“I loved this ok. Prepare yourself for a glowing review.
One of the driving strengths in this book is the characters; there are no perfect or righteously good characters, all are flawed, well developed, and are all, well, human. They have their own human motivations and ambitions, and neither side of the battle can be neatly filed into “good” vs “evil”. Every character, some old friends from previous books and some new faces, even secondary characters, they are all so flawlessly developed and memorable without being extreme caricatures of typical troupes.
[I’ve said this in a previous review but can I just reiterate how refreshing it is to have female characters, though granted few and secondary, that are actually three-dimensional? Capable, yet flawed? Pass the bechdel test? Props. ]
There is a mixture of hilarity and repulsion woven throughout, but my feelings for these characters were just ridiculous. You may think that having no real good characters might mar your feels for them, but not so. Don’t even go into this book thinking that because you’ll only be more shocked when your heart is stamped into a million little pieces.
“The man is a monster. The worst I have ever seen, in fact, since I last looked in the mirror. The truth? I am rotting too. I am buried alive, and already rotting. If I was not such a coward I would kill myself, but I am, and so I must content myself with killing others in the hope that one day, if I can only wade deep enough in blood, I will come out clean”
Oh man. Flawless, amazing, fleshy character right there. I didn’t think anyone would overtake my love for Glokta, but he may have done it..
The fact is I have a weakness for well written, character driven novels and this is just that. While to some people a three day skirmish, with no discernible good vs evil or massive power struggle as you tend to see in most fantasy, it might be a turn off. You might think it’s all oorah! and no substance, but no. Just no. It’s so much more than that. I found a quote that sums this book up almost perfectly:
“Here is war. Here it is, shorn of its fancy trappings. None of the polished buttons, the jaunty bands, the stiff salutes. None of the clenched jaws and clenched buttocks. None of the speeches, the bugles, the lofty ideals. Here it is, stripped bare.”
And here it is. Don’t go into this book thinking you’ll find a lot of the idealistic glorification in war, bravado and “heroes” that the title seems to suggest, it couldn’t be farther from it. So many fantasy (or even military-sf) talk up war and fighting to be this valiant, perfect thing. Not so. That’s one thing I admire about this – it cuts straight through the bullshit and right to the centre of it. War is shitty. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine. It strips away the pomp and bravado of what you’d think of when you hear the title and instead leaves you with the harsh reality – that no man is above fear, no matter his standing or how ‘brave’ he appears. The songs are a load of old bollocks. The term “Hero” is almost a satirical statement in itself. They’re all just normal men, trying to make the best of a very shitty situation.
“What’s the difference? Fill a hundred pits with dead Northmen, congratulations, have a parade! Kill one man in the same uniform as you? A crime. A murder. Worse than despicable. Are we not all men? All blood and bone and dreams?”
Just… Perfect. Yes ok.
Ok, so the grit, grey characters, and promises of something new and refreshing is what got me interested in his work, but I’ve discovered it’s the writing that keeps me coming back. In all of his books I’ve found the writing to be superb, hilarious, and obviously gritty, but I feel like in this novel it is exceptional. It’s just so well written and without the pretension; there are no redundant sentences – everything, every sentence, every word, seems to be so polished and precise. I actually found myself reading slower to just absorb the brilliance of it. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I haven’t read his work in a while but goddamnit, his writing style is just so perfect to me. I could read him forever.
Oh and before I sign off this absolute essay of a review, as always the battles are masterfully executed, visceral, and well disgusting in an entirely satisfying way. The sequencing of events was actually really clever. The different maps were a really cool idea and um.. Yeah.
TLDR; I guess I kind of bloody loved this book huh?
I'll leave you with probably one of my favourite quotes in the entire book ;)
"When it came to hatred, Brodd Tenways had a bottomless supply. He was one of those bastards who can't even breathe quietly, ugly as incest and always delighted to push it in your face, leering from the shadows like the village pervert at a passing milkmaid. Foul-mouthed, foul-toothed, foul-smelling, and with some kind of hideous rash patching his twisted face he gave every sign of taking great pride in."
Brilliant. Just brilliant.”