Cannonball Read V: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
Shy is a hard woman with a dark past. Lamb is a giant of a man and a bloody coward. But he's the closest thing to a father Shy and her two young siblings is ever going to have. When Shy finds her farm burnt to the ground and her young brother and sister taken, Shy and Lamb take off cross country to find them. It is a journey that will cost them everything they are.
"What do we do if we catch them?" she muttered, keeping her voice down. "Chances are they're going to be armed and willing. Better armed than us, that's sure."
"Recon we'll have to be more willing then."
There are many detailed characters in Red Country but none is as riveting as Lamb, a quiet man who kept his head bowed for years, farming, raising children that weren't his own. Perhaps the story of Lamb draws from too many familiar tropes (the lone warrior, ronin, etc.) but Lamb's journey, dialogue, and challenges haunted me weeks after finishing the book.
I didn't want no trouble," said Lamb. "It blew in anyway. Trouble's got a habit that way." He pushed his wet hair out of his face, and his eyes were wide open, bright, bright, mouth open too, breathing fast, and he was smiling. Not like a man working his way up to a hard task. Like a man enjoying getting to a pleasant one, taking his time about it like you might over a fine meal, and of a sudden Shy saw all those scars anew, and felt this coldness creeping up her arms and down her back and every hair on her standing.
Elsewhere Captain General Nicomo Cosca leads The Company of the Gracious Hand, a fierce bunch of mercenary murderers and thieves, accompanied by a feckless lawyer named Temple. The Company of the Gracious Hand has been hired by the inquisition to route hidden pockets of rebels, which they mean to do by burning and pillaging their way across the country. It's a red country indeed.
This is a fantastic book that spans many characters, miles of travel, and battles. No one ends the journey unscathed, definitely not Lamb who turns out to have a much richer and darker past than Shy ever suspected. Abercrombie's First Law trilogy is also fantastic but the characters are so dark that you almost stop caring about them. In Red Country, Shy, Temple, and definitely Lamb are dark, broken characters and yet you never stop rooting for them to succeed. They are forced into many hard choices, each with a hefty price to pay, and each conflict brings an uneasy resolution. Yet the dialogue has so much sly wit and humor that the book never seems TOO dark or bleak. There is a spark of hope and warmth that keeps the balance.
Joe Abercrombie is a modern master of the anti-hero and Red Country is his best work to date. I highly recommend.