Abercrombie and action

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I’ve been on a bit of a Joe Abercrombie kick recently. Having previously enjoyed his First Law trilogy, I ploughed through all 600 blood-soaked pages of The Heroes in December, finished Red Country last week, and have a borrowed copy of Best Served Cold next to my laptop as I write this.

If you haven’t read Abercrombie, and you enjoy action packed fantasy, then I really recommend all these books. He’s been growing as an author, and to my mind The Heroes and Red Country have shown him becoming more interesting and adventurous. But the reason he’s able to get away with these experiments – epic fantasy as war movie and western, respectively – is a good grounding in action and character.

People sometimes talk about plot or action as if they were antithetical to good character and idea writing, distractions from the art of depicting the depths of personality or exploring the possibilities the intellect provides. This seems to be a given of much highbrow literary study. Personally, I think that’s rubbish. Bad action and bad plot get in the way, but so does bad character writing. Good action, like Abercrombie’s, is both exhilarating and enlightening. It exposes the characters involved, their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and makes you care more about them for the perils they face. In Red Country, he uses action sequences to reflect upon the features of the western genre, and the nature of heroism, calling many assumptions into question. This doesn’t mean that the action slows while he writes a paragraph on the meaning of each blow, but rather that the meaning is coded into the action, for you to find if it interests you.

Clever writing doesn’t have to mean dull writing, thank goodness. And once again, I’ve found someone whose stories inspire me to go write.