A Little Hatred
Cover illustration by: Tomás Almeida
A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Age of Madness (Book #1 of 3), First Law World (Book, #8 of 10)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Grimdark fantasy
Published: 17th September 2019 by Gollancz (UK) & 17th September 2019 by Orbit (US)
As ferocious and fun as ever.
It’s been a while since I read a Joe Abercrombie novel, and the truth is that it has been too long. This dawned on me when I recently read one of his short stories in an anthology and was instantly reminded that he is one of the greatest fantasy writers of our era, with a writing style and tone of his own, and a gift for bringing words, thoughts and emotions to life like no other. A Little Hatred moved up on my TBR and when I saw that his latest book, The Trouble with Peace, was releasing soon I decided that there was no time like the present for catching up.
A Little Hatred is the first book in The Age of Madness trilogy and is the second series to be set in this world, after The First Law trilogy. The story is better for it if you have read The First Law, but it works too if you have not yet dipped a foot in Abercrombie’s sandbox. Personally I recommend reading the first series prior to this if at all possible, as it really adds to the overall story and it’s characters.
Twenty-eight years have passed years since the events of the final First Law book and the world has changed significantly. Where once the world felt old and mysterious with powerful magic lurking in the hidden places, it is now a shiny new if somewhat sooty penny. Modernity is the name of the game, with magic all but a myth, the fantastical out and the mechanical in, a vast unstoppable machine of industry. Cogs and levers and pumps. Land seizures. Steel bridges and cannons. Labour laws and investment. Progress, innovation, exploitation. All in pursuit of bigger profits, the human toll but a footnote and inequality more evident than ever. Opportunities for the ambitious are rife, all that is needed is a little ruthlessness. Or A Little Hatred. Drama, friends. Delicious, devious drama, and a delightful change from the more standard fantasy where worlds stay pretty much the same. As for the story, there is a gripping, fast-paced plot enmeshed with this industrial backdrop and it is a machine of many parts, but a familiar machine with all the much-loved hallmarks of Abercrombie’s previous works: battles and wars, love & hate, loyalty and betrayal. The North and South are still at war, the monarchy and both closed & open councils are fighting threats from every corner of the known world and there are still no rainbows and puppies in the narrative. But that delightful sense of humour to balance out the darker moments is still there.
“They didn’t seem so bad,’ she said.
‘For a girl struggling to penetrate the mists of the future, you don’t half miss what’s right in front of you.’ Isern was already rooting through the old man’s pockets, point of her tongue wedged in the hole in her teeth. ‘If you wait till they seem bad, you’ve waited way too long.”
Looking at every book Abercrombie has written, it is clear he is becoming stronger and stronger as a writer, but his characterisation has always been the most enjoyable aspect of his writing to me and A Little Hatred once again has this talent on full display. The story features seven POV characters and mainly consists of the new, younger generation that is in many cases related to the characters of old that we have come to know and love and despise. Fear not, some old faces make their appearance and more than hold their own amongst the upstarts. This blending of old and new efficiently links The First Law and The Age of Madness and simultaneously makes for delightful reading with this clash of past and present. The old dogs have seen it all and earned their names, but they are not above occasionally trying to guide and advise. The folly of youth and all that though. What is offered is not always treasured. You would think they would hold their elders in more reverence, especially considering the amount of hero-worship that some of the older names draw from those trying to make names for themselves, but alas. This highlights one of the main themes in the book for me; the cyclical nature of younger generations repeating the mistakes of the older ones. But I diverge! The characters both old and new are vivid and compelling as ever, and as readers of Abercrombie’s have come to know, he’s a savant when it comes to characterisation and this book is no different. If you think you’re going to read this and get to root for a good guy though, you are in a for a surprise. There is no black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. Just people with different viewpoints. Oh, so flawed and interesting and cruel and kind and hateful and loving and generous and selfish people. Wait. How did generous slip in there? Hmmm.
“In battle, a man discovers who he truly is”
The other thing that needs to be said is that Abercrombie kinda knows his way when it comes to portraying war in all it’s brutal, honest savagery. He transports you to the midst of the fight, dumping you ankle-deep in the muck and frenzy, blood-curdling screams from every direction, snarling and pushing and the frenetic thumping of your heart. Spurts of dark blood as limbs are made orphans, the coppery tang mixed in with sweat and fear, wheezing breathlessness, tearing flesh and chaos and confusion amidst the madness. Weapons grow heavier as men press in from every side, chopping and wrenching and begging and praying. Trying not to slip on the mud and guts and blood, a carpet of corpses. Yep, no-one writes it better. If you want bloody realism, A Little Hatred is the place to be.
“Everything simple. No grinding worry, no chafing frustration, no wasted days slipping past. Only the beautiful, terrible now.”
A Little Hatred is a gripping start to this new series and I had a blast of a time reading it. Everything you have to come to expect from the author is present in spades, the standout characters, the twisty plot, the unfairness of life and the brutality of war, the cynicism and small glimpses of hope, the wicked humour to balance every dark deed. This is a writer who has honed his skill and writing voice to a fine edge and wields them with prowess to make the Bloody Nine proud and the pages of A Little Hatred bleeds with it. It’s bloody marvellous and recommended reading.
“I saw a wolf eat the sun and a lion eat the wolf then a lamb eat the lion then an owl eat the lamb.’
“And what does that portend?’
‘I’m entirely fucked if I know.”