Fable: Blood of Heroes, by Jim C. Hines
Posted December 14, 2015on:
Fable: Blood of Heroes, by Jim C. Hines
published August 2015
where I got it: purchased new
My introduction to the Fable videogame series was playing Fable II until I nearly broke the disc. Kicking chickens, shooting gargoyles, solving riddles, completing quests, honing my skills, being friendly or mean to people, getting different clothes, getting rid of pesky highwayman, increasing my character’s abilities, seeing how different decisions affected the game . . . I spent many a happy hour in Albion. Fable II spoiled me: I expected all video games to be this fun.
If you’ve never played the videogame, there is still plenty for you to enjoy in Jim C. Hines’ new novel Fable: Blood of Heroes. You’ll get a well drawn story with a good balance of action and characterization, heroes to cheer on and bad guys to hate on. This is not a heavy deep story, it is just pure fun, just like the video game I have fond memories of. Having recently tackled Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest, I needed something that was going to take me for a great ride without frying my brain, and Fable: Blood of Heroes fit the bill. For those of you have played any or all of the Fable games, you’ll get the in-jokes, recognize videogameisms such as getting information by talking to as many villagers as you can, see the level ups and HP count increases, recognize Will users and Strength users and Skill users, laugh when NPCs tap the fourth wall, and best of all you’ll recognize a fellow Fable fan in Jim Hines.
The story starts in the town of Brightlodge, where the young king has summoned four heroes to protect the town’s inhabitants from impending doom. Tipple is the tank of the group, Inga the warrior with an enchanted shield, Rook is the assassin, and Leech the life-force using healer who is a little too interested in how your insides work. A classic D&D adventure team, the heroes’ first quest is to rid the town of a smuggler who harbors more than a few secrets (and a secret identity!), and a boat of attacking redcaps. The redcaps are foul little bloodthirsty creatures with bloody caps nailed to their heads. They thrive on havoc and on setting things on fire. The plot thickens when the heroes learn of concerns that are far bigger than one pirate and a ship full of redcaps. In a style that George R R Martin made famous, Hines gives each hero their own point of view chapters, which helps flesh out certain characters and develop their backstories. With a main cast that soon grows to eight, giving characters their own chapters was a smart move.
Soon, the action moves to the second group of heroes in Grayrock, a mining town where a hilariously megalomaniacal mayor is convincing the townspeople that all the recent deaths in the town were suicide. Even that guy who shot himself twice with a longbow? Totally a suicide, says the mayor. We meet four new heroes – Shroud, a secretive master assassin; Winter the fearless Ffafrd-like barbarian warrior; Glory, the brains of the operations; and Sterling, the stylish paladin who reminds me of this guy. A ghost is loose in Grayrock, and everyone who has seen her tells a different tale. What the stories have in common is that men who go to the mines under the promise of buried treasure all disappear or commit suicide by stabbing themselves in the back of their own heads. A quest beckons, our heroes must investigate! There is also the deliberate over the top silliness of the Mayor and his goal of finding the treasure that is buried under the dam that keeps the town from flooding . . .
Like any ensemble cast, everyone will have their favorite characters. My favorite characters were Shroud and Sterling. Shroud, because he’s got this complicated backstory, you know this hero gig is just a quick jaunt for him, that he’s got plenty more on his bucket list, and Sterling just for the inadvertently hilarious things that come out of his mouth. Something that made Fable: Blood of Heroes so darn fun is the banter between the characters, and the heroes’ responses to the townspeople and baddies they come across.
The story really took off for me when Yog, the villain, starts to get some screentime. She’s a version of Baba Yaga, complete with flying cauldron, chicken legged house, and spychologically enslaved riders who do her bidding. And this is me – I can not say no to anything Baba Yaga inspired. There’s some interesting backstory with Yog and her riders as well – how Yog is able to transfer her powers, the ogre’s backstory, even Blue the redcap’s struggle with doing what he is bidden to do versus doing what he wants to do. Blue reminds me a bit of Rowling’s house elves.
To save both Grayrock and Brightlodge, the heroes will face moral dilemmas, ancient riddles, and opportunities to save themselves at the cost of their friends. What’s a hero’s life worth? How much does one decision change the world? That was a big theme in the videogames – that the decisions the player made affected their character and the entire world. Of course, in this novel, all the decisions are already made, but it was very satisfying to watch the characters grapple with moral quandaries. The closer the story gets to the end, the heavier the consequences of every decision our heroes make. I make it sound all heavy, but this is a mostly lighthearted story with just the right balance of humor, action, characterization, backstory and straight up fun.
I can’t play Fable II anymore, I no longer have the right console. But thanks to Jim Hines, now I can revisit Albion anytime I want.