Reviews

Review: A LITTLE HATRED (The Age of Madness #1), by Joe Abercrombie

 

I received this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

My very first Joe Abercrombie novel was Best Served Cold, a tale of revenge that introduced me to the concept of grimdark as well as a story that had a profound impact on my imagination. Since then I meant to read his widely acclaimed First Law trilogy, but so far I kept being distracted by other titles, although all three books have been sitting on my e-reader for a long time, gathering virtual dust.

When A Little Hatred was announced, I was both intrigued and worried, because I wondered how much my lack of knowledge of previous events would curtail my enjoyment of this new novel: well, I need not have been concerned – granted, I’m aware I’ve certainly missed the subtler narrative nuances that readers of The First Law will no doubt perceive, but when an author is as good as Joe Abercrombie you can pick up a sequel series and find yourself right at home. It’s what happened to me with Brian McClellan’s second flintlock series, with John Gwynne now-running new trilogy, and now with The Age of Madness, and that’s the mark of an outstanding writer. This does not mean of course that I have abandoned the idea of filling that gap, on the contrary I now feel more motivated than ever…

The realm of Angland, never the most peaceful of territories, is once again in turmoil: wars of conquest are ongoing between various portions of the domain, with all the expected trappings of brutal skirmishes, looting and torched villages. But there is something else as well, something that’s unusual in a fantasy novel and which adds an intriguing angle to the story: the industrial revolution has come to Angland and while farmlands are being repossessed and smallholders turned away from their homes, the cities become the fulcrum of activity, with factories cropping up everywhere.

If a country enmeshed in war is a dismal sight, one where the… fires of industry burn day and night, polluting the air and absorbing an endless stream of laborers, is a far gloomier one, indeed. There is an almost Dickensian quality in the descriptions of these grim factories where people toil day and night in appalling conditions, only to go home to dirty hovels with no other prospect than more of the same the next day, and all for meager wages. Such a situation is bound to foment rebellion, carried out mainly by two factions called Breakers and Burners, whose names clearly point out to the intentions of their members, so that between the distant wars and the festering discontent there is an ominous atmosphere running throughout this story, even though it’s cleverly balanced with that sort of gallows humor I have come to expect from this author.

[…] an enterprising fellow had devised a system whereby prisoners could be dropped through the scaffold floor at a touch upon a lever. There was an invention to make everything more efficient these days, after all. Why would killing people be an exception?

Where the background is an intriguing one, the characters are the true element shining through so much darkness: I’ve come to understand that they represent the “next generation” from the First Law trilogy and here is where I most perceived my lack of knowledge of previous events, because knowing about their roots would certainly have helped me to appreciate them more, but still they are the best part of the story and I ended up loving them all, flaws included – especially the flaws, I dare say…  The men, with a few exceptions, seem to be either old geezers past their prime and their former glories or ignorant savages bent on killing for the pure pleasure of it, while the two main characters look both like children still waiting to reconcile themselves with the fact they have grown up.

Both Prince Orso, the heir to the crown, and Leo dan Brock, son of a powerful chieftain, seem to struggle under the pressures of their domineering mothers, the former because he refuses to give up his unending drinking and womanizing in favor of settling down with a wife and start producing children for the continuation of the dynasty; the latter because he wants to cover himself in glory on the battlefield, but was prevented from gaining direct combat experience and is more in love with the idea of fame than anything else.  Both of them will get the opportunity to come into their own and prove their worth but the encounter with reality will prove bitterly disappointing and painful – in one case physically painful, indeed – and they will have to reconcile themselves with the notion that the legends of old, which have fueled their ambitions, never talked of the less savory aspects of the road to fame.

The women fare much better, and I loved both the two main female characters – so different and yet with so much in common, as an entertaining conversation between them reveals in the second half of the book, providing one of the best narrative highlights of the story.  Savine dan Glokta is the daughter of most feared man in the realm (I remember when his name was mentioned with profound dread in Best Served Cold) and having inherited his ruthlessness has turned it into a drive for cut-throat business: there is no activity, no enterprise she has not a share in, and she looks like the kind of predator no prey can escape.  And yet Savine’s privileged, wealthy life left her unprepared to face the awful events she finds herself enmeshed in, teaching her that powerlessness is the worst state to be in.

