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Red Country (World of the First Law) Paperback – November 14, 2013
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They burned her home.
They stole her brother and sister.
But vengeance is following.
Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she'll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she's not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old stepfather Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb's buried a bloody past of his own, and out in the lawless Far Country, the past never stays buried.
Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust...
The past never stays buried...
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- ASIN : 0575095849
- Publisher : Gollancz (November 14, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780575095847
- ISBN-13 : 978-0575095847
- Item Weight : 11.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 7.87 x 1.22 x 6.18 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #68,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Shy South, her sister Ro, brother Pit, and their stepfather Lamb live on a farmstead near the little town of Squaredeal in the Near Country, a lawless and large unsettled land west of the Union ruled Starikland that is constantly in rebellion. While Shy and Lamb are in town, their farm is burned to the ground, their friend Gully murdered, and Shy’s siblings kidnapped by an indebted Grega Cantliss who plans to sell children to the Dragon People who reside in the mountains northwest of the goldrush boom town of Crease. Shy and Lamb begin chasing Cantliss’ gang and eventually find three deserters who Lamb beats up for information then kills in a tavern in Averstock to Shy’s surprise. The legendary scout Dab Sweet and his ‘associate’ Crying Rock catch up with the duo and offer them a chance to join their caravan to Crease in the Far Country that they accept. Meanwhile the Union with ‘help’ by Nicomo Cosca’s mercenary company defeats the most recent rebellion in Starikland, Cosca’s company is paid by the Inquisition to head into the Near Country to find rebels much to the chagrin of the Company’s lawyer, Temple. After sacking Squaredeal, Temple and another Company solider go into Averstock to convince the rebels to save the townspeople but Cosca sends in the Company to sack it before the time he gave them was up. Temple runs from the Company and through a series of misadventures falls into a river and is saved by Shy and allowed to join the caravan but in Shy’s debt that he must work off. The biggest incident on the trip was an attack by the Ghosts, native tribesmen, lead by Sangeed through the instigation of Sweet and Crying Rock to get money for their retirement. After fighting off the Ghosts, Lamb kills Sangeed at the negotiation leading the band retreating. Upon their arrival in Crease, Shy and Lamb learn that Cantliss is employed by Papa Ring who is feuding with The Mayor with each control one-half of the city (on either side of the only street in town). Lamb agrees to fight for The Mayor in an upcoming fight for control of the town and later learns his opponent is Glama Golden. Temple helps build a shop for one of the caravan’s participants to finish off his debt to Shy and at the party upon its completion hooks up with Shy but runs out on her when Cantiss bursts into their room to kidnap her before the fighting. Another of the caravan’s members rescues Shy during Lamb’s fight in which he goes berserk and kills Golden resulting in The Mayor winning the town. Ring is hung and Cantliss is captured to lead Shy and Lamb to the Dragon People when Cosca appears forcing a change of plans. Shy, Lamb, Dab, Crying Rock, and a few others of the caravan lead Cosca’s company now including Temple again to the Dragon People and rescue Ro and Pit along with many others as the mercenaries ransack the mountain hideaway that includes a cave full of gold. On the way back, one of the caravan’s members is found out to be the leader of the Starikland rebellion leading to the rest of the caravan members attempting to rescue him by stealing the Company’s pay wagon while Lamb fights his way into where the Inquisition is questioning him. Temple and Shy crash the wagon but are saved by the real rebel leader who takes the gold to start a new war. They return to Crease before the mercenaries and arrange a trick to convince them that the town has pledged allegiance to the slowly rising Old Empire, the Inquisition strips Cosca of leadership of the Company and head back to Starikland. Lamb returns a few days later and the family head home only for Cosca to reappear only to be killed. Upon their return to Squaredeal, Shy takes over the general store while Temple becomes a carpenter/lawyer. One day Caul Shivers appears looking for Lamb to get revenge for his brother but decides not to fight. Lamb leaves the same day for his own reasons.
The amount of morally questionable characters in this Joe Abercrombie work should not be a surprise, what is how many of them are at least trying to not be total…jerks. Shy and Temple were both fun characters to read, each having their previous screw ups to live down but also wanting something better. Seeing the return of one of Abercrombie’s best characters from the first trilogy answered the cliffhanger ending he had at the end of The Last Argument of Kings, but his years long struggle to be a better man ended when he once again became the Bloody Nine. Though I have never read a western, this had the feel of one not only with the caravan and it’s obligatory native tribesmen attack but also a goldrush boom town that its literally isn’t big enough for the two factions opposing one another. Abercrombie also shows that the overall political situation in the world is changing as the Old Empire of the original trilogy is apparently revitalized and a potential rival for the Union, yet the long shadows of the past as seen with the Dragon People means that the fantastic elements of the world are still around ready to play a role.
Red Country is the answer to the question we didn’t know to ask, what would a western be like set in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law world. The mixture of previously established and newly introduced character makes a engaging story that keeps you reading from beginning to end.
