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Literature / The Heroes

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The Heroes is the second (after Best Served Cold) stand-alone sequel to the The First Law trilogy, and is set about a decade later.

In the intervening years, ruthless barbarian warrior Black Dow has seized control of the North and is opposed by the Union and his Union-supported former ally The Dogman.

The war which results is the subject of the novel, which is a grimly ironic war story in the same way that the original trilogy was a grimly ironic deconstruction of High Fantasy. The title is a reference to a Stonehenge-like structure on a hill, which both sides are fighting over, as well as the idea of The Hero in wartime, a term which in practice ends up amounting to Blood Knight.

This work provides examples of:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: Craw spends the whole book (and the last few decades) fantasizing about retiring to a cottage and becoming a carpenter. When he finally does, he almost immediately goes back to soldiering at the first opportunity.
  • Arc Words: Frequently used ironically or deconstructively.
    • Those were the times.
    • Doing "the right thing" and being "a real straight edge."
  • Actually Pretty Funny: This trope is a large part of why Black Dow keeps Calder around, even while knowing he's a scheming double-crosser, as he finds Calder's sarcastic comments (including some of the ones about himself) to be amusing.
  • Ascended Extra: Bremer dan Gorst, a minor character in previous books, is one of the main POVs here.
  • The Atoner: Deconstructed with Bremer dan Gorst. He spends the entire novel trying to accomplish acts of heroism in the hope of redeeming his name after being wrongfully blamed for the king nearly being killed in the events of Best Served Cold. However, Finree's "Reason You Suck" Speech reveals that the reason he was blamed for what happened in Cardotti's was because he was fooling around with a whore instead of doing his job, and it wasn't the first time he'd made such a mistake.
  • Bald of Evil: Bayaz is back, and seems to be even meaner than in the original trilogy. In one scene, he fires rudimentary cannons until they all break, injuring dozens—and against the will of the cannon's designer, with no greater justification than wanting to see what would happen. Later, he insists on renewing fighting when the leadership from both sides wants to parlay, simply because he has learned that one Gurkish sorcerer is present in Dow's army.
  • Beneath the Mask: Gorst has several layers. His appearance makes him seem like The Brute, but his effiminate voice and manner make him come across as more like a Gentle Giant. Once given a POV, he reveals a bitterly sarcastic personality who inwardly snarks at others and rages at the disrespect he's shown. And underneath it all, he's a crazy Blood Knight.
  • BFS: The Father of Swords is almost as tall as a man. Several people comment that it looks absurdly and impractically large, like something someone would envision a legendary hero wielding if they'd never seen a real sword before. Against all odds, Whirrun shows that it is actually quite functional.
  • Blade Lock: Gorst and Whirrun get into an epic one. As they strain against each other in an impasse, Gorst hopes that the moment will go on forever.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Gorst and Scale are each one of these, and are seen as heroes by their respective sides.
    • Stranger-Come-Knocking seems to think that combat is the only true form of human expression.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Cracknut Whirrun is so called because his nut is cracked (not because he can crack walnuts in his fist). However, he's also one of the hardest names in the North.
  • Cherry Tapping: Stranger-Come-Knocking accepts two brothers' lame excuse to duel him at the same time, just because he actually wants the added challenge.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Yet again, Shivers betrays his employer, this time by backstabbing Black Dow in the middle of a duel for a minor insult.
  • Demoted to Extra: In spite of being one of the main POVs in the original trilogy and having an important role in the battle for the Heroes, the Dogman rarely appears and has no POV chapters.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Shivers kills Dow after Dow refers to him as his dog while insulting Calder.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Calder is warned not to use Stranger-Come-Knocking's original name Pip around him.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Stranger-Come-Knocking is a gigantic monster of a man with lust for violence.
