When Gollancz reached out to me to be one of 13 sites doing a re-read of Joe Abercrombie’s The Age of Madness I of course pretty much committed to whatever it was before I opened the email. Let’s not pretend I’m not a raging fan.
I first encountered Abercrombie’s writing while walking through Sydney airport, bored as all hell, wondering what I was going to do for the few hours (I’d arrived stupidly early for some reason). The UK paperback cover of The Heroes caught my eye and the blurb, “Three men. One battle. No Heroes.” had me hook, line, and sinker. I’d fallen out of reading SFF, or reading at all, if we’re being honest, and all I needed was one small spark to reignite my interest (and, eventually, get Grimdark Magazine rolling)–and Joe Abercrombie was that spark.
The start of a new trilogy set a couple of decades after the original series and follow ups, A Little Hatred is utterly brilliant. In the Age of Madness the North is invading under a new vicious leader. The Union is under threat both on its northern border and from within as the Breakers try to destroy the progress large scale machine manufacturing is bringing. Refugees from the lands beyond the Union’s borders stream in looking for a better life and cities swell with people. Mayhem is building–diminishing jobs for diminishing pay; an invasion of cultures clashing with the locals; an unhappy populace frothing under an inept, uncaring, and brutal leadership; mountains of money to be made by the few and privileged; a protectorate begging for help–and in the gritty guts of it all are a new generation of characters grown a little soft in the last couple decades of peace and about to get a very rough awakening in Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred.
This book was everything I’d hoped for from Abercrombie, and here’s a quick breakdown of the first nine chapters to get you interested, before you head off to the next blog next week to follow on!
Chapter One: Blessings and Curses
Rikke, daughter of the Dogman, is cursed with the Long Eye. And in her visions she sees Uffrith burning, and plenty of battle and blood. Then she finds out that Stour Nightfall is looking to unite the North against the South in bloody glory. So a solid bit of scene-setting for the book for those not quite sure yet what to expect from an Abercrombie book, and a pretty standard year for the North, all things told.
Chapter 2: Where the Fight’s the Hottest
Leo dan Brock, The Young Lion, is relishing the heat of combat against Stour Nightfall’s Northmen. What he isn’t relishing, is the tedious, boring reality of running an army with all of its numbers, and figures, and supply lines, and similar things less heroic people should be managing. His mother, Lady Finree, gives him a dressing down for his recklessness in charging a worthless farm where he could have been killed, but damn if it isn’t hard to just not enjoy the moment when you’re a bloodied god amongst men.
Chapter 3: Guilt is a Luxury
Rikke and Isern-i-Phail lament the death of a young man while pretty much setting the path for Rikke for the book. Isern believes there is a free north in the future, where men like Scale, and Black Calder, and Stour Nightfall no longer hold sway, and Rikke’s long eye will guide them to it.
Chapter 4: Keeping Score
Savine dan Glokta has a big stake in the modernisation of industry. Machines replacing people. Production lines. Efficiency. And so much profit. And with her latest business move driving new construction to her old investment properties, business is good. To protect and grow it she must be both innovative and ruthless.
Chapter 5: A Little Public Hanging
Crown Prince Orso is waiting on his inheritance—the entire Union. And while he waits, he’s decided to drown himself in pearl dust, drink, spectacle, and women … and definitely not marry to complete his dynastic duty of reproducing. Life is very boring and hard for a 27 year old directionless crown prince who can never seem to pick the right moment to do the right thing.
Chapter 6: The Breakers
Vick’s father used to run the Royal Mint. Then Inquisitor Glotka took him and sent their whole family to the mines in Angland for penance and now she’s out of the mines and she’s stuck doing dirty work (as angrily as possible). She’s got a bone to pick with the authorities, and joining the Breakers to fight against workers’ rights suppression is her way to do it.
Chapter 7: The Answer to Your Tears
Rikke and Isern need to go cross country to find their way to the Dogman at his seat in Uffrith. But the long eye has shown Rikke Uffrith burning, and she has a lot of hardening up to do if she is to survive. Good thing Isern-the-hard-as-nails-hillwoman is there with her to guide her and help her grow up quickly. And slap her round a bit when she’s being soft.
Chapter 8: Young Heroes
Leo and his band of brothers—all keen as mustard for glory (except war weary Barniva whose “war experience” was eight months in a generals tent)—are itching to get at Stour Nightfall’s Northmen. This slow, steady retreat business while the Northman watch and laugh from their defences is doing nobody any good. We get the impression Leo’s on the verge of doing something very impatient and very stupid. Something you’ll have to go to next week’s blog to find out about, I’m sure!
Chapter 9: The Moment
Clover has hung up his bloody chainmail and is relaxing into a life of teaching the sword to well-off idiots. Life’s good, but he has a chief, and that chief is Black Calder, and Black Calder has a son named Stour Nightfall who needs some direction from an old hand to get back into line with Black Calder’s plans to take the South. So off Clover goes to see what he can do about the meanest, angriest young killer in the north (who also happens to be an absolute prick, according to fan favourite, Wonderful).
Thoughts on the first nine chapters of The Age of Madness
Joe Abercrombie’s storytelling magnificence lies in his characters. Their unique voices roll off the page so well you can tell who you’re reading about before ever seeing their name. His use of point of view to create problems and plot twists, and to see those twists from multiple, sometimes intersecting, sometimes not, perspectives is what makes him so good, in my opinion. That tradecraft is in full view here, with a world, overarching and personal conflicts, a book and possibly trilogy story arc direction, and some immediate danger all laid out in six engaging points of view across nine chapters.
There is plenty to get your teeth in to, but I love the introduction of a new generation of characters alongside the references to the old ones (and with Clover walking in both camps, he’s of course automatically my favourite here). Having completed the book previously, I know that some fan-favourite faces show up in A Little Hatred–and in true Abercrombie fashion, nobody is safe. The world has a solid familiarity about it, with all the lands and old hatreds we’re used to, a small amount of low magic, a feeling that some things don’t change, but then a new technological layer over it all to not only advance the people, but the age.
I feel safe in saying that despite this series being seven books and a bunch of short stories deep before you even pick up book one of The Age of Madness, that somebody who has read the book before will feel something new in the industrious layer overlaid upon a familiar world, while new readers will be able to wrap their heads around what Abercrombie is putting down quickly. For them, the world and the fact they have missed over a million words of awesomeness prior to starting A Little Hatred won’t be an obstruction to getting into the story.
Read our full review
Well, that’s where we stand at the end of chapter nine, and if that hasn’t whet your appetite I’m damned if I know what will! Check out the full book review, here. I hope you read on through the whole Age of Madness trilogy!