EXCERPT: The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

It’s no secret that our team and followers are massive fans of Joe Abercrombie, and as you can see from our review of A Little Hatred, our anticipation for The Trouble with Peace was palpable. The progression of not just the story, but the world created in The First Law has been an excellently refreshing way to carry the story forward with a cast of new, but familiar-feeling characters taking front of stage (and a few old favourites in the backdrop) driving this story forward.

You can also find another exclusive chapter from The Trouble with Peace over on Forbes, called A Sea of TroubleBoth carry spoilers for A Little Hatred, so trudge warily, traveller.

A Routine

An excerpt from The Trouble with Peace

Joe Abercrombie

“So… you’re happy here, then?”

Liddy laughed. There’d been weeks when Broad had hardly seen her smile. These days, she laughed all the time. “Gunnar, we lived in a cellar.”

“A stinking cellar,” said May, grinning, too. It was hard to imagine with the sunset streaming into their dining room through the three big windows.

“We ate peelings and drank from puddles,” said Liddy, forking another slice of meat onto Broad’s plate.

“We queued to shit in a hole,” said May.

Liddy winced. “Don’t say that.”

“I did it, didn’t I? Why fuss over saying so?”

“It’s the manner of expression I’m objecting to.” Liddy was getting to act like a proper lady and enjoying every moment. “But yes, we did it. Why wouldn’t we be happy now?” She pushed across the gravy jug. Broad had never guessed there was such a thing as a special kind of jug for gravy, let alone imagined he might own one.

He smiled, too. Made himself smile. “’Course. Why wouldn’t we be happy now?” He scooped up a forkful of peas, even managed to get a few in his mouth before they all fell off.

“You’re not much good with a fork,” said May.

Broad nudged his food around the plate with it. Just holding the damn thing made his hand hurt. Felt too delicate for his aching fingers. “You reach an age it’s hard to learn new ways, I reckon.”

“You’re too young to be stuck in the past.”

“I don’t know.” Broad frowned as he prodded at that slice of meat, a little blood seeping. “The past has a way of holding on.”

The Trouble with Peace by Joe AbercrombieAn awkward pause at that. “Tell us you’re staying home tonight,” said Liddy.

“Wish I could. Got to head over to the diggings.”

“At this time?”

“Won’t take long, I hope.” Broad set down his cutlery and stood. “Got to make sure the work keeps going.”

“Lady Savine can’t do without you, eh?”

May proudly puffed up her chest. “Told me she relies on him more and more.”

“Well, tell her she has to share you with your family.”

Broad snorted as he came around the table. “You bloody tell her.”

Liddy was still smiling as she tipped her face up, lips soft against his. She’d put weight on. They all had, since the lean times in Valbeck. She had that curve to her figure and that glow to her cheek she’d had when they first courted. That same smell she’d had when they first kissed. All that time passed, and he loved her just the same.

“Worked out all right,” she said, fingertips light on his cheek. “Didn’t it?”

“No thanks to me.” He had to talk around a lump in his throat. “I’m sorry. For all the trouble I brought—”

“That’s behind us,” said Liddy, firm. “We work for a fine lady now. No trouble here.”

“No,” said Broad. “No trouble.” And he trudged towards the door.

“Don’t work too hard, Da!” called May. When he looked back, she was smiling at him, and that smile caught at something. Like there was a hook in his chest and whatever she did tugged at it. He smiled back. Raised an awkward hand in farewell. Then he saw the tattoo on the back and jerked it down. Worked it into the cuff of his fine new jacket.

He made sure he shut the door firmly behind him.

Broad strode through a forest of flaking iron columns, across the darkened warehouse floor towards an island of lamplight, footfalls echoing in all that inky emptiness.

Halder stood with his arms folded and his face in shadow. He was one of those men who liked his silence. Bannerman leaned against a pillar near him, that cocky tilt to his hips. He was one of those men who always had too much to say.

Their guest sat in one of three battered old chairs, hands tied to the back, ankles to the legs. Broad stopped in front of him, frowning down. “You’re Gaunt?”

