Lord Grimdark and the critics

Posted: February 25, 2014 in reading
Tags: , , , ,

Not listening to the people who put you down is one thing, making them your strength is quite another. And that’s what fantasy author Joe Abercrombie has been doing, under his Twitter handle of @lordgrimdark . Abercrombie often posts quotes from his one star reviews, fragments of why people really hated his books.

This sort of thing is generally considered bad practice for an author. You’re either spreading negative press about yourself in the form of the review, or you’re making more bad publicity by picking an unwinnable public fight.

But it seems to work for Abercrombie. It fuels a public persona that has the grim, resilient humour of his characters. By sharing largely without comment he removes any power those critics had over him, not rising to the bait but making them part of his own book-selling machine, resolving the conflict not into a flame war but into something for his Twitter followers to discuss.

There’s something pleasing about it all. Something almost Taoist, turning your opponents’ strength against them. I hope next time any of us comes in for criticism we can take a lesson from Lord Grimdark and turn it to our advantage.

  1. Michelle Mueller says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Joe Abercrombie. He seems like the kind of fantasy author I’d like. Interesting post, though. Now I want to see this for myself.

    • If you haven’t read his work then I really recommend it. He manages stories that are dark and cynical without tipping over into joyless, with interesting characters and plenty of action. His experiments with genre mashing are interesting – The Heroes reads like a fantasy take on the classic war film, while Red Country does a similar thing combining fantasy and westerns yet leaving out the guns. Really good stuff.

      • Michelle Mueller says:

        Yes, I’ve read that he manages the cynical well. And I quite like my cynical stuff.

        I looked for the first book in his first series a few months back in ebook form but couldn’t find it. It’s harder for me to get books like that in English here, so I tend to read mostly from an iPad. But, if worse comes to worse, I’ll just order it from Amazon.

        • If you can’t get hold of The Blade Itself then Best Served Cold, The Heroes and Red Country all work as stand alone books. They feature some characters and aspects of the world from the First Law trilogy, but it’s bit players raised to important roles or vice versa, and reading the books in order is an added bonus rather than a necessity for enjoying any of those three.

  2. glenatron says:

    I find it interesting how many of the things that inspire people to leave one-star reviews are along the lines of “well executed but I didn’t like it” – which raises two questions. Firstly, why is that one-star territory? What kind of crazy reviewer gives a one-star review for something well executed. Three stars maybe if you don’t like the content but it is well created, you need one star for the stuff that is both awful AND badly executed. Have these people not even read my unpublished personal review guidelines?

    Secondly, if you are going to be concerned about having morally unambiguous heroic character why do you buy a book that starts with one of the central characters being a torturer? I’m reasonably sure that they made no secret of this on the blurb.

    Funnily enough I award the Abercrombie books I have read with a definite 3 stars. They are very well executed, but – contrary to what many people seem to think – I found the world-building to be very lazy indeed, the storylines transparent and if I am honest I’m not sure I have the constitution for all that grimdark stuff. Sometimes when I’m reading into that territory it feels a bit Diabolos-Ex-Machina too. Also terrible terrible trilogism. The Blade Itself feels like it just stops half way through a sentence. I only read the sequels because they turned up in a charity shop because I was so annoyed about that. At least put some kind of basic ending on a book, even if there are sequels lined up.

    • Got to agree that some of the quotes from one star reviews sound three start to me. It’s as if people feel that they have to push their opinions to extremes – there’s not much ‘this was good but with flaws’ – it’s either ‘unquestioningly loved it’ or ‘irrationally hated it’, even when they have a mix of things to say.

      I blame the internet.

      And you’re right about The Blade Itself lacking any sense of a self-contained story. I didn’t mind because by then I was really drawn in by the characters and knew there were two more volumes sitting ready for me. But it seems an odd, and oddly over-confident, way to handle a book. I wonder if it’s a common feature of the start of series these days, now that so much fantasy is expected to be a long series?

      • glenatron says:

        It seems to vary- one of the things I have always appreciated about Juliet McKenna is that her novels always have an ending, even if they belong to a sequence, they draw themselves up to a conclusion that gives you a little closure as a reader. It is less of a problem with when you have all the books right there in front of you or built up into one volume ( something that I guess could be done more easily with ebook readers ) but when you have a two year wait for the next novel that continues the story, leaving it on a stupid cliffhanger is a bit of a dick move on the writer’s part.

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