Literature / Red Country

Evil turned out not to be a grand thing. Not sneering emperors, with world conquering designs. Not crackling demons plotting in the darkness beyond the world. It was small men with their small acts and their small reasons. It was selfishness and carelessness and waste. It was bad luck, incompetence and stupidity. It was violence divorced from conscience or consequence. It was high ideals, even, with low methods.

In the Near Country, Shy South has barely managed to bury her past. She lives a happy life at her farm with her younger siblings and her stepfather, Lamb. An older, slow and big man, Shy thinks him some kind of coward. She would be surprised if she knew his past. And she will too, as soon as trouble comes.

The past is also something Temple, lawyer for the company of the Gracious Hands, is trying to forget. He is a coward known for taking the easy way out of every situation. Yet he never seems able to silence his conscience.

A series of coincidences will make their paths cross. Amidst a gold rush, the protagonists will take the road west towards the frontier and the Far Country. They say anyone can start a new life there. But who can really break the shackles of the past?

After a deconstruction of High Fantasy with The First Law trilogy, a take at a swashbuckler revenge story set against a backdrop of warring city states with Best Served Cold, another take at the war novel genre with The Heroes, Red Country is Joe Abercrombie's tentative to crack open and end the fantasy western genre. The nods, homage, parodies and subversions taking from both samurai films and the westerns they inspired – from the split city shown in Yojimbo to the Cattle Drive, from a desperate search for missing loved ones to a Retired Gunslinger that cannot change – are too many to be counted.

While all the protagonists are at least flawed and sometimes even petty or despicable, Abercrombie's talent is in conferring them a healthy dose of humanity and a faint hope for redemption.

As standalone sequel to The First Law, it features several previous players from the series, often under different names/nicknames.

This work provides examples of :