If you look solely at Red Country, the world building is very slim. This is great for the long-term reader/fan of Abercrombie's books as there isn't any retread as the author tries to provide an info-dump to attempt to catch every reader up (new and old), but it's also great for a new reader as there really isn't anything they would need to know other than what's outlined at the beginning of the book. Basically, the western part of the continent is starting to be repopulated, partly by settlers looking for a new life, but mostly by people betting their lives on finding gold along with other people waiting to prey on them. Things are further complicated by the presence of savages (Indians) unhappy with the incursion of civilization and the two super-powers of the world (The Union and the Empire) hoping to lay claim on this fertile newish land. There are multiple main characters with interweaving stories, but the main driving storyline is initiated by the rampant kidnapping of children and the murder of anyone else that gets in their way. The child thieves happen to steal the wrong pair of children, as their older sister and step-father (whose pasts are riddled with bloodshed) will stubbornly follow them to the ends of the earth. This part of the story, especially near the beginning, is immensely powerful as they follow the bloody trail of the kidnappers, cleaning up the messes they made by burying all of the bodies they find, praying that the next body they turn around won't be one of their kids. After a bit, they group up with a wagon trail, and the story slows down a bit, but I still really loved the section as it evolved the characters and really increased the Western feel of the story. The other storyline in Red Country focuses on a mercenary company that's been sent by the Union to oust all of hiding rebels and bring the territory under Union control. Sadly, whenever you throw a couple hundred blood thirsty warriors at a problem, it tends to end in bloodshed along with rampant pillaging. The time with the mercenaries was entertaining, but it wasn't as good as the main story, however it does introduce an excellent and completely original viewpoint character in the Merc Company's Lawyer/Jack-of-all-trades. I won't go into any more depth in regards to the story to avoid spoilers, but I will say that I loved it, and while the ending is far from perfect it was still very enjoyable and expertly crafted.
The writing in this book is superb, and I really don't have anything to complain about. The flow of the writing is great, with the book being a real page turner, although occasionally an expertly written scene or line would break me out of the flow where I was forced take time to recognize its majesty. There are a few odd choices made with the name of the characters though. I won't describe who exactly I'm talking about as it would be a spoiler, but there are a few returning characters whose true names are never spoken. Some of them are smaller, and this caused me to not exactly remember them, but another is huge, and even when who he is was made abundantly clear, it was odd that his name was never actually said. By the way, for anyone that had previously read Abercrombie's books but wasn't sure about picking up Red Country, the presence of this awesome character is enough by itself to warrant a purchase and read-through of the book. The action here is very well written, but it was a bit odd that none of the main viewpoint characters were really the heroes/fighters in the story; I mean they still take part in the battles but it's usually in more of a secondary capacity. Abercrombie does a really interesting thing every once in a while, where for an important event there will be multiple rotating viewpoints to get different angles/opinions on the unfolding event. It could be a little jarring since for most of the book the reader is riding along with one character per chapter and there aren't many main viewpoints, but I still really enjoyed the change in pace this writing tactic created. Those viewpoint characters are amazingly original and well written, and the only other author that I've seen come close to having such completely different characters (especially if you include Abercrombie's previous books) is George R.R. Martin. The voice really feels completely different between the characters, and to me they have to be so unlike the author that I find it amazing that he can make them so real and believable.
So overall, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone that likes to read, whether they're fantasy fans or are new to the genre, whether they've read the previous books from Joe Abercrombie or are new to his masterpieces. I will say that if you've read his previous books, you will get a lot more out of Red Country, but it just improves the reading experience, and I don't think it would harm the quality of the story for a new reader. It may also provide an interesting experience if the reader goes back and starts the First Law Trilogy, as they can see younger versions of some of the characters in action. I simply loved reading this book, so much so that I was kind of sad when I was done, especially since I know it could potentially be awhile before I can read a new book in this world.
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2021 has been a good year for what I call quasi-Westerns, or Western tales in a fantasy setting. Wizard and Glass is my favourite in the Dark Tower series so far, The Wind in the Keyhole gave me more than I had expected, and then this. I won’t spoil it by mentioning who’s in this book, but readers will figure it out pretty quickly I think.
Criticism? One character in particular, Nicomo Cosca, has had a very uneven ride throughout the First Law series. Each time he’s in a book, it’s like he’s a whole different character, and that can be jarring at times. This was probably my least favourite version of him.
The twists in this book, for the most part, were pretty predictable. Nonetheless, it was mostly a 4 star read for me, elevated as I mentioned earlier by that Unforgiven vibe, plus epic fight scenes, events and dialogue that Joe Abercrombie does best. And the humour too, of course.
Only Sharp Ends left now, and I’m done with First Law. Planning to move on to Faithful and the Fallen next, along with Poppy War.
My favourite characters from the series overall? Bayaz, Logen Nine-Fingers, Glokta, and Bremer dan Gorst.
Some wonderful old characters from the earlier books reappear (Glama Golden among them, though much older and even more narcissistic than before), and some new, vibrant characters are brought into the world fully grown, truly human, and often rotten to the core once you get past their public persona).
I have read and re-read this book so many times now, I've lost count, and every time I still get shocked when the characters are revealed in their true light,and events happen around them.
I would advise anyone who hasn't followed this series from the beginning to start here, with red Country, which is just so awesome in itself as to be much better than many others, as it's borderline historical, rather than fantasy, but still has all the blood and guts most hard-line fantasy fans love and expect from such an author.
Red Country is a good read and kept me interested throughout, its a fairly simple story with a Western feel to it, some interesting characters and gives a bit of closure to a few characters from the original trilogy including one who may be missing a digit.
You can read this as a stand alone book, but I would highly recommend reading the others first.
The characters are brilliant, they make the game of throne characters seem quite nice and reasonable be comparison.
However the plot, plot reversals, and general character development, is what makes all the books in this series so good.
Definitely a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre, start reading now.