“I’m Gaunt.” Didn’t try to deny it, at least. Sometimes they did. Broad didn’t blame them.

“Funny name for him,” said Bannerman, looking at Gaunt like he was naught but a lump of clay. “’Cause he’s quite sturdy, really. Wouldn’t call him fat. But I wouldn’t call him gaunt.”

“Have some respect, eh?” said Broad as he took his jacket off. “We can do this without being disrespectful.”

“What difference does it make?”

Broad draped the jacket over the back of a chair and stroked the fine cloth flat with the side of his hand. “Makes some to me.”

“We’re not here to make friends.”

“I know why we’re here.” Broad met Bannerman’s eye, and held it till he licked his lips and looked away. Then he shifted the chair around so it faced Gaunt and sat. He pushed his lenses up his nose, then clasped his hands. He found it helped to have a routine. Like when he swept the brewery in Valbeck. Just a job to get done, like any other.

Gaunt watched him all the while. Scared eyes, of course. Sweat on his forehead. Determined, though. Tough man to break, most likely. But anything breaks if you squeeze it hard enough.

“My name’s Broad.” He saw Gaunt looking at the tattoo on the back of his hand. He let it hang there. “Used to be in the army.”

“We all did,” said Bannerman.

“You know who we work for now?”

Gaunt swallowed. “For Kort?”

“No.”

Gaunt swallowed again, harder. “For Savine dan Glokta.”

“That’s right. We hear you’ve been organising, Master Gaunt. We hear you’ve persuaded the workers to down tools.”

Bannerman made a disapproving tuttuttut noise with his tongue.

“Way things are in the diggings,” said Gaunt, “the hours they work and the pay they get, they didn’t need much persuading.”

Broad nudged his lenses down to rub at the sore bridge of his nose, then nudged them back up. “Look. You seem a decent man so I’m giving you every chance I can. But Lady Savine wants her canal finished. She’s paid for it. And I can tell you for a fact… it’s a bad idea to get between her and what she’s paid for. A bad idea.”

Gaunt leaned forward. Far as he could tied to the chair. “A lad died the other day. Crushed by a beam. Fourteen years old.” He strained around to glance up at Bannerman. “You know that?”

“I heard,” said Bannerman, and from the way he was looking at his nails, hadn’t cared a shit.

“It’s a damn shame.” Broad snapped his aching fingers to bring Gaunt’s eyes back to him. “The question is, how’s you getting crushed going to help him?”

Gaunt stuck his chin up, still defiant. Broad liked him. They could’ve been on the same side. He supposed they had been, not that long ago. “I can help the others. The likes of you wouldn’t understand.”

“I might surprise you. I was in Valbeck, brother, with the Breakers. Fought the good fight there. Thought I did, anyway. Before that, I was in Styria. Thought I fought the good fight there, too. Been fighting good fights all my life. You know what it’s got me?”

“Nothing?” said Bannerman.

Broad frowned up at him. “You love to spoil the punchline, don’t you?”

“You need some new material.”

“Daresay you’re right. Trouble with the good fight, I find… once the fight starts, the good stops.” Broad began rolling up his sleeves while he thought about what to say. Slowly. Carefully. Helped to have a routine. He told himself this was for May, and for Liddy. Wondered what they’d say if they knew about it and didn’t like the answer. That’s why they couldn’t know. Not ever.

“I’ve killed… I think… maybe fifty men. Maybe more. Prisoners, some of ’em. Just following orders, but… I did it, still. Kept a count at first, then I tried to lose count, but, well…” Broad looked down at the little patch of ground between Gaunt’s boots. “I’ll be honest, I was drunk for a lot of it. Drunk as I could get. Bit of a blur. I remember this one fellow, in the wars. Styrian, I guess, kept gabbling at me, and I hadn’t a clue what he was saying. I threw him off the wall. Wall of Musselia this was so, what, thirty strides high?” He glanced up at Halder. “You were at Musselia, weren’t you?”

Halder nodded. “Closer to twenty.”

