A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

September 20, 2019

I’ll preface this review with a warning for the more delicate amongst you. If you choose to read any further please note there will be some swearing. I normally try to keep things PG13, but I’m reviewing a Joe Abercrombie novel and if ever there was an appropriate time for a little mature content this would be it.

The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever.

On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal’s son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specializes in disappointments.

Savine dan Glokta – socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union – plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control.

The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die. With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another…

Grimdark is defined as a subgenre of speculative fiction with a tone, style, or setting that is particularly dystopian, amoral, or violent. When it comes to novels in this category, I think we all know who’s the daddy. The moment the new Joe Abercrombie novel appeared on my Kindle, I got more than a little excited. Once I had managed to compose myself, I dived straight in. A Little Hatred is the first book in a new trilogy, The Age of Madness. It features a host a new characters, and the welcome return of some old favourites.

You know how you can tell you’re reading a Joe Abercrombie novel? A character shits themselves before you’ve reached the end of the second page. I think it’s fair to say there are no airs or graces in Abercrombie’s writing, and I have to admit I love him a little for it. Don’t get me wrong, traditional fiction will always appeal, but there is something deliciously subversive and raw about stories that are happy to stick a middle finger up to the establishment.

In The Heroes Abercrombie captured the visceral madness of the battlefield. I still consider it one of the best depictions of fantasy warfare I’ve ever read. It’s certainly the most honest. A Little Hatred veers off in a slightly different direction. There are a chapters that perfectly capture the stifling claustrophobia of a city imploding in on itself. The glowing embers of revolution catch light and violence erupts. There is one chapter in particular, at the height of all the chaos, where the viewpoint of events constantly shifts from one character to another it’s truly breath-taking writing.

One of the things I consistently like most about Abercrombie’s characters is that they all exist in the grey area, somewhere between good and bad. They are all capable of heroic events, but they are also all capable of villainy. It’s one of the best things about low fantasy, the questionable morals of the protagonists. No one is entirely good or entirely bad, sound a bit like real life doesn’t it? That shaky moral ground ensures a reader’s allegiances are guaranteed to shift on a regular basis.

Savine dan Glokta has been raised to be as cold and calculating as her father* but traumatic events tend to change a person. Leon dan Brock is impatient to be the hero, but has to contend with his mother’s legacy. Elsewhere, The Dogman is getting on in years and no longer has quite the same appetite he had for leadership. There is a bittersweet regret to almost every sentence he utters. All he cares for now is the wellbeing of his daughter, Rikke.

More so than any of his other novels, there is a sense of the old guard passing on the torch to the new. In his own twisted way, Abercrombie is writing about the nature of family and how each generation gives way to the next. No, I never thought I would write that sentence about a grimdark novel either, but there you go.

Even though I consider myself well prepared for what to expect, I’ve read all the author’s other novels, he still has the ability to shock when necessary. There were a handful of events that blindsided me entirely. Abercrombie also has skill when it comes to dark comedy, the aforementioned shitting being a prime example.

In a nutshell, A Little Hatred is Les Misérables with a lot less singing and many more bastards. The unalterable march of progress is coming to the First Law universe, times they are a changin’ and all evidence suggests those changes may not run smoothly. There will be blood and more than likely some guts. I could not be any happier.

Like Bayaz, First of the Magi, Abercrombie might be getting a little bit older, but the magic is definitely still there. A Little Hatred is published by Gollancz and is available now. The Trouble with Peace and The Beautiful Machine are set to follow. No further evidence required, count me in.

My musical recommendation is the soundtrack to the movie Black Death by Christian Henson. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I always thought Sean Bean would make a perfect Logen Ninefingers**.

*Yes, Old Sticks is still hanging on in there Abercrombie fans.

** Sadly, no Bloody Nine in A Little Hatred, but I live in hope he is still out there somewhere. What can I say, I’m a fan of his unique brand of mayhem.

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