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Literature / Red Country

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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?

Red Country has Joe Abercrombie's delve into the Weird West, where the nods, homage, parodies and subversions to famous western tales - from the split city shown in A Fistful of Dollars to the Cattle Drive, from a desperate search for missing loved ones to a Retired Gunslinger who 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 or nicknames.

This work provides examples of :

  • Action Girl: Shy, who has some experience with violence that she'd rather leave in the past.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Both Papa Ring and the Mayor are very friendly in spite of being ruthless crime lords. Shy notes how the Mayor puts her at ease. Papa Ring has a much more unwholesome feel, but he's still persistently polite in conversation.
    • Cosca, who is still as friendly and humorous as ever. His smile is said to radiate good humor and intentions in spite of being an proud opportunist of the highest order.
  • 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 Mystical India), 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".
  • Anti-Hero: Shy is a former bandit who now is just trying to hold her family together.
  • Army Scout: Sufeen is a former scout.
  • Barbarian Hero: Lamb was once Logen Ninefingers, the most infamous barbarian warrior in memory.
  • The Bartender: Several populate Squaredeal.
  • Bandito: The Rebels, who rob in their efforts against the Union, are a sympathetic portrayal
  • 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 Superpowered 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.
  • Call-Back: There are a few references to previous events:
    • When Temple describes how he fell into a river, Lamb says he knows what that's like. The First Law begins and ends with him falling into a river.
    • Lamb recalls sitting on a throne and having his friend steal it from him, recalling when Black Dow betrays Logen and takes Scarling's throne.
    • Cosca says that Temple could be a better captain than even Murcatto, the protagonist of Best Served Cold.
  • Captain Obvious: Several characters state the obvious, and it's lampshaded each time. For example, when confronted by armed men with blue tattoos peaking from their collars and sleeves, someone uselessly announces, "It's the rebels!" which provokes an annoyed response.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted with the Dragon People's dragon, an ancient weapon of great power that is present in a climactic moment of the book. It's still at least a few years away from actually working, so it just sits dormant as the Dragon People are slaughtered. Cosca's mercenaries flip it over to get at the treasure beneath it.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Temple's previous professions include priest, architect and butcher. He uses all three skills in the course of the story.
  • City Slicker: Temple comes from Dagoska and has no idea how to survive in the wild.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Temple is one, being a humorously unlucky coward
  • Clockwork Creature: The Dragon People's dragon is implied to be one, given the faint internal clicking sounds it makes. However, it apparently needs some sort of additional power source.
  • Cool Sword: Waerdinur carries a sword made by the Master Maker, just like the one Bayaz gave to Logen. Lamb takes it after he kills Waerdinur.
  • 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: Lamb and Glama Golden fight as champions to determine the fate of Squaredeal.
  • 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.
  • Expy: Sworbreck is clearly a fantasy version of W. W. Beauchamp from Unforgiven: both are nebbishy authors of pulpy tall tales who follow around a living legend to document the real story only to find that the wild frontier is a lot less romantic than they'd expected.
  • 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.
  • Fiery Redhead: Shy South has red hair and a bold personality.
  • 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–Face Revolving Door: Shivers shows up at the end, continuing his story arc from Best Served Cold and The Heroes. He's back to the attitude he had before he lost his eye, trying to be a better man. As his appearance in A Little Hatred illustrates, it doesn't last.
  • 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.
  • Implied Death Threat: When Sweet asks for his share of the booty from Cosca's coffers, it inspires Grega Cantliss to demand his own share. Cosca has Friendly execute Grega on the spot, then innocently asks whether Sweet would like to continue their conversation about his share. Sweet backs down.
  • Injun Country: The Far Country is still home to the Ghosts, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Native Americans with some Celtish flavor. They attack settlers to their lands, but are fighting a losing battle.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Majud is a pioneer who plans to open up a business enterprise with his partner, Curnsbick.
  • 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.
  • Knight Templar: Inquisitor Lorsen. His eyes shine with the zeal he has for stomping out all resistance to the Union. He butts heads with Cosca, who is employed for this purpose but is only interested in money.
  • Large Ham: Cosca, as always. One of the stories in Sharp Ends is him criticizing Sworbeck's already extremely hammy account of Glorious Hand falling on a frontier town for not being hammy enough.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Towards the end of the book, Iosiv Lestek, an actor with a long and distinguished career, says that he didn't care much for happy endings as a young man, but came to appreciate them more and more as he got older. Considering that Red Country has a much more optimistic ending than the previous books in the series, it seems like this is Joe Abercrombie himself expressing his personal experience through the character.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the other books in the series. Sure, it's still pretty dark and cynical, but there are plenty of characters who are basically nice (or at least harmless) people rather than violent thugs, most of the good guys get mostly good endings, most of the bad guys get mostly bad endings, and just generally the world seems more realistically bleak than over-the-top Crapsack.
  • Lovable Rogue: Cosca is still as witty and Affably Evil as ever. However, because he's standing in the way of our heroes this time around, he's 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.
  • Miss Kitty: The Mayor, a former madame.
  • 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.’)
  • Mountain Man: Dab Sweet
  • 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: The aging and grey-haired Lamb is actually Logen, over a decade older.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Sufeen insists on giving the people of Averstock a chance to surrender before the Gracious Hand attacks. They attack while Sufeen is still trying to establish a dialogue, and the locals kill him.
  • 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.
    • Friendly is still not friendly, though he's not mean either.
    • Temple has become an unscrupulous nonbeliever since his days as a priest, though Character Development makes his name more appropriate again.
  • 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 Golden 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.
  • Outlaw: Grega Cantliss
  • The Pioneer: The Fellowship is a pioneer convoy into the Far Country.
  • 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.
  • Preacher Man: Temple was once a priest.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    • "I've killed better men for worse reasons."
    • "I’ve a better offer."
  • Private Military Contractors: Cosca's Company of the Gracious Hand are mercenaries, supposedly under the employ of the Inquisition of the Union.
  • Prospector: Some of the pioneers are after gold.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Mayor, having beaten Papa Ring, finds herself presiding over a burnt-out ghost town. She's forced to hand Ring's side of town over to Curnsbick's coal operation to prevent Crease from completely vanishing.
  • Rancher: The Buckhorms are ranchers.
  • Retired Badass: Lamb, who is actually the infamous fighter Logen Ninefingers.
  • Retired Gunfighter: Lamb fits the personality type, with the caveat that there are no handguns in the setting.
  • 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.
  • Retired Outlaw: Shy, an unusually young example of a former outlaw gone straight.
  • 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.
  • Saloon Owner: Papa Ring, though his headquarters is officially a general store.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Token Good Teammate: Sufeen is the only mercenary with a conscience in the Company of the Gracious Hand. His idealism has an influence on Temple.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 calmly 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.
  • 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.
  • Wretched Hive: Crease is a gold mining boom town of vice and gang violence.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: When Grega Cantliss demands a share of the booty he helped lead the Company of the Gracious Hand to, Cosco immediately orders Friendly to kill him. Cosco then innocently asks whether Sweet would like to continue inquiring about his own share.
  • 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.