First Law Along #6: Red Country

The First Law Along readathon continues in 2024.
This sixth book in the series was scheduled for November/December last year, but I procrastinated on it and only read it in January. Still, in time for the discussion in the live show of January 14, but this of course caused me to postpone writing and publishing my review, since I was already late anyway. Anyway, under the motto “better late than never”, here are my thoughts on the sixth First Law book.

Joe Abercrombie – Red Country (First Law World #6) ★★★

Genre: Western Grimdark Fantasy

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…

“All struck with a madness of hope. Or of greed, depending on the observer’s faith in humanity.”

Red Country’s premise reminds a lot of a Western, which is not exactly my favourite setting. So this was once again a First Law book that I had to coax myself to start.
And yes, it’s definitely not my favourite of Abercrombie’s books, but it still interested me enough to read it all the way through, which cannot be said of its predecessor.

“ A breeze blew up then and stirred the dust in the street and flapped the coats of the two men, no more than four or five strides of dirt between them.”

The setting indeed had many elements of a Western: fortune seekers, vast landscapes, long treks through a monotonous landscape, a scalping native population and typical settlements in a Wild West style accompanied by the typical cast of people.

The premise also fits in within this theme. Everything revolves around Shy and her stepfather Lamb, who go on a search for the men who kidnapped Shy’s younger brother and sister and murdered their friend. So they join a caravan on the way to a town that grew up around a gold mine.

“All drunk on the chance of reaching into some freezing pool out there in the great empty and plucking up a new life with both hands. Leaving their humdrum selves behind on the bank like a shed skin and taking a short cut to happiness.”

From the very start, the reader is given hints that some of the introduced characters may not be who they pretend to be. Some even turn out to be old familiars. The latter made me really excited, but in the end this was also what let me down the most.
The new characters were nice and well established enough, but never really managed to interest me enough or make me care all that much about what happened to them.

“One thing holding forth about justice at a thousand miles removed. Another having to press metal into flesh.”

What makes me invested in these books is Abercrombie’s writing style.
His dialogues are always very lively and entertaining. His descriptions came to life in my head and his characters’ POVs are instantly recognizable and very lifelike.
The way he describes the human situation is extremely raw and sharp and I am a real fan of how he can present things poetically and vulgarly at the same time. But at the same time, it is his preference for realism and pessimism that means that I cannot immediately say that I love his books.

“A man of principle must make hard choices and suffer the consequences.”

To be honest, Abercrombie’s love for upending expectations, both in terms of plot and character growth, is starting to lose its luster.
In the first books I read by him I found this daring, refreshing and even fun. But now it feels like he’ll do anything to make his stories as bleak, boring, and pointless as possible. And ultimately as a reader you want to have some progress in a story and not always end up in the same place where you started.

“Evil turned out not to be a grand thing. Not sneering Emperors with world-conquering designs. Not cackling demons plotting in the darkness beyond the world. It was small men with their small acts and their small reasons. It was selfishness and carelessness and waste. It was bad luck, incompetence and stupidity. It was violence divorced from conscience or consequence. It was high ideals, even, and low methods.”

So in the end, this book was just okay for me. It contained some very enjoyable and interesting parts, but also many annoying and irritating disappointments.

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