Book Review: The Grim Company

The Grim Company by Luke Scull

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


What do you get when you cross an aging Northern barbarian trying his best to become a better man, a narcissistic youth with incredible hand-to-hand combat skill convinced of his own importance by a Truman Show caliber lifetime of lies spun by meddling wizards, and a treasonous, jeering cripple with connections to upper government in a crapsack medieval dystopia where a cabal of immortal wizards are perpetually warring for control of the realm?

The First Law, by Joe Abercrombie.

What do you get if you took exactly that, leeched it of all charm and believable dialogue, and cranked the rape dial up to 11?

Ah, now we get to the Grim Company.

I gave it two stars because the writing was sufficiently skillful that I finished the book, but Joe Abercrombie is one of my favorite authors. Even bland First Law fanfiction holds my interest, apparently.

Salazar, obviously, is Bayaz, though more openly fascist. Cole is Jezal, but with constant ridiculous Three Stooges sound effects playing whenever he falls into pig shit or steps on a rake, which is constantly and tactlessly. The barbarian whose name was almost Cole, I don’t remember it, Cohn or something, he was the Dogman, but if the Dogman were Logen instead. The personality was stolen from the Dogman and pasted into Logen’s backstory.

The barbarian’s friend, “The Wolf”, that was Sandor Clegane, the Hound. Woop, left field! Yeah, he’s foul-mouthed, perpetually snarling at everyone around him, miserable, even down to the point where he was covered in burns. It’s that opaque. He was also closet-gay coded and in love with the Dogman character; this was evinced by his being the only character in the rapey grimdark fantasy novel to ever drop the f-slur.

Now, interestingly enough, the Fenris the Feared character, the unstoppable giant in the magic armor, he was swapped out for Gregor Clegane, so he could threaten rape more frequently. This character gouges out the eyes of someone who almost defeats him, just like in that episode of Game of Thrones. He is eventually defeated by the Hound character, also just like in Game of Thrones, though they are not siblings so it doesn’t make for much of a payoff in this. Not that Cleganebowl did in Game of Thrones, either, but that’s another rant for a harsher review that GRRM will get if he ever writes again.

What other baldfaced plagiarism sticks out, let’s see. Oh! The callow manservant/apprentice who travels with the party and hides a dark, sinister secret, the suggestion that he is something more than human and everyone can kind of tell but no one is certain until the big reveal? That’s Malacus Quai. He’s called Isaac in this one, and he’s an alien instead of an Eater. Great.

I’m not sure who Sasha was ripped off from, probably Ardee West, but she didn’t have much of a personality to speak of anyway. She mostly existed to give Cole something to pine after (almost characterization), and to keep the lingering threat of a rape scene constant throughout the book.

Charmless. Gormless. Shameless. And not the good kind of the shameless, where you push the envelope and inspire others to try new things. The kind where you keep stilting situations so your most annoying protagonist gets cock-and-ball-tortured by beautiful women. “Ah, no, mistress, please stop.”

I wouldn’t be this cruel if it weren’t for the dialogue, but holy shit, it’s like he’s never heard a human being talk before. You know what it is? Anime. The dialogue is written like anime. The one character calls the other a bitch or something like that, and she responds with verbatim, “Thanks for the compliment”. I remember the episode of Pokemon where Misty said that, dude. You can just have them say “thanks”. The ‘for the compliment’ part is implied.

I talked myself out of two stars, working my way through this review. One star. It was bad. It was a pale and insulting imitation of one of the greatest fantasy works of our time. I know what Picasso said about good artists borrowing and great artists stealing, but he never really clarified what bad artists do. This, I guess.



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Book Review: Low Town

Low Town by Daniel Polansky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I had a great time. I’m surprised this book is getting panned as much as it is. It’s got Scudder’s hardboiled detachment, but dropped into an Abercrombian grimdark world (you hear that, Joey? I made it an adjective! The big time at last!)

The Warden stalks around a crapsack medieval slum brooding about child murders and beating the hell out of pretty much anyone he can manufacture an excuse to beat the hell out of while abusing high fantasy narcotics and regretting it later. He takes occasional detours to adopt urchins and cuss at wizards.

10/10 a tour de force

Unfortunately, I saw the ending coming from a mile away. It didn’t make it any less enjoyable, but it wasn’t a mystery so much as a memoir for someone who isn’t real. In the literal sense, obviously. Figuratively, the Warden is the realest.



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Book Review: The Trouble with Peace

The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Presumably, the titular trouble with peace is its long-term untenability, and how goddamn treacherous everyone is.

A surprising number of loose ends got wrapped up in this one, which sets the stage of the third book in the trilogy focusing more on the labor disputes and the rise of the first real challengers to Bayaz’s power, the unwashed masses and their predilection for smashing the hell out of everything. As appealing as the Judge subplot is, and as entertaining as are the attempts at stick-and-poke anarchy made by all the dislocated skilled workers made irrelevant by the shiny new deathtrap machines, they don’t have anything that can challenge Bayaz’ pet demigod. No amount of rabble, no matter how roused, can overwhelm an Eater. They’ll just get ate.

On one hand, I can recognize the point of the allegory. Unmaking the foundation of society is supposed to seem like a pipe dream, no matter how broken the society might be. Bayaz is an institution unto himself, an immortal watchmaker who set the clockwork of the empire to spinning centuries ago and stops in every now and then to tune it up and sneer at the little people so they know just how superior he is. He has failsafes upon failsafes. It’s supposed to be impossible for young, morally upright idealists to try to effect change. You don’t need to be a poli sci professor to see the parallels.

But on the other, it’s a little dissatisfying. (This is the closest I have to criticism, this book is a masterpiece.) You want to root for the underdog, but the underdog is too realistic. We see the looters and rioters, warts and all, and though their cause is just, they’re nothing but warts. There’s not much character development in the Breakers and Burners, which was a deliberate stylistic choice to maintain the air of mystery around the organization. Consequently, the only things we see are them acting like animals, pillaging and raping and burning their way through the cities that have been grinding them further and further beneath their heel over the past 30 years (longer if you disregard the sudden-onset Industrial Revolution and think about the lot of the smallfolk under aristocratic feudalism).

In the third-person omniscient provided by all these perspective hops, the reader can recognize that the politics of the Empire are a Machiavellian nightmare, and the North is nothing but tribalist feuding, as the North has always been. You want to root for the peasants. You want the system to be burnt down. But the peasants are just so grotesque and fairytale-goblinoid evil that you can’t sympathize with them. Brod is okay, but only because he’s surrogate Logen, and even he can’t decide whether the uprising is the move.

All of this to say the revolution is the backdrop, with the main focal point of the story being the relationships between the main characters. I don’t want to go into it and risk spoiling anything, but it’s gripping. I can’t wait until the next one.

And Abercrombie can be relied on to pump out the next one before I die of old age. Unlike certain contemporaries I could and will name: George R.R. Marten, Patty Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch, for starters. It must be real embarrassing to be those bums, watching Joe Abercrombie, the new and unrivaled king of grimdark, just churn up an entire new trilogy in the 10-year silent expanses of time between each of their individual volumes.



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