Rikke, daughter of a northern chieftain, turned out to be my absolute favorite character here: brash, uncouth, foul-mouthed, she is a wonderful contrast to courtly daintiness or city refinement, and her ongoing journey from coddled mascot for a bunch of grizzled warriors to a hard, fearless warrior herself is a joy to behold, enhanced by the peculiar gift of prophecy she must learn to harness and control. Awareness of her failings and the outspoken way she talks about them are among her better qualities, and there is a core of plain common sense in Rikke that’s both refreshing and amusing:

Why folk insisted on singing about great warriors all the time, Rikke couldn’t have said. Why not sing about really good fishermen, or bakers, or roofers, or some other folk who actually left the world a better place, rather than heaping up corpses and setting fire to things? Was that behavior to encourage?

As for the story, all I can safely say without spoiling your enjoyment of it is that it moves at a very brisk pace, shifting between the different points of view as the brutal, merciless plot proceeds like an unstoppable avalanche that also offers two breath-stopping, very cinematic moments, during a bloody uprising and a single combat, that will keep you glued to the pages in horrified anticipation.

Where readers of the First Law trilogy will find themselves happily at home with this new saga, new readers will be intrigued by this cruel, unforgiving world and feel the need to learn more as they wait for the next book in this series.

 

My Rating:

22 thoughts on “Review: A LITTLE HATRED (The Age of Madness #1), by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Wonderful review! I have been seeing all sorts of glowing reviews of this book, but hesitated in requesting it because I have not read any Joe Abercrombie at all (I know, I know). Now I may just pick it up anyway:-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can indeed read it with no prior knowledge – although many reviewers say that it enhances your experience with this book. Now that I’ve finally started with “The Blade Itself” I wonder why I waited so long to read this series… 😀
      Happy reading!

      Like

  2. Fantastic review. Absolutely fantastic.

    I didn’t realize this had an industrialized sort of setting though. I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest. I’m supposed to be on a buddy read for this on October 22, but I think I might have to sit it out. I really want to read First Law first. I don’t really re-read books and I’d hate to think my enjoyment was somehow lessened by reading them out of order. I’m also just a little obsessive about publication orders. 😐

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand your attitude, but I believe that in this case you can make an exception.
      Having started, a couple of days ago, The Blade Itself, I am quite enjoying it and – strangely enough – I’m thrilled to “meet” some of the older characters in A Little Hatred when they were younger. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They are indeed the best two characters (and in a book filled with amazing figures, that’s saying a lot…) and the story flows so easily that I found myself at the end of the book wanting more. So I finally started on the First Law trilogy… 😉

      Like

    1. He’s an amazing author, and now that I’ve started The First Law (better late than never!) I have a mind of also retracing my steps with Best Served Cold – seeing Monza Murcatto mentioned here, and getting a glimpse of Caul Shivers made me quite nostalgic… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely brilliant review as always! I love how you capture each character’s brilliancy too! I definitely believe that those who are used to his past books will adore this and will able to appreciate the suble nods to them. Can’t wait to see what the sequel will give us! 😮

    Liked by 1 person

  4. He is a fine writer – it’s a while since I’ve read any of his work, as I’ve rather fallen out of love with grimdark, these days. However, I do have very happy memories of the First Law series.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am pretty excited for this and it’s great to hear that you enjoyed it so much. I am holding off though until I’ve read the First Law books … I don’t like to do things out of order. Awesome review! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m so happy that you loved this too – such a great book and I wish I’d read the First Law series, like you said it would have been good to pick up on the nuances that would have just gone over my head without having read those. I loved Savine – she was my favourite although I did really enjoy Rikke’s storyline too.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just finished reading “The Blade Itself” this morning, and totally LOVED it – even getting to know this world backwards is a great experience and I’m certain it will enhance my enjoyment of the next books in the new series. Savine is indeed a great character, but just wait until you “meet” Sand dan Glokta… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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