Joe Abercrombie may be one of the best world builders in fantasy writing today. I know when you talk about world building, writers such as Brandon Sanderson and Steven Erikson tend to spring to mind first, since they’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to create histories and magical systems for their worlds. Abercrombie builds his world in an entirely different way, focusing less on the magic and the religions and the detailed histories, but around people.
After finishing THE HEROES, I think I like Abercrombie’s method better.
THE HEROES is the fifth book by Abercrombie that I’ve read, and they all inhabit the same world. In each book, Abercrombie slowly, painstakingly introduces us to several different narrators, who describe the action with a unique voice and unique perspective. Abercrombie is an expert at building outstanding characters, from Logan Nine-Fingers to Glokta to Murcatto to Caul Shivers to The Dogman.
One of my favorite things in reading this book was being reintroduced to less prominent characters from previous books, such as Bremer dan Gorst and Bayaz and Calder, and running into old favorites. The Dogman is a minor character here, as is Shivers, and after everything Shivers went through in BEST SERVED COLD, we get to see how he’s seen by the other Northmen after his return. The book is riddled with references to characters we loved from previous books — Ninefingers is often mentioned, as is Rudd Threetrees. Murcatto gets a mention, and even Forley the Weakest.
This is probably the funniest of all the books Abercrombie has written so far, and dan Gorst’s internal dialogue with every character he meets — though he never says any of it out loud — is hilarious. Whirrun of Bligh was a minor character here, but he’s someone I would have loved to have seen more of as well. He’s called Cracknut Wirrun by his fellow Northmen, and at one point he’s telling a young fighter how he got the name by cracking nuts with his hands, but another character tells him that they actually call him that because he’s crazy and they all think his nut is cracked. “Well that’s not nearly as complimentary, those fuckers,” is Whirrun’s reply.
I can’t do it justice — Abercrombie’s humor is very similar to Scott Lynch’s, the kind that makes me sit there laughing out loud while the people around me wonder if I’m the one whose nut is cracked.
At the end of the day, Abercrombie finds a way to draw the reader into these new characters too, and by the end of the book there’s a whole world there, full of people that I feel like I know, an incredible world in a way that no magical system can match. It’s an outstanding accomplishment and an exceptional read.