Age of Madness #1
Grimdark, Fantasy, Epic
Gollancz; September 17, 2019
480 pages (ebook)
4 / 5 ✪
I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orion Publish, Gollancz and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
A Little Hatred is the 10th full-length novel by Joe Abercrombie set in the First Law world. Where Red Country saw the rise of expansionism, so does Hatred see the rise of Industrialization. Although, where this age of industry and innovation see the rise of many great miracles, they are built on the backs of the working class, and on flesh, sweat and blood. So, so much blood.
If you were thinking that the dawn of a new age possibly meant the dawn of a new Abercrombie—you really weren’t thinking clearly. I actually had a similar thought upon reading through, at a point where the plot-lines had tied up fairly well and each character had a nice (and if not “happy”, then) aesthetically pleasing end. Then I realized I was only at the 80% mark, and remembered who I was dealing with.
Industrialization has come to Adua. In the capital, Savine dan Glokta stands out as the most feared woman in the nation—even more so than Terez, Queen of the Union. Not only is she the only daughter of “Old Sticks” Arch Lector Sand dan Glokta, but a cutthroat businesswoman, with her finger in every pot. Prince Orso, meanwhile, the Crown Prince and only son of Jezal dan Luthar and Queen Terez—is a worthless disappointment. Known as a wastrel, playboy, drunk, whoremonger, the Young Lamb is possibly less loved than Savine, though definitely more hated. The Union may be a hotbed of industry, though the underclass is restless. Bull Broad thought he was done with war after Styria, but with a war brewing in the north, the eyes of the elite are soon to be distracted. And a war of another kind is stoking closer to home.
The North has come to Angland. Black Calder has tired of waiting for the Dogman to die and pushed Scale to invade. And when the Northmen, led by Calder’s son, Stour Nightfall, come knocking, the Union moves to engage. Rikke, daughter of the Dogman, is blessed with the Long Eye. Errmm… or, cursed with the Long Eye. Or… HAS the Long Eye? One o’ those. But the future isn’t exactly helpful if you don’t have a clue to what it means. Luckily, she has allies. Unluckily, they’re like the Young Lion, Leo dan Brock. An inspired leader, if a selfish, arrogant one, he’s as pretty to look at as he is to bed. Clover is an uninspired warrior. A Named Man, he gained his name in the Circle. And then lost it, only to gain another. But when he’s pressed into war, he may gain yet another name, and this one might be the worst of all.
Darkness, intrigue and war ravage the world. Where there is war, there is blood. And where there is blood, there are heroes. And those other ones.
The character arcs and progression are evident in ALHatred, though I’d almost really separate them into pro- and regression arcs. Meanwhile, the plot and story both remain strong, sometimes powerful enough as to convince me I had lived it. After a decade plus of this, this Brit really knows what he’s doing.
Now, up to this point Abercrombie hasn’t exactly been all sunshine and daisies. But A Little Hatred is more than just a little depressing. There’re terrible people, and just mostly terrible people, and some only kinda terrible people—but they’re all just people. Oh, and they’re all selfish bastards.
I think this is my biggest issue with the book. Self-interest—more than anything else—ruins pretty much everything. I mean, a little self-preservation isn’t a bad thing. And some people are always going to be self-obsessed. In previous efforts, many of Abercrombie’s characters have been. But not in ALHatred. Because they all are. Every single character is a selfish bastard at one time or another, and most for pretty much the entire book. For the most part, it’s a book full of terrible, depressing people. Now, you may argue that this’s just Grimdark at its finest. Which, yeah… I guess. But it’s just not realistic. Not everyone is going to be a self-obsessed bastard. Except that in this case, they are.
As always, Abercrombie presents a dark rendering of the world. But while I found the industrial world of the First Law to be vibrant and interesting, realistic to a scary degree, immersive to almost the same amount—its characters fall well short. I had absolutely no issue picturing the world. So much of the book is rendered in gory detail, the scenes the text creating in my mind’s eye brought me chills. There’s one I remember best of all: a beggar set amidst the runoff from a textile mill, dye and filth mixing freely in the water, while behind her the city burns. It’s such a haunting image of progress, innovation, revolution. The world leaps forward, but once more leaves the common man behind.
A Little Hatred presents a level of realism unheard of in fantasy on all fronts—save one. The level of detail was truly astounding, as I was swept from a scene of majestic beauty, to one of tortured triumph, to the aftermath of a gruesome battle, and beyond. The overarching plot and each character’s story are almost as amazing, trailing through the murk as the world industrializes. A dark book, Abercrombie has not changed in the slightest. Though he may have lost some in transit. The characters, his bread and butter, seemed hollow, self-obsessed husks of humanity. Puppets rather than ‘men inhabiting this otherwise real world. While not his strongest work, A Little Hatred is definitely worth a read, whether you get it new or used. Even more so as it begins a new trilogy: the Age of Madness.
A Little Hatred is due out September 17, 2019 in both the US and UK. The next entry, The Trouble with Peace, is expected next year.