“High enough, anyway. He hit this cart.” Broad stuck his hand into his ribs, trying to show where. “And it folded him right in half, sideways. Left him in a shape no living man should ever be. I mean, his feet were pointing backwards. He started making this noise.” Broad slowly shook his head. “I swear, it was the noise hell makes. And he wouldn’t stop. You see some shit out there. Changes the way you look at things.”

“It does,” said Halder.

Gaunt was staring at him. “You think that’s something to boast of?”

“Boast of?” Broad stared back, over the rims of his lenses, so Gaunt was just a sparkly blur in the lamplight. “Fuck, no. I wake up with the sweats. I cry, sometimes. In the quiet times. Don’t mind admitting it.”

“Me, too,” said Halder.

“I’m just… trying to get you to see.” And Broad nudged his lenses back up his nose, back into that little groove. “To see where this is going before we get there and find out… we really didn’t want to get there.” He winced. That’d come out all wrong. Wished he was better with words, but, being honest, words alone rarely got this kind of job done. Malmer had been a good talker. Look where he’d ended up. “What I’m trying to say—”

“Master Broad?”The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

He turned, surprised. There was a single light burning in the office, built up on columns at the back of the warehouse. A figure stood by the steps leading up to it. A woman’s figure, tall and slight and graceful.

Broad felt an ugly twist of fear in the pit of his stomach. Small women troubled him a lot more than big men these days.

“Just… hold on,” he said as he stood.

“He’s not going anywhere.” And Bannerman patted Gaunt on the side of his face and made him flinch.

“Respect.” Broad strode across the warehouse floor, footsteps echoing. “Not like it costs anything.”

It was Zuri. She looked worried, and that made him worried. She was about as hard to rattle as anyone Broad had ever met.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

She nodded up the steps towards the office. “Lady Savine is here.”

“She’s here now?”

“She wants to watch you work.” That sat there for a moment, between them, in the darkness. Doing it was one thing. He could tell himself he had to. Choosing to watch it was another. “Perhaps you could… persuade her not to?”

Broad winced. “If I could persuade people just by talking I wouldn’t have to persuade ’em the other way.”

“My scripture teacher used to say that those who strive and fail are as blessed as those who succeed.”

“That ain’t been my experience.”

“Trying cannot hurt.”

“That ain’t been my experience, either,” muttered Broad, following her up the steps.

From the door, Savine looked her usual, perfectly controlled self. Close up in the lamplight, he could tell something was wrong. There was a sore pinkness around the rims of her nostrils, an eager brightness to her eyes, a strand of hair stray from her wig. Then he spotted the streak of faint stains on her jacket, as shocking as no clothes at all might’ve been on someone else.

“Lady Savine,” he said. “Sure you want to be here for this?”

“Your concern is ever so sweet, but I have a strong stomach.”

“I don’t doubt it. I’m not thinking o’ you.” He dropped his voice. “Truth is, you bring out the worst in me.”

“Your problem, Master Broad, is you confuse your best with your worst. I need work to continue on the canal first thing tomorrow. First thing. I need it open and making me money.” She snarled the last word, teeth bared, her fury setting his heart thumping. She was a head shorter than him. He’d have been shocked if she was half his weight. But she still scared him. Not because of what she might do. Because of what she might get him to do. “Now make it happen, there’s a darling.”

Broad glanced over at Zuri, her black eyes gleaming in the darkness. “We all are fingers on God’s hand,” she murmured, with a sorry shrug.

He looked down at his own hand, knuckles aching as he slowly curled it into a fist. “If you say so.”

Broad strode back across the warehouse floor, footsteps echoing, towards that pool of light. He told himself he was trying to look eager. To act the part. But he’d never been much of an actor. The truth was he couldn’t wait to get there.

Gaunt saw something in Broad’s eye, maybe. He twisted in his chair, like he could twist away from what was coming. But neither of them could. “Now wait a—”

Broad’s tattooed fist thudded into his ribs. The chair rocked back and Bannerman caught it, shoved it forward again. Broad’s other fist sank into Gaunt’s other side and twisted him, eyes bulging. He stayed like that, quivering, face turning purple, for a moment. He got one little wheezing breath in before he puked.

