Further Gritty Washback

April 2nd, 2013

I set out on a righteous quest to sweep the blogosphere with navel-gazing on the subject of grit, and I kind of succeeded, although it mutated into grimdark along the way.  But then mutations are unpredictable and stick according to the prevailing conditions and the mechanism of natural selection.  Who am I to argue with evolution?  ‘Grimdark’ it seems to be, now.  Discussion has rumbled on, and there’s a handy collection of relevant links at Jenny’s Library, including some I hadn’t come across before.  But there’s also been a response from author Daniel Abraham, which I consider particularly relevant and incisive since it’s so nice about my book.  Beware of spoilers…

“The book that—for me—embodies the purest grimdark response is Abercrombie’s thoroughly brilliant The Heroes, in which the final moments (and spoilers here, so turn away if you don’t want to know) affirm that the violence will not only continue, but that the heroic men and women who are dedicated to it will never escape it except through death.  Honestly, until I read The Heroes, I didn’t have much use for the grimdark projects, and now that I have, I feel like I’ve seen this expressed as clearly, powerfully, and beautifully as anyone ever will, and I don’t have to read another one pretty much ever.”

That’s fine. As long as you PAID FOR THAT ONE.

Posted in opinion, reviews by Joe Abercrombie on April 2nd, 2013.

17 comments so far

  • Smoochie says:

    A cynic might suggest that this post is a thinly veiled excuse to show off that nice review. But then I realised you’ve never needed an excuse to big yourself up before 🙂 (And, frankly, why should you).

    Anyway, grimdark is just part of a spectrum of fantasy fiction, from Peter Pan to pressing-a-red-hot-iron-to-a-struggling-prisoners-eye. If you like the latter: great! If not: piss off to other pastures. There’s no shortage of low quality, simplistic, characterless, happy-ending-for-all Tolkien clones out there, after all…

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Yeah, but you won’t find no cynics here, right…?

  • Deb E says:

    I read our local library’s copy of “The Heroes”, but I have paid for my limited edition copy that’s still on it’s way over to New Zealand for me… Looking forward to it.

    I absolutely loved Whirrun, by the way.

  • Scassonio says:

    Sorry about the off-topic comment, mate. I just finished “Before They Are Hanged” and I’m about to stick my face in “Last Argument of Kings”. Let me tell you: I’m in awe, seriously. I don’t know what took me so long to get my dirty hands on “The First Law Trilogy” but hey!, it’s one hell of a ride, mate! TFL is more metal than Slayer. A truckload of kudos.

  • Cyle Anderson says:

    I know this is also off-topic but Joe, what did you think of the Game of Thrones premiere? Loved the scene with Tyrion and Tywin.

  • Graeme says:

    I think calling gritty fantasy ‘a literature of despair’ says more about him than it does about (urgh) grimdark novels.

    To use an analogy based on a character from probably one of the best fantasy authors the world has ever seen – these high fantasy types seem to see us grit fans as a whole bunch of Castor Morveers; hopelessly paranoid to the point of pathological delusions about the nature of the world.

    In reality, of course, we’re not mad at all! A hahaha ha! Ahem.

  • bobbby says:

    Off topic, Joe . I think that Meivilles Perdido Street Station is fucking brilliant, with tantalising hints of enough unused material to write 2-3 books more.

  • enjaip says:

    On topic. You did notice that Daniel Abraham doesn’t feel the need to read any more Grimdark after “the heroes”? Doesn’t this mean he’s not going to read “Rec country”? Think of effect on sales if this notion catches on? Should have edited that part out 🙂

  • Slogra says:

    Keep stirring the pot, Joe. We NEED a First Law Trilogy TV series/movie trilogy.

  • David Wagner says:

    As much as I enjoy all of your books, it’s nice to see someone else holding The Heroes way up there in the icy heights like I do… Absolutely your best book (so far).

    “Grimdark”, lol… who comes up with this stuff? Call it what you want, I just read what I like.

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:

    I love your washback, Joe. Delicious (and insightful).

    Keep on trucking.

  • Grimdark has a role in literature for a number of reasons, not least of which is that contemporary society is so fucked up. Grimdark expresses this fuckedupedness and provides an outlet for people frustrated with the status quo while still providing an escape from our daily lives.

    The Heroes was the first of your books I read; I’m usually not into black humour but I totally got the humour of the suddenness, the unexpected nature of death. I really enjoyed the Heroes (my review is here http://www.darkmatterfanzine.com/dmf/the-heroes-by-joe-abercrombie/) and have subsequently read and reviewed Red Country http://www.darkmatterfanzine.com/dmf/red-country-by-joe-abercrombie/, although I confess to having purchased neither book. It’s a perk of being a reviewer 😛

  • Chad says:

    I read Hamlet once, so I probably don’t have to read any other book ever again.

  • Doug says:

    Classic nerd culture issue. Them and us. Hate everything you don’t like. If you don’t like everything about it, it threatens all that is sacred in your cold little heart. I don’t understand this mentality in general. There is space to explore all kinds of moods, themes and ideas in the span of a single life. I love ‘grimdark’ fantasy, and ‘grimdark’ stories in general. They aren’t all that I read however. Fantasy and sci-fi aren’t all that I read. I don’t even limit myself to fiction! Whether you love shiny books or ‘grimdark’ books or anything in between, you owe it to yourself to try new and different things regularly rather than become a tired, dull internet troll who picks battle lines and hurl flaccid taunts at anyone who disagrees with you most precious belief.

  • AntMac says:

    When you hear someone reply to your argument by saying something like

    “I don’t really want to go into that here, apart from saying that I disagree with that analysis”

    you can be confident that what they are actually saying is

    “I know that you are right, but I don’t WANT you to be right, and as I can’t form an argument that doesn’t automatically REVEAL that I know you are right, I am being cowardly and avoiding the topic”.

    Mr Abraham writes a perfectly good story, I heartily enjoyed the labyrinthian complexity of the Long Price Quartet, I recommend them for all, but, he can’t write action, or unequivocally male characters, at all well. Strange magic? very good, Complex viewpoints? Splendid, interesting societies? he is your man. Soldiers, tough guys, even everyday actual males? SORRY, you came to the wrong shop. His style is more “social”, and if one was to have no fear of attack, one could say he writes like a girl. By which I mean relationships and talk is more his thing.

    He doesn’t like it dark and gritty?. [eyes roll] you don’t say![/eyes roll]

  • Good Old Satan says:


    Don’t let your work get labelled by anyone other than yourself, lest you run afoul of some self-proclaimed purest who expects you to conform to their version Or worse, get caught up in a debate about the true definition/characteristics of the genre. Grimdark is cute, but “Grit” suits you just fine.

    There’s room in my taste pantheon to encompass a variety of styles, and yours is certainly up there.

    Oh, and I shelled out cash for each and every one of your books, so I’m apparently in the minority.


  • Kieran says:

    I’m a little late to the party, but anyway. I don’t understand why someone would classify Joe’s works as “grimdark”. It might be just me but First Law and the stuff to follow never really felt at all dark, or grim. To me I see the series more as a vaguely termed “tragicomedy”.

    The ambition fuelled violence and betrayals that permeate the series is clearly a play on common tropes found in fantasy and works of fiction in general. I found it all quite humorous. That’s the charm of Joe Abercrombie, the dark sense of irony and humour. “Grimdark”? I don’t think so.

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