    • Shivers, by this time, has developed a reputation as Black Dow's hatchetman, a pitiless and brutal killer.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: Parodied in a scene where Stranger shows off various scars to other Northern warriors and tells how he got them in predictably badass, Barbarian Hero ways. In each instance, Black Dow drily notes how Stranger could have easily avoided those injuries.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted for the first time in the series, though the Gurkish had previously made use of black powder explosives. Prototype cannons make an appearance with devastating effect on both the Northmen they're aimed at and the unfortunate crews manning them when they explode from overuse. Bayaz, who insisted on their overuse, muses that they'll probably see a lot more of them in the future, but can't decide on a good name for them.
  • Friendly Enemies: Craw and Hardbread have mutual respect for each other and won't stand for their men dishonoring the other, but they also won't back down from killing the other if it comes down to it.
  • General Failure: Jalenhorm and Lord Governor Meed both have no businesses commanding divisions, but got put in charge of one due to connections and being the highest ranking official in the province, respectively. Jalenhorm at least appears to know that he is out of his league.
  • Guile Hero: Calder is essentially this, though the text is deliberately vague over whether anyone is a hero, and whether that word should be taken as a compliment.
  • Hypocritical Humor: After an extended Badass Boast about his Blood Knight worldview, Stranger-Come-Knocking accuses Black Dow's named men of being too bloodthirsty.
  • It Will Never Catch On: At one point, Craw's group is eating cheese and bread around the fire, and Whirrun gets the idea of slicing the bread and putting the cheese between it- thereby inventing the sandwich. No one else gets it, preferring to just rip off chunks of cheese and bread.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tunny is a lazy rogue who makes his men pay through the nose for decent food and gear (separate from the shoddy things provided for them by the Army), but his friendly attitude toward his men is genuine, as is his desire to help them (in his cynical way) to survive combat and thrive.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Gorst initially is sympathetic because he's the Only Sane Man compared to most of the Union commanders, and was unjustly dismissed from his post as the King's bodyguard. Then, it turns out that he's an insane Blood Knight and was actually (literally) caught with his pants down when he failed to guard the King, and that wasn't his first screw-up either.
  • Ladykiller in Love: The cad Calder recalls raging when his father betrothed him to Seff, but he's now so in love with her that it's almost enough to make him swear off other women.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Father of Swords. Are the legends about it true? Does it grant its wielder some sort of superhuman fighting ability? Or is Whirrun just that good?
  • Meaningful Name: Named Men take a nickname that refers to something about themselves or their history. Before the final day of battle, many of them reveal the origin of their name.
  • Military Brat: Finree is the daughter of General Kroy and was raised around military camps, so she has better knowledge of warfare than some of his men.
  • Mundane Utility: Whirrun of Bligh uses The Father of Swords to slice the bread when he invents the sandwich.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Craw, universally known as a "Straight Edge," is selected by Black Dow to be his "Second". After Calder kills Black Dow (with help) he enlists Craw for the same position. On the other hand, Black Dow's actual enforcer, Shivers, is anything but noble.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Toward the end of the book, Whirrun of Bligh reveals that he's never even set foot in Bligh and has no idea why he's called that.
  • Papa Wolf: Caul Reachey makes it clear to Black Dow, the King of the North, that he won't stand for any harm coming to his daughter Seff or his grandchild.
  • The Peter Principle: Gorst silently notes that Jalenhorm was an excellent lieutenant but has been raised up to general, a position he is singularly unqualified for, because he was drinking buddies with the king.
  • Prophecy Armor: Whirrun of Bligh thinks that Armor Is Useless, because witch Shoglig told him "the time, and the place, and the manner" of his death, "and it is not now". She "was talking shit", as he later realised. With a spear in his back.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Finree gives one to Gorst at the end of the novel.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: In spite of being half-brothers, Calder and Scale are a study in opposites. Scale is a hulking and impulsive warrior, while Calder is a cowardly and calculating schemer.
  • The Reveal:
    • Reachey was the one who sent those assassins against Calder, his own son-in-law.
