The Heroes is the second free standing book following the First Law trilogy, it take us to the north and allows us to know more about some of the characters we were introduced to in that series. Eight years have passed since Logen Ninefingers, here only referred to as the Bloody Nine, was betrayed by Black Dow and presumed dead. This has caused a rift between the King of the Union and the North and war has erupted, centered around a hill with some old stones on it, known as The Heroes. As the chess pieces are placed on the board the first of the magi, Bayaz, returns to oversee the coming battles.
The Heroes is a book that is mainly based on conflicts and intrigue, both physical and psychological. There are many characters pulling in different directions and every person has his or her own agenda. Some of them putting themselves first and others trying to do what’s right.
This is one of the main differences from the original First Law trilogy where there seemed to be one main structure and the psychological conflict wasn’t evident until the end.
In this book the underlying psychological warfare is more apparent from the get go. It exists both on a macro and micro level. On the macro there is the main conflict; the war between the Union and the North, born from Black Dow’s power grab eight years earlier and this serves as the back drop. On the micro level are the conflicts between people.
Beginning with Craw, a grizzled warrior whose conflict is a constant; his age and his duty. He is war weary and sees his friends die all around him, but struggles with the weight of being labeled a straight edge.
Prince Calder, the youngest son of the former King Bethod, schemes towards grabbing power while protecting his pregnant wife. He is also very much the cause of conflict between other North men.
Amongst the Union there is Bremmer dan Gorst, a disgraced colonel dreaming of death and glory and the love of a beautiful woman.
There is a plethora of other characters all with their own conflict and it would be difficult to list them all, and above them is the first of the magi Bayaz, playing them like a puppet master.
In the end Joe Abercrombie is a very good author when it comes to the psychological drama. He brings a depth and dimension to his fantasy world. The Heroes only covers three days of a conflict, but relates a legion of ideas, conflicts and events. He is truly a master and innovator of the genre, building upon the Sword and Sorcery style of both David Gemell and Robert Howard and bringing it into our century. He creates a reality, however harsh it may be, that feels believable, something that at times may be lacking in the genre.
At times one might feel like Abercrombie ends up in the shadow of authors like Geroge R.R. Martin, but undeservedly so. His stories are free from the repetitiveness and bloating that a long series of 600+ books contain.
The Heroes are truly a testament to what good fantasy writing is and where the genre is heading or must move towards to survive.