Now that you’ve gained such a big following, did you feel any additional pressure with the release of Red Country?
I suppose I’ve felt a fair bit of pressure with the last three or four books, though a lot of it is self-imposed. You always want to do bigger and better than you did last time. And writing is a strange profession in that people are generally responding to something that you wrote at least a year or two ago. If they don’t like it, of course it’s an outrage. But if they do like it, will they like what you’re doing now?
What prompted you to attack the western genre?
It looked at me wrong.
I’ve been a big fan of westerns for years, from the John Wayne films I used to watch as daytime matinees as a kid, through the spaghetti westerns to revisionist things like Unforgiven and Deadwood. Although epic fantasy and westerns have a lot in common – tough people facing the dangers of the wilderness – I couldn’t think of many books that consciously blend the two, so I thought I’d have a go…
Did it involve watching a lot of Clint Eastwood movies and smoking cigars?
Cigars tend to make me a little bit sick, but Clint Eastwood movies, definitely, along with plenty of Deadwood, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurty, Elmore Leonard, and others.
Are there any sub-genres left that you want to tackle?
Red Country wears its influences very much on its sleeve. The next couple of projects probably won’t be quite so obviously flavoured.
What’s your next move?
First a cup of tea. Then my next move is to plan my next move. I wouldn’t want to make any sudden moves.
Words: Daniel Cairns
Joe Abercrombie thanks Clint Eastwood in the acknowledgements at the start of his latest epic, which gives a pretty clear indication of what it’s about. No it’s not about a politically dubious, well past his prime pensioner making a complete berk out of himself by speaking to an imaginary friend at a Republican convention. Red Country has more in common with what Clint was famous for in the first place, those beautifully shot, riveting Sergio Leone Western features that made his name, despite the fact his character didn’t actually have one. The fantasy comes in thanks to the fact they all wield swords for some reason.
Red Country is Abercrombie’s love letter to the Western, and unlike many that make a complete hash of the spit and sawdust stereotypes that make up the genre, he gets it magnificently. There’s much love here, but at the same time there’s none of the rose tinted romanticism and certainly none of the cheesiness you’d associate with certain aspects of the Western. As such, Red Country ends up being more Deadwood than Dead boring. It’s also part of his First Law series, which started as a trilogy but is now into its sixth book.
It’s is the tale of Shy South, a former outlaw who decides that a quieter life would be one worth pursuing, returning to the family home. However -as is always the way- things are never that simple, and thanks to the kidnap of her brother and sister, South and her stepfather Lamb are off out again, returning to a life less savoury. Think The Searchers (classic John Wayne film) with more swearing and swordplay. Their journey has them delving headfirst into parts unknown, parts fraught with lawlessness, bloodshed and suffering (as is Abercrombie’s usual want). Abercrombie’s world in Red Country is a brutal, barren place, and Shy and Lamb have much to overcome if they want to return to their peaceful farming existence.
As you’d expect from Abercrombie this is chockfull of grim humour, action and violence, and very much aimed at the cynical, gritty end of the fantasy spectrum. He’s nailed the formula now, and taken influences from some fine works in the process. There’s a very obvious hint of Cormac McCarthy in here too (the grim callousness of Blood Meridian rather than the somewhat redemptive The Road). The aforementioned Deadwood (the best Western based bit of media ever incidentally) makes its voice heard too, thanks not only to the liberal bloodshed and fruity language, but also the questionable decisions some characters make. Nothing’s black and white, and shades of grey prevail, with liberal lashings of claret to complete the picture. In fact so strong is Abercrombie’s grasp of what makes a Western tick, that one sometimes wishes Red Country was a pure Western, without the more fantastical sword swishing elements.
Fans will get it already, but people unfamiliar with Abercrombie (especially those with a predilection for Westerns) will find this a fun starting point. Yee haw.