The Heroes

by Joe Abercrombie

Victory and defeat, glory and oblivion, in absolute balance. The perfect moment.

A massive book clocking in around 200,000 words, The Heroes is the story of the Northmen trying to protect a piece of ground from the advancing armies of the Union. The fight takes place over four days.

There’s a style of argument called Rogerian employing the tactic of defanging one’s opponent’s argument by making his points for him and making one’s own appealing, contrasting counterpoints in the same salvo. Traditionally used as a method of finding common ground for negotiation, it’s also a powerful argumentative tool.

And it’s a bit like what happens here. This novel is crammed full of colorful characters on both sides of the war, and the book follows both sides equally. Instead of your typical good guys fighting bad guys story, this is just men and woman fighting with both sides believing theirs is the righteous cause—the characters aren’t using Rogerian, the author is: No one wins, and there are all manner of degrees of losing.

There’s a great quote when Gorst, the Royal Observer, is lamenting the loss of life on the battlefield around him:

It would have been more honorable to load the men aboard in Adua, wave them off with a tear in the eye, then simply set fire to the ships and send them all to the bottom of the bay.

Perhaps politicians advocating war should prove their devotion by accompanying the soldiers on those ships Gorst mentions. But there’s an element of personal responsibility in the violence unleashed here, too, not just the blind orders of the State. The lead participants are often regretful in the slaughter, hoping for a way out of the never-ending violence, knowing if there was some kind of way out, they’d probably just plunge swords into it anyway. Maybe it’s not possible, this getting better than ourselves business.

The river became a mass of stomping hooves and spray, flying metal and blood, and Gorst hacked his way through it, teeth ground together in a frozen smile. I am home.

4 (4+) stars


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