    • The Deep brothers, Stranger-Come-Knocking, and even Tenways were all acting on Bayaz's orders.
  • Retired Monster: Black Dow has become one of these. Originally the designated Token Evil Teammate of his generation, after murdering his way to power, he finds that his new position requires him to approach conflicts with methods other than violence, which also causes him to mellow out to some degree. He likes to joke that compared to the way he was in youth, he should now be known as "White Dow", a name which he previously pointed out that people don't call him.
  • Sibling Team:
    • Deep and Shallow act as a unit for bodyguarding, assassinations, and other untoward pursuits.
    • Calder and Scale become this trope in the end. Scale sits on the throne using his reputation as a warrior, while Calder does the plotting.
    • Stranger-Come-Knocking recalls fighting a duel with twins who claimed that they should be allowed to fight him at the same time because they shared a womb and therefore count as one man. He thought that was bullshit, but allowed it anyway for the extra challenge.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Bayaz dines on a fancy dinner while seated beside an open mass grave and threatening Calder. Calder lampshades the trope and asks if he's eating just to add intimidation to the act, but Bayaz denies it, claiming that he's just hungry.
  • Supporting Leader: Neither Black Dow, the Union Generals, nor the Dogman are viewpoint characters in this novel, even though they are nominally in charge of the armies involved. This is especially relevant in the case of the Dogman, who was a viewpoint character in the original trilogy.
  • The Scrounger: Corporal Tunny can get anything for his men... for a price.
  • Those Two Guys: The brothers Deep and Shallow, known for being two of the best or worst (depending on whether you are the one paying them) men in the North have this dynamic, and serve as Calder's bodyguards.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Shivers has graduated to being the right-hand-man of the King of the North, and is feared far and wide almost as a malevolent force of nature.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: We last saw Bremer as an earnest and proper young officer. After a few years and a number of pitfalls in his life, he's revealed to be a bitterly resentful and bloodthirsty man.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Prince Calder, who in his brief appearance in the original trilogy was an all around unpleasant arrogant dirty coward, is a POV character in this novel and exhibits this to some degree. He's still an arrogant Dirty Coward, but he's made some efforts to be a better man as part of taking power and avenging his father. It helps that he aims to bring peace to the North (making him the Only Sane Man), loves his wife and his brother, and is hilariously snarky. Black Dow is also a lot more sympathetic in this novel than in previous appearances, having mellowed out a bit and being seen through the eyes of Noble Top Enforcer Craw.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: At their first meeting in the book, Craw and Calder trade barbs before sharing a warm embrace, revealing that Craw practically raised Calder from infancy.
  • Vocal Dissonance:
    • Bremer's eternal shame is having the high-pitched voice of a woman or child. He's occasionally said to "pipe" his words.
    • Stranger-Come-Knocking has a surprisingly soft and quiet voice for such an enormous monster.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Played for horror, as while Finree is able to be released and sent back to the Union army, Aliz is left in the hands of Stranger-Come-Knocking, who had previously voiced his intention to breed and produce "civilized" children with the women.Her fate is never revealed, other a suggestion by Dow later in the story that there probably isn't much to give back to her husband...
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The novel takes inspiration from The Killer Angels, a historical fiction account of the Battle of Gettysburg which uses a similar Switching P.O.V. format. The Heroes (the geographic location) is a stand-in for Little Round Top, and although the two differ in personality, Corporal Tunny plays a similar role to Joshua Chamberlain (and is introduced in a similar scene) as a "man who doesn't like fighting but is really good at it", and manages to do unexpected things with a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
  • World's Best Warrior: Stranger-Come-Knocking states that he is the world's greatest warrior as fact, though he wants to fight the Bloody Nine and Whirrun of Bligh to cement his status. We never actually see him fight however - the truer example would be Bremer Dan Gorst, who proves a nigh-unstoppable One-Man Army, combining his formidable size and strength with technical mastery and constant training.