by Joe Abercrombie
Unlike a lot of fantasy fiction, Red Country is not about the struggles for power or a race against time and prophesy. It is about one young woman’s quest to rescue her young brother and sister from unknown kidnappers and to avenge the death of her father. It is a quest that takes young Shy South on a voyage of self-discovery and enlightenment. It is also a tale of redemption and forgiveness as Shy and her companion, Lamb, face enemies old and new. Both have pasts they have tried to forget, but events will conspire to bring those pasts very much to the fore.
I have to say that I felt the story takes more than a little inspiration from the American old west. On several occasions, I found myself reminded of that wonderful film “Paint Your Wagon” with its wagon train, mud and lost souls seeking their fortunes in the hills.
Although it is the thread that holds the book together, Shy’s personal quest isn’t the only story being told here. There are warring factions, but it is not the great powers themselves who cross Shy and Lamb’s paths, but others like the inept Temple whose life is similarly torn apart by events beyond their control.
The big advantage for fantasy writers is they are not constrained by facts or history. There can be no anachronisms and factual inaccuracies, just a blank canvas their stories can unfold. And Joe Abercrombie makes very good use of this freedom in all his books. But unlike most of his other works, Red Country is more a story of relationships, conflicting loyalties and personal discovery. There are enough scenes of blood and gore to keep everyone happy, but it is the unfolding personal stories that make this such a good book for me.
Fans of fantasy fiction will no doubt be already aware of Abercrombie’s work. But whether already a fan or not, Red Country is a book well worth the read. The well-constructed characters and their interweaving storylines make for a dramatic tale. Shy’s grim determination to recover her lost siblings is a compelling vehicle for Abercrombie to investigate the things that drive us all. Red Country is a damned good read.