I first picked up a Joe Abercrombie book mostly due to the pressures of metadata (Amazon and Barnes Noble telling me “If you like this then you might also like…”) and the placement of his works so close to Dan Abnett on the shelf at the book store. One of the few times metadata actually brought something positive into someone’s life.
Basically the universe twisted my arm until I picked up a copy of Best Served Cold, looked up at the ceiling and said “Fine, happy now?” then paid the slightly wary cashier. For once, universal bullying led me to find something good. Joe writes with a reckless abandon that’s refreshing to find in the Fantasy genre. Most Fantasy feels very controlled and directed, but with Joe you never know what’s happening next.
Best Served is a prime example because it features a female protagonist, with a bad-ass streak a mile long, barreling through assassination attempts and rebellious uprisings, all the while displaying a Porter-esque (That’s a Payback reference in case you missed it) devotion to the simple goal of revenge. He had me hooked from the first chapter.
Most of what I’ve read from Joe takes place in the First Law universe, a fantasy setting of his own design. First Law is a trilogy, but many of his works (Best Served and The Heroes) take place within it. It’s a dark, angry little place filled with interesting places and captivating characters. Many are crossed-over or at least mentioned in the many different titles. If you’re a super-dork like me and have a penchant for getting addicted to well-crafted world from another writer…this one is as good as any.
Here’s why Joe Abercrombie is for you:
1) Action – While he doesn’t quite have Dan Abnett’s gift for precision, Joe moves through action sequences at breakneck speed, and takes a quantity over quality approach. You get an explosive combination of action spread across a group of characters that gets resolved simultaneously. He’s also got a talent for inter-relating several fight scenes that happen at once, a simple feat in visual medium but potentially complicated in prose.
2) Style – Gritty, raw, and unapologetic are three words that would not quite do justice to Joe’s writing style. It’s refreshing to read fantasy where the author isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, or roll around in the mud like an enraptured pig if need be. Lots of authors glorify the warriors and knights fighting for hands of fair maidens. Joe gives the fantasy setting a stark dose of reality by delving into the worst parts of a medieval world – filth, disease, and the gritty aftermath of melee combat, right down to the screaming wounded and clouds of corpse flies.
3) Characters – He brings the aforementioned grit and reality to all his characters, main and supporting. From Black Dow to Monzcarro, they all have a very striking effect on the reader. He masterfully creates these men and women so they’re fleshed out and whole, but makes them unpredictable. I’m never sure what anyone’s going to do in any of his works, and that keeps it exciting.
Overall, Joe is a breath of fresh air in the Fantasy genre. Even if that fresh air is a bit fetid and reeks of dead bodies and pig shit. That’s what makes it so refreshing. Let me beat metadata and the universe to it, and peer pressure you into trying one of his books. So do it. Go try one.