It spattered in his lap, spattered the warehouse floor, and Bannerman stepped back, frowning down at his shiny new boots. “Oh, we got a gusher.”

Took an effort, not to keep punching. Took an effort, for Broad to keep some kind of grip on himself and speak. When he did, it was strange how calm his voice sounded. “Time’s up on the civilised approach. Bring him out.”

Halder came from the darkness, dragging someone with him. A young lad, roped up, gurgling into a gag.

“No,” croaked Gaunt as Halder shoved the lad down and Bannerman started tying him to a chair. “No, no,” a string of drool still hanging from the corner of his mouth.

“A man can take a lot, when he thinks he’s fighting the good fight. I know that.” Broad rubbed gently at his knuckles. “But seeing it done to your child? That’s something else.”

The lad stared around, tears tracking his face. Broad wished he could have a drink. He could almost taste it, on his tongue. A drink made everything easier. Easier at the time, anyway. Harder afterwards. He pushed the thought away.

“Doubt I’ll be boasting ’bout this, either.” Broad checked his sleeves were rolled up right. That seemed important, for some reason. “But when you toss it into all the other shit I done, it hardly even shifts the level.”

He glanced up towards the office. Maybe he’d been hoping Savine would be waving at him to stop. But there was no one there. Just the light, to say she was watching. A man has to be able to stop himself. Broad had never been any good at that. He turned back.

“I’d like to get home.”

He took his lenses off, tucked them into his shirt pocket and the lamplit faces all turned to smudges.

“But we’ve got all night if we need it.”

The lad’s fear, and Gaunt’s horror, and Bannerman’s carelessness, made muddy blurs Broad could hardly tell one from another.

“I need you to imagine… the state you two will be in by then.”

The lad’s chair squealed on the warehouse floor as Broad shifted it to just the spot he wanted it.

“Daresay you’ll both be making that noise soon.”

Tweaked his sleeves one more time. Routine, routine, routine.

“The one hell makes.”

Broad knew how he’d have felt, if he’d been tied helpless in one chair and May in the other. That was why he was pretty sure it’d work.

“There’ll be no strike!” gasped Gaunt. “There’ll be no strike!”

Broad straightened up, blinking. “Oh, that’s good news.” Didn’t feel like good news. Deep down inside it felt like quite the disappointment. It was an effort, to make his fists unclench. An effort, to take the lenses from his shirt pocket, hook them back over his ears. Too delicate for his aching fingers. “Your son’ll stay with us, though, just to make sure you don’t have a change of heart.”

The lad wriggled as Bannerman dragged him back across the warehouse floor into the darkness.

“Respect!” called Broad, carefully rolling his sleeves down.

Important to have a routine.

Our review of The Trouble with Peace

Our reviewer James loved The Trouble with Peace. It hit all the right spots for both Abercrombie fans and fans of grimdark fantasy. 

A masterwork of grimdark fantasy by an author who is one of the finest the genre has to offer.

Check out the review of The Trouble with Peace, here.

Read the book

As befits a fantasy legend like Joe Abercrombie, you can find plenty of options for signed books and first editions of The Trouble with Peace in the US and UK. If you’re a Kindle or Audible reader / listener, us the below Amazon links. Otherwise, scroll further down for more special edition versions of The Trouble with Peace.

US: The Trouble with Peace

UK: The Trouble with Peace

  • Goldsboro Limited Edition: 500 Signed & Numbered with Sprayed Edges in UK First Edition, First Printing
  • Waterstones signed edition
  • Toppings signed and dedicated (personalised dedications limited to 100 copies)
  • Amazon

If you’re a fan of Joe Abercrombie and you’re as excited about The Trouble with Peace as we are, check out more Joe Abercrombie on our site. As I said, we’re big fans.

Otherwise, go on, get your order in. The Trouble with Peace is going to go off like a frog in a sock.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.