When Swords & Dark Magic was first announced, several names jumped out at me from the Table of Contents, but none more so than Joe Abercrombie. Known for writing doorstoppers, I’ve always felt that Abercrombie would benefit from writing in a more confined space, that limits his ability to wander off into conversational tangents, to offer restraint for a writer who fills his novels with characters who are unfamiliar with the word.
The Fool Jobs, the final story in the collection, features a band of mercenaries (some of whom are central to his upcoming novel, The Heroes), are hired by some mysterious woman to retrieve some mysterious thing from some dive in the middle of nowhere. That’s all they know about the job, and that’s all the reader knows about the job. Like all good Sword & Sorcery, The Fool Jobs is not about the destination, but rather the journey to get there. In typical Abercrombie fashion, the characters all seem to hate each other (or at least express their love with acerbic wit), raise some hell, botch even the simplest tasks, and then pull through with a charming twist of fate.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, but I found The Fool Jobs, to be just what I’ve come to expect from Abercrombie, short fiction or long. The characters are all well defined, with their own voices. They perhaps chatter too much (and everyone is clever, too clever), especially in the early pages of the story, when a large handful of names and personalities are introduced, which is somewhat hard to swallow in a short story. Abercrombie’s trademark cynicism is, oddly, kept to a minimum, despite the brutality of the story and the nature of the characters. There’s a lightness to the camaraderie, which is a nice change after the relentlessness of Best Served Cold, and he ends the story with a twist that’ll bring a smile to anyone’s face.
It might not make convert non-believers to the Cult of Abercrombie, but The Fool Jobs is everything his fans love. For this fan, it was a nice palate cleanser after a somewhat disappointed experience with Best Served Cold. I’m left more anxious than ever to get my hands on The Heroes and rejoin Craw, his group of bandits, and Whirrun’s many-named sword.