In the First Law Trilogy, there weren't many heroes, and to the extent there were, they didn't last long. As one protagonist repeatedly observed, "Nobody gets what they deserve." In the Trilogy, only the torturer had anything like a happy ending. Abercrombie isn't kind to his characters. And so we come to The Heroes, the fifth novel set in the Circle of World, set 8-10 years after the events of the First Law Trilogy. Black Dow is the Leader of the Northmen, having stolen the kingship from the equally brutal Bloody Nine. There is a war between the Northmen and their former allies, the Union. Like all of the conflicts in the Circle of the World, there are other agendas, other would-be puppetmasters behind everything that is going on. In fact, The Heroes is about a great battle where neither side is particularly competent or aligned with the angels.
Of course, there are good reasons why in each case. There are cowards, traitors, manipulators and venal liars on both sides. The First of the Magi has no particular desire to see the Union be too strong. Or ruled by competent, honest men. And the Named Men of the North, while heroes every one, are not well-armed, well-led or particularly apt as soldiers.
Abercrombie is gifted at characterization. It's a strength that has improved with each novel. He writes from the shifting point of view of different characters (I think I counted fifteen), and the voice, motives, desires and feel of each character is very different. He writes equally strong, equally venal men and women. But Abercrombie is not as gifted at plot. The First Law trilogy was well-plotted, especially the first and third books. Best Served Cold was a much more pedestrian plot: a revenge novel. And in The Heroes Abercrombie's plotting skills are weaker still. Partly, it's because he over-indulged in point-of-view characters. Too many viewpoints diffuse the force of such plot as there is. Indeed, some of them disappear from the story without explanation. Partly, the book feels forced, as if he didn't have time to refine it as much as he would have liked. And partly because it is very hard to generate a meaningful plot about what is a pretty meaningless battle. So what you are left with is a 500 page vignette on the folly and nihilism of war, brutally told.