Red Country - Joe Abercrombie Brilliant. To me this is probably the best book Joe Abercrombie's written so far, and I'm talking like I love it even more than the First Law trilogy, which is saying a lot. Until this book came along, I didn't think anything else he wrote would come close; after all, I thought Best Served Cold and The Heroes were meh and even more meh, respectively.

But Red Country simply just blew me away. Okay, so maybe it's because I have a thing for westerns. Though granted this isn't your traditional kind of western -- there are no guns or cowboys or anything -- but once you start reading, the author's intentions are unmistakeable. Joe A is totally going for his own version of the wild west, set in his First Law world, and seamlessly couples that with his "gritty, dark fantasy" approach that I've come to love.

Those familiar with the John Wayne Western film "The Searchers" will recognize the story immediately -- our main character Shy South sets off on a journey with her adoptive father to find her little brother and sister who have been abducted by bandits. But Joe A adds his own brand of style to the main conflict. Anyway, as soon as the characters join up with a wagon train and cattle drive with a Fellowship to the "far country", I just knew I was going to love this book.

Two things stood out for me that I enjoyed immensely about Red Country. Firstly, the characters. Before I go on, I'd like to say if you're a fan of Joe Abercrombie's other books, especially the First Law trilogy, you'll be delighted to find the return of some old friends. It's not actually that big a secret, even though the book never mentions a certain someone by name. All I'll say is just look carefully at the cover; if you know what to look for you'll probably be as overjoyed as I was.

There are also many great new characters -- Shy, Temple, Dab Sweet, Savian, etc. All of them are given unique personalities that set them apart and make them memorable, which I think is one of the author's greatest strengths (for example, who can ever forget a character like Sand Dan Glokta?) and is a big reason why I liked this book so much. After all, one of my chief disappointments with The Heroes was that it was pretty much about a whole lot of Northmen who were essentially all just a bunch of rough and gruff guys who did a bunch of rough and gruff fighting. With nobody really standing out for me, I felt Abercrombie's talents just didn't shine through like it did here.

The second thing I enjoyed about Red Country is the dialogue. Admittedly, Abercrombie will at times fudge a bit of the vernacular and break immersion, which I confess jolted me out of at fantasy/western world every once in a while, but I believe he does it for good reason: to make the conversations interesting, clever, and funny. There are so many awesome lines, so much quotable material in this book, and I just adore his wit so much, that well, obviously I was more than happy to let that one fault slide.

Anyway, definitely the best fantasy book I've read in a while. I was intrigued by the plot, amused by the jokes, shocked by the violence, touched by romance (well, the Joe Abercrombie kind of romance...the man certainly has a knack for writing the most hilarious and awkward sex scenes ever), surprised by the twists, impressed by the quality of writing, and most definitely sad when it all ended.