Red Country by Joe Abercrombie REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW Bloody good fantasy Western

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It’s tricky to talk about how enjoyable this fantasy-Western hybrid is without blowing at least one of its revelations. If you avoid spoilers like a mule dodges rattlesnakes then slap on your Stetson and ride away now; the star rating above says all you need to know about Joe Abercrombie ’s exhilarating sixth novel.

Still hitched to our wagon? Okay: Red Country sees the return of antihero Ninefingers, along with cameos by a few other favourites from previous books. And it’s a triumphant reappearance that leaves you eager for the moment when it all gets bloody. As before, Abercrombie takes inspiration from an established genre – where The Heroes was a war story, this is a cowboy saga – and splices it, whorehouses, tribal raiders, gold prospectors and all, into his First Law setting.

When their farm is raided by child-stealing bandits, Shy South and her surrogate father Lamb track them across the border into the Far Country, with help from a fellowship of pioneers and prospectors, including a runaway lawyer, Temple. Meanwhile an Inquisition-sponsored posse is scouring the borders for rebels, and the nearest settlement, Crease, is in the middle of a feud between rival factions. Of course, Shy's journey is hardly aglow with the romance of frontier life – Crease is "Hell on the cheap", a Deadwood-style shitheap that’s more shantytown than outpost of civilisation.

Red Country is completely accessible if you haven't read Abercrombie's previous work, but this tale of outlaw justice fits so comfortably into his canon that fans will get an extra thrill. Crammed with every trope possible, the story feels somewhat episodic as the chase moves from plains to town to hills, and questions are left unanswered about the last act's mountain-dwelling antagonists (we hope they'll be revisited in a future book). But Abercrombie’s knack for wit and grit holds your attention throughout, and his eye for character means that there’s heart as well as muscle.

Dave Bradley

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