  It's dark and grim and gritty stuff and there are no good guys, just people who are flawed and try to do their best and sometimes fail. It's also violent. Violent as fuck.

I can't do the violence justice with my own words. I will say that it's quick and savage and well written without being a literary gorefest. People die in fights with swords and they tend to die bloody and that blood tends to get on you. Abercrombie notes that when appropriate and describes it vividly. No one dies from excessive amounts of light slashes or glancing blows. They die from having a sword dragged from their groin up to their sternum and their guts rolling out like a heap of worms. Or they get curb stomped.

His "heroes" aren't pretty, except for one or two. They're scarred and cut up and missing fingers or eyes or ears. He also seems to delight in maiming pretty folks. One main character that survived being tortured had his front two upper and lower teeth ripped out and then his torturers alternated with the rest of his teeth so no top tooth met a bottom tooth when his mouth closed. He was not a fan of all the gruel he was forced to suck down during the trilogy. Every fights leaves characters with new scars or bits and pieces of their bodies missing, because that's what tends to happen to people when they start swinging blades at other people with great regularity. 

His writing has some strong pacing. Sometimes the pace is fairly breakneck and I find myself just devouring the words off of the page. Other times it is slower and more leisurely, but you can kind of feel those sections of high violence and gritty action coming, and I find myself devouring the words just as fast. It ends up building the tension and expectation as I approach them. Since his action sequences always tend to deliver, I end up pleased as punch when they finally come about.

His characters feel real to me, three dimensional. No one is good because they're good or evil because they're evil. They don't spout high handed morality at you from the page about nobility or evil. They are characters that react appropriately and realistically to the situations Abercrombie writes them into based on their background. There is very little black and white to them, mostly just muddled grey. Which I love. They have reasons for doing what they do and what they've done before we met them, and those reasons generally make sense for the character.

The shape of his world is kind of vague, and the history appears pretty thin as well. There are nations and historical figures, but little time seems to be spent on the various background details unless it is needed by the plot. I'm ok with this. His stories aren't really about the world. They're about the characters, and the main characters are well written and interesting.

I could go on and list specific scenes and examples, but this is definitely a writer you should check out.

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