  • Action Girl: Shy, who has some experience with violence that she'd rather leave in the past.
  • Afraid of Their Own Strength: Lamb, who would rather be known as a coward than fight again.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Temple seems to be this in-universe. He professes to be half-Styrian (an Italian Fantasy Counterpart Culture) and half-Dagoskan (vaguely Sim Sim Salabim), but other characters wonder if he could be Gurkish (The Empire, which includes people of South Asian, Arabian, and African appearances), and one character refers to him as a "black bastard".
  • Ambition Is Evil: Sure can be.
  • Anti-Hero: Par for the course for Abercrombie's works.
  • Arc Words: "Always said you were some kind of coward."
  • Badass Grandpa: Lamb and Savian both
  • Bald of Awesome: Lamb after he shaves his head.
  • Barbarian Hero: Lamb was once one. The greatest, in fact.
  • Bash Brothers: Briefly Lamb and Savian
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Temple and Shy's relationship, with Temple as the jerk (well, unscrupulous coward) and Shy as the tsundere.
  • Berserk Button: Don't harm Shy. You'll find out that Lamb isn't that nice...
  • The Berserker: As in the main trilogy, Lamb is prone to letting his Super-Powered Evil Side take over during fights, at which point he kills without prejudice. He smashes in the head of the referee after he kills Glama Golden, and nearly kills Ro.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Shy and Temple are together and Pit and Ro are safe. On the other hand, lots of people have died, Ro has been alienated from her family and might never fully recover, and Lamb leaves, realizing he can't escape the past.
  • Broken Ace: Glama Golden, despite being The Dreaded is a sad, broken man who loathes his reputation.
  • But Now I Must Go: Lamb/Logen decides the best way to keep the ones he loves safe is to leave them.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Temple is one, being a humorously unlucky coward
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Temple started out as a student and surrogate son of the benevolent preacher Kahdia in Dagoska, but after his mentor was killed and his hometown destroyed, followed shortly by his wife dying, he lost his faith and some of his morals. He eventually regains them.
  • Dark and Troubled Past:
    • Lamb. The fact that he was once the feared Bloody Nine and the utter hell he went through in The First Law alone.
    • Shy. The reader quickly learns that she had a past as a outlaw, but left it behind her. We don't find out until much later that it's because another woman was mis-identified as her outlaw persona and hanged in Shy's place.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Very par for the Abercrombie course.
  • Doomed Hometown. Squaredeal is sacked by bandits and children are hauled off, causing Shy and Lamb to set forth on their adventure.
  • The Dreaded: As ever, the Bloody Nine, Logen Ninefingers AKA: Lamb.
  • Duel to the Death: Between Lamb and Glama Golden
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When Cosca orders Friendly to kill children, Friendly at first asks Cosca which to kill, then confesses that he would really rather not kill any of them.
  • Everyone Can See It: When Shy and Temple hook up for the first time, no one is that surprised, except for them, as they initially didn't think they liked each other that much.
  • Evil Is Easy: A consistent theme of the series and very evident in the motivations of Cosca and Temple, who haven't prospered through doing bad, but have trouble changing (or in Cosca's case have stopped trying to), because being good is even harder.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Ghosts/The Folk, who, appropriate to the Medieval Fantasy meets Wild West setting, are sort of Native Americans that look like Celts (pale skin, reddish hair, blue warpaint). They cut off ears instead of scalps.
  • Famous Last Words: Subverted with delightful viciousness in the case of Cosca.
  • Fiery Redhead: Shy South
  • Foreshadowing: "I believe my greatest performance is yet in front of me."
  • Good Feels Good: Shivers opting to drop his feud with Logen Ninefingers and leave him in peace muses on how it feels nice to do the good thing some days.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Shy has a hard edge, but is a basically decent person.
  • Guile Hero: Temple is essentially one, falling back on his varied experience to do so. Probably, he's entitled to be called one for engineering the plan against Cosca in Crease.
  • Happily Married: Lamb and Shy's mother before her passing.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Temple.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Right before Temple hooks up with Shy for the first time, Lamb tells him to be gentle with her. Temple replies that he's more worried about her being gentle with him. Lamb agrees, but comments that if the relationship goes bad, he won't be breaking her legs.
  • Invented Individual: Subverted. Majud always justifies his miserly attitude by unconvincingly stating that he'd like to be generous, but has to respect the interests of his (unseen) business partner Curnsbick, who is a stickler. Temple and everyone else assumes that Curnsbick is fictional. However, later on, Curnsbick surprisingly shows up, and turns out to be a friendly and generous type who refers to Majud as a miser. At the end of the novel, Temple opens up a general store and borrowing from Majud as an example, names it using his deceased mentor as an imaginary business partner.
  • Jack-of-All-Trades: Temple has been, among others, clergyman, lawyer, and architect/builder.
  • Lovable Rogue: Cosca was this. In the recent years, he's grown... considerably less lovable.
  • Miser Advisor: A pronounced trait of the merchant Majud and Shy, who is an expert at haggling. Both are willing to help Temple, but are very specific about the amount he owes, and make him Work Off the Debt.
