Tor.com will be previewing Joe Abercrombie’s contribution to Dangerous Women, “Some Desperado,” later this fall in its entirety—in the meantime, please enjoy this non-spoiler review of the story for a taste of great things to come…
Joe Abercrombie is the author of several very good novels. Some might call them exceptional. From the First Law Trilogy, to his subsequent standalone novels, to his more recent, and slightly more underground, exploration of the unicorn (not really), his work has consistently pushed the envelope of what’s expected within the traditional second world fantasy.
This forward progress is no more clear than in his triptych of standalone novels which embrace and blend other genre traditions with fantasy. The revenge thriller in Best Served Cold, the war novel in The Heroes, and the western in Red Country, capture the genre source material without treading too far from the fantasy tropes readers expect. Abercrombie has also published three pieces of short fiction in his Circle of the World setting, soon to be joined by a fourth titled “Some Desperado” in the George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology, Dangerous Women.
Although the anthology contains other exceptional writers like Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, Diana Galbadon, Sherilynn Kenyon, Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb), Pat Cadigan, and some guy named Martin (to name a few), Abercrombie pulls attention. His story not only leads off the anthology, but feels like it wants to set a tone for what comes after—these aren’t faceless warrior princesses, or tough as nails caricatures, but authentic portrayals of women, in the midst of dangerous moments, who are up to the challenge.
“Some Desperado” features Red Country protagonist, Shy South, on the run when her horse dies beneath her, an arrow lodged in its chest. Coming to her senses in a dust ensconced ghost town, Ennio Morricone’s iconic theme song from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly seems to play on the wind. Right behind Shy are a trio of hard bitten ne’er-do-wells intent on putting her in the ground and taking the 2,000 silver pieces she’s toting. They’re not a pleasant lot.
Neary wore that dirty old blanket cinched in at the waist with twine, his greasy hair sticking up at all angles, reins in one hand and the bow he’d shot Shy’s horse with in the other, the blade of the heavy axe hanging at his belt as carefully cleaned as the rest of his repugnant person was beyond neglect.
In true Abercrombie form, Shy isn’t much better, having robbed a bank to acquire the aforementioned silver. Given the title of the anthology, it should be fairly obvious where things are going.
It’s easy to be critical of short stories that take place in existing settings and feature established characters. They can be limiting. In this case, Abercrombie is bound by the realities of the Circle of the World, but also by the fact that Shy South’s character is well established in Red Country. His ability to take things in an unexpected direction are thereby greatly reduced. A story by Abercrombie, in his setting, also carries with it certain narrative expectations. Abercrombie writes linear, visceral, and witty stories. To do otherwise would be an extreme departure. In that way, “Some Desperado” is more of the same. Abercrombie does Abercrombie, with his prose and characters covered in filth making even slivers of humaneness something to cherish.
To say it meets expectations shouldn’t be read as a criticism, as expectations for anything written by Abercrombie are, almost by definition, exceedingly high. It would be a simple matter for Shy to survive her encounter and move on, not changed in any way. Instead, Abercrombie gives her an arc, a development of regret and an ounce of hope that she’ll do better in the future. I can’t speak to Dangerous Women as a whole, but if “Some Desperado” is indicative of the larger enterprise, expect something special.
Abercrombie may exist in a blind spot for me. I have read everything he’s written, even the two short stories published exclusively in the United Kingdom for Waterstones. I think he’s the cat’s pajamas. If you share that passion, or were intrigued by this review, or have long been intrigued by Joe Abercrombie’s charm, then I have some news.
Starting August 7, Tor.com will begin a look at Abercrombie’s first novel, The Blade Itself, breaking it down inch by inch to reveal the terrifying underbelly of Sand Dan Glotka, Logen Ninefingers, and Jezal dan Luthar. I’ll look deep into the mythology of the series (continuity police!) and, as a true lover of the books, uncover (hopefully) some interesting bits of foreshadowing sprinkled throughout.
As the novel begins, “The blade itself incites to deeds of violence,” so too will this reread. Will you join us?
Wow. That was ominous.
Seriously though, you should read along.