This is a fantasy book about an imaginary world populated by very real people. Real people? Real as in solid characters you can believe in – the type many other authors would do well to mimic. Abercrombie sympathetically fills his world with a mix – from cowards to con men, politicians to parasites, heroes to hoodlums, psychopaths to sociopaths – and stirs them round an action packed plot.
It’s not much of a plot in terms of structure, it has to be said. Shy South’s family are attacked while she is away at town, and the raiders have stolen her brother and sister. She sets off in pursuit with Lamb, the giant of a step-father she has. They join up with a caravan heading in the right direction, and into trouble. The frontier is abuzz with gold fever. More a framework than a plot? Maybe that’s too critical, but the point is while there is a story, it’s not a groundbreaking one.
The world these characters inhabit is like a cowboy western, but set in a world largely without gunpowder; bows and arrows replace Colts and Derringers. The people called Ghosts replace the Red Indians. Instead of scalping, victims get their ears cut off. Forget the comparisons, though, because suspension of disbelief is important if you want to get the best out of the book. Just sit back and enjoy the read.
There are twists and turns, and there is plenty of action and excitement. But when all is said and done, the strong beating heart of this book is the characterisation. Each of the several main characters is given the stage long enough to make an impact with their perspective on the world they live in. The philosophising is smart, sassy, and spiced with an all too strong thread of realism. Life is a fragile state in this world.
I enjoyed it immensely. The book drew me in and I wanted it to go on forever. It’s not his best work, but it’s a fine, fine piece of writing.