by Matthew Thompson
It has been a couple of months since my last set of book mini-reviews. I was hoping to include one more of the handful I am partway through reading to create a nice trio of reviews for this post, but I just haven’t had the time to finish anything else up yet. Still I wanted to get these two out while they were fairly fresh in my mind, so here they are!
Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
After a bit of a letdown with The Heroes, I came away really impressed by Red Country. It blends Abercrombie’s distinct flavor of gritty fantasy with the western genre. It takes place out in the untamed country where you’ll find plenty of western staples amongst the dusty terrain like prospectors, saloons, wagon trains and native tribes. We also see some technology creeping into the First Law universe like the printing press and steam power. But fights are still settled with swords instead of six-shooters and duels aren’t about the quickest draw and continue to be settled in the circle. It makes for a fascinating fantasy/western hybrid.
Red Country follows former outlaw Shy South on the search for her brother and sister who have been kidnapped. It’s an entertaining yarn made all the more fun by the return of one of the series’ major players, my favorite in the First Law universe, who has been MIA since the original trilogy ended. They don’t take up a POV position, but they do play a big part in the book and it will be a lot of fun for fans of the series to see them back in action. I liked what Abercrombie did with the ending too. I thought I knew what to expect from the writer in that regard after five books, but he managed to surprise me with this one.
This was a great way to close out this current set of First Law books. It has all the things you’d want from a novel in the series and the western-style setting helps give it a unique feel compared to earlier entries. It sounds like Abercrombie may return to this universe and I will definitely be there if he does. I love getting stuck into a long series and this is definitely my kind of fantasy writing. Grade: B+
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle takes place in an alternate history where the Axis Powers won World War II and control of the United States ends up divided between Germany and Japan. Within this universe exists a novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy that describes a world much like ours where the Allied Powers prevailed. It is here that The Man in the High Castle is most successful. Its world is fascinating and hints that the book within the book might be more than simply a fictional “what-if” scenario had me intrigued throughout the read.
Unfortunately beyond this, it didn’t do a lot for me. It follows multiple storylines that hone in on plots involving a handful of people involved in the antiques business and a couple trying to meet Hawthorne Abendsen, the titular Man in the High Castle and author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Some are interesting while others were downright boring. The ending also left a lot to be desired and leaves too much up in the air. I’m not sure exactly what I wanted from the ending, but I didn’t get it here.
Part of the reason I checked this out was because of my interest in the TV series Amazon is making based on this book. While I generally felt pretty indifferent towards the novel, I do think there is still great potential in the show. If I’m being totally honest, I enjoyed the series’ pilot more than the book. I really think the world and themes present in The Man in the High Castle should be great to explore in the television medium’s long-form storytelling. Still I’m glad I checked the book out. It was my first Philip K. Dick novel and he is definitely a talented writer, so I hope to check out more of his work in the future. Grade: C
That will do it for this edition of Book Mini-Reviews. Thanks for reading!