To my surprise and delight, Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred, the first book in his THE AGE OF MADNESS series, was one of the best books I read last year. As I said in my review, “it’s got everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel,” including a large cast of interesting and multi-faceted characters, a fascinating setting (a world on the brink of an industrial revolution), and an exciting, often brutal, plot. This review will have spoilers for A Little Hatred.
I’m happy to report that the sequel, The Trouble With Peace (2020), is another winner. It’s just as exciting as its predecessor. Here’s what Abercrombie’s characters are up to (warning, spoilers for book one!):
Orso is now king of the Union. He wants to be a good king but it’s so hard, especially when his nobles are plotting against him and he hasn’t been able to shed his reputation as a lazy, carousing drunk. His reign is seen as shaky because he doesn’t have an heir, so his counselors want him to marry, but he’s still in love with Savine dan Glokta who dumped him without an explanation. His most immediate challenge, though, is dealing with a nobleman who committed a heinous crime against a commoner. It seems like a trap. If Orso hangs the man, the nobles will turn on him but, if he doesn’t, the commoners will accuse him of nepotism. In addition, laborers are demanding safer working conditions and there are threats at the border.
Savine, after being forced to turn down Orso’s offer of marriage, is still looking for a husband who can give her the fame she craves. She’s got the money and power, but nobody likes her, except Orso. What she needs is a hero…
Leo dan Brock, the Young Lion, is the new governor of Angland and, after defeating Stour Nightfall in the last book, a hero. Leo is in constant pain from the injury he took in that battle. Patriotic, aggressive, bored with peace, and not too discerning, he is being used as a pawn by Orso’s disgruntled nobles.
Vick continues to serve in Orso’s administration. She has been sent to Westport, a town that wants to secede from the Union and join a neighboring country. The citizens of Westport say they are overtaxed for their protection and that the other country is their natural ally. Vick has been ordered to keep Westport in the union at any cost. We learn more about Vick’s strange background in this novel.
Gunnar Broad is working as Savine’s bodyguard. He feels conflicted about some of the dirty deeds he’s required to do in her service, such as knocking people around if they don’t do what she wants on time, but his wife and daughter are finally happy working for such a “fine” lady.
Rikke, The Dogman’s daughter, is suffering with her “long eye.” She has disturbing visions and periods of confusion when she’s not sure if she’s seeing the past, the present, or the future. When she has a vision showing her a woman who can help, she sets out to find that woman.
After implementing a successful coup, Stour Nightfall, “The Wolf,” is now king of the North. Clover survived the coup and is reluctantly serving Stour Nightfall. Clover is disgusted by the things that his new king makes him do, but he just goes along with it because that’s the way to survive in the North.
When some of the Union nobles use Leo, and his relationships with Stour Nightfall and Rikke, to hatch a plot against Orso, everything comes to a head and everyone chooses the side that will benefit them most. What Leo and the nobles don’t realize is that some of their allies have their own agendas. Much plotting commences and there are plenty of surprises including treachery, terrorist attacks, explosions, assassination attempts, battles, amputations, a shotgun wedding, and, of course, some torture.
Readers who loved A Little Hatred will be happy with The Trouble with Peace. The story continues to progress at a nice pace and has all of the excitement, amusement, and deep characterization we expect. Some of the issues that Abercrombie’s characters are dealing with are similar to those we encounter in our own world, especially the issues of prejudice, class warfare, unfair labor practices, and discouragement with political processes.
If you haven’t, you should try Hachette Audio’s versions of THE AGE OF MADNESS. They are so good that I wouldn’t consider reading them any other way. Steven Pacey’s performance is spectacular. I can’t wait for the next book, The Wisdom of Crowds, which is due out in September 2021.