Book Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Posted on November 3, 2012


Red Country

Joe Abercrombie





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 step father 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.


One the things I really enjoy about reviewing is finding an author I was not previously aware of and loving their work. Joe Abercrombie is just one such discovery for me.

Abercrombie’s milieu is writing gritty, action-packed fantasy that is more about swords than spells. When Red Journey arrived in my post, I began reading it pretty much right away (so why has it taken so long to actually write the review? Hangs my head in shame).

I was expecting plenty of action from the outset and I wasn’t disappointed. It does not waste much time building pace but things start happening right at the start and the action gets rolling. But not in a Matthew Riley style of start out sprinting and accelerate at the expense of back story.

The central character is Shy South, a young woman who has had a brutal past. She is a real no-nonsense sort with that demonstrated right at the outset. Accompanying her is her nine-fingered step-father, Lamb, although fans of Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy will soon recognise who he really is although that identify is not explicitly revealed. Other characters of significance to the plot are nicely developed along with the primaries.

This work has been compared to westerns in its style and I believe that is a fair comparison – but without the western tropes – no heading the baddies off at the pass etc. We see some of the archetypes you would expect in a western. But rather than a John Wayne of clear-cut good guys and bad guys, it is more Sergio Leone – people covered in filth, lots of mixed morality and values, dark, gritty. At the same time, interspersed through the text were nice touches of black humour that brought a smile to my face.

In short, I loved Red Journey. There were only two things stopping me from giving it the highest possible rating. Right at the close of the book, Lamb meets someone from his dark past in an encounter that has been building up periodically through the story. Yet it doesn’t really go anywhere. The other small gripe was a scene during the climax that reminded more of arriving in the den of the dragon, Smaug, in The Hobbit.

Despite those two quibbles, this is still Highly Recommended.

Posted in: Review