The Heroes refers to a circle of standing stones, not to any of the characters, presumably because heroes are the last thing you’d find in an Abercrombie book.
This tale takes place in the same world as Abercrombie’s other books, The First Law Trilogy, and Best Served Cold. It doesn’t attempt to emulate the epic scale of First Law, it’s more a vignette of a meaningless battle that takes place over the course of three days. It’s probably as close as you can come in a fantasy novel to Aristotle’s Unities. The action is confined to a relatively small geographic area and we view it through a select few points of view.
The characters are typically flawed - conniving, cowardly, and abundantly human. Bremer dan Gorst, from The First Law Trilogy takes over the first person internal commentary we got from Inquisitor Glokta before. At times we get to see a hilarious disjunction between how Gorst is perceived by others and how he really is. Like Glokta, he has some pretty disturbing thoughts but he is perhaps even more twisted and lacks the redeeming humour. A titan on the battlefield, but woefully (pathologically) inadequate in all other fields that involve human interaction.
The theme playing throughout The Heroes concerns the futility of war, its ridiculousness and, of course, the cynical motivations for most conflicts. In this respect we get another look at the thoroughly unpleasant, scheming, manipulative First of the Magi.
Abercrombie introduces a new character, the young Beck, a keen to bloody his hands on the battlefield but more than a little shocked at the reality of war. His story is powerfully portrayed through tight point of view and some great use of dramatic irony.
There’s a cast of very engaging characters - most engaging due to the intimacy of their portrayal and the use of vernacular language rather than because they are likable. Perhaps the closest to a traditional hero is the excellently written Whirrun of Bligh, although even there Abercrombie toys with our expectations along with those of the other characters.
There’s some really innovative writing in The Heroes coupled with top-notch characterisation. Perhaps the cynicism is wearing a bit thin after five books, but Abercrombie’s certainly put his stamp on it. Maybe in the next book he might thwart our expectations by having a character actually turn out to be a hero. Closest he came was Rudd Threetrees, and he’s back in the mud.