  • Mook Horror Show: Jubair vs. Bloody Nine (‘God...’ whimpered Jubair, stumbling back towards the steps, and suddenly there were arms around him. ‘Gone,’ came a whisper. ‘But I am here.’)
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Bloody Nine.
  • Never Heard That One Before: When Temple first meets Shy and she introduces herself, he makes a pun on her name in an attempt to be charming, but then realizes she's probably heard jokes like that a lot.
  • No Doubt The Years Have Changed Me
  • Non-Indicative Name:
    • Shy is certainly not shy, which people remark upon.
    • Lamb is very meek when we first see him, but as we eventually realize he's Logen Ninefingers, the most brutal and dangerous man alive.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Lampshaded by Shy:
    "You'd think they'd give it a fucking rail."
  • Not So Harmless: Oh, that meek, gentle old man Lamb? He's the Bloody Nine and more than willing to tear you apart if he slips into his Superpowered Evil Side.
  • Oh, Crap!: Glama Golden when he realizes he is fighting the Bloody Nine, and he is going to die.
  • One Last Job: Veteran fighter Glama decides that his duel with Lamb will be his last fight, as he will be able to live comfortably off of his pay. Once he realizes the true identity of his opponent, he knows it will be his last fight for a different reason.
  • Overprotective Dad: Lamb can be this at times for Shy, his stepdaughter. Namely that he abandons her, presumably forever, to save her from his past.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Lamb, sometimes verging on Nominal Hero. He tries to be a good guy, but his dark past and Superpowered Evil Side cause him to pursue nasty methods in order to get his children back.
  • Private Military Contractors: Cosca's Company of the Gracious Hand.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    • "I've killed better men for worse reasons."
    • "I’ve a better offer."
  • The Rain Man: Friendly.
  • Reliable Traitor: Cosca
  • Retired Badass: Lamb, who is actually the infamous fighter Logen Ninefingers.
  • Retired Monster:
    • Shy was once a ruthless bandit called Smoke, but she's put that behind her.
    • Lamb is actually Logen Ninefingers, called the Bloody Nine for the litany of atrocities he's perpetrated over the years.
  • Rogue Protagonist: Cosca, who while still a backstabber in his previous appearances in other books, had some moral standards, which he evidently lost in the intervening years.
  • Sacrificial Lamb:
    • Sufeen dies pretty early on, but by the end of the story it seems his sacrifice was not in vain.
    • Leef dies in a Ghost attack fairly early in the story.
  • Son of a Whore: Temple evidently is one and when someone calls him this, he retorts that he has no shame in his mother's profession.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Pit and Ro take to their new lives among the Dragon People very quickly. Ro in particular continues feeling aligned with her surrogate family long after she's rescued.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: When Lamb is worked into a berserker frenzy, he's nigh unkillable, and kills just about anything in front of him.
  • That Man Is Dead: Lamb and the Mayor are strongly implied to be, respectively, Logen Ninefingers and Carlot dan Eider. However, neither's old name is actually stated at any point, and the Mayor even comments that she'd lost everything, including her name.
  • The So-Called Coward: Shy grew up thinking of Lamb as cowardly because of his submissive and unambitious attitude. It turns out Lamb had to act that way, as doing otherwise would cause his nasty side to come out.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass:
    • Brint, now a General, was introduced in The First Law as a lovable Upper-Class Twit appears briefly here, and is described as having lost (during the events of The Heroes) "most of his arm and all of his sense of humor" (in addition to having his wife kidnapped and experiencing a presumed Fate Worse Than Death). Brint behaves like a Politically Incorrect Villain when he interacts with Temple, and is sort of the Bigger Bad of the novel, since he is in charge of the soldiers, Inquisition Forces, and Cosca's mercenaries, who he tasked with brutally crushing rebels who don't want to be ruled by the Union.
    • Cosca, while always self-serving and devious, had some morals in his earlier appearances, and was mostly a Loveable Rogue. By this book, he has lost any scruples he had and is well on his way to being pure evil.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Glama Golden was The Fighting Narcissist and an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy in his previous appearance, but shows up here as a rather broken man who is considerably wiser and kinder. In a Heel Face Doorslam, he agrees to duel Lamb and dies a horrible death at the hands of The Bloody Nine
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Temple's incredible plan to keep the Company of the Gracious Hand out of Crease.
  • Villainous Valor: Sworbreck came to the Far Country to find heroism and courage, only to find both to be in short supply there. When he witnesses Shivers sitting in a restaurant, holding a mercenary officer (who has several hundred men outside) hostage with one hand while calming finishing his breakfast with the other, he notes that while he has yet to see any heroism, he's at least found some undeniable courage.
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": Lamb named his oxen Calder and Scale, after Bethod's sons, probably as a private insult against the pair.
  • Western Characters: Lots of them:
  • Work Off the Debt: Temple finds himself in debt to Shy when she saves his life and buys him a space on the caravan, and spends much of the book working it off.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Temple has this reaction when Cosca tells him that he sees Temple as a worthy successor because Temple is even more amoral and cowardly than Cosca himself. Hearing this is what makes Temple permanently embrace good.