Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on September 20, 2021
What would a fantasy western be like? Red Country the sixth book and third standalone novel of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law world answers that question in its blood-splattered pages with a cast of morally questionable characters some of whom are looking to save family, become better, and to get rich.

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.
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