(2020) Joe Abercrombie, Gollancz, £20, hrdbk, 506pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09591-5
Conspiracy, betrayal, rebellion: peace is just another kind of battlefield. This is the follow-up to A Little Hatred, the start of Abercrombie’s The Age of Madness trilogy. Just as Star Wars: A New Hope was part four in the series and likewise, since this follows up Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred, we start with Part IV, and while parts I to III in the first book set up the world and the smouldering situations of the “Great Change” which were gathering heat, things have really hit the fan here, or the pan on top of the stove this time, and events have burst into flame. So we start with Part IV and end in Part VI in a book which is another weighty tome with chapters that are not numbered, but have a title which is usually blunt and to the point and occasionally light-heartened. Weighty tomes and unnumbered chapters strike a chill in my heart as someone who breaks into a sweat at the prospect of a chapter being more than ten pages, although who really notices such things with all the “stuff” going on in an Abercrombie novel. As usual, there is an end section sort of who’s who thing called “The Big People”, giving the reader the low-down on the important heidies within The Union, The Circle of (badass) Savine dan Glokta, the major players in various cities, and within the ranks of those pesky Breakers and Burners as well as important people within The North, the Protectorate, Angland and the Order of the Magi.
Here, in this second book, we have characters stepping up to the plate, characters stepping out of their parent’s shadows, and we have characters pulling the strings of other characters, and characters trying to be good, and doing good for the greater good of others, but really just satisfying their own needs whether that is a lust for power, greed or just causing good old mayhem.
Fans of Abercrombie need not worry that he might succumb to that common problem of the difficult second album, or the difficult second book and trying to keep up the same levels of intensity that engaged the reader in book one to maintain their interest through to book three, the last book in the trilogy. Jen Williams does it brilliantly and so does Abercrombie even if we have slightly less action and more talk as the actions of the Breakers and the Burners in resisting industrial change has weakened the power base of the nobles and the factory owners and left them wide open to threats from outside forces, hence, there is a lot of political manoeuvring going on with intrigue, scheming and backstabbing, which is no real substitute for actually slipping a dagger between the shoulder blades or into a kidney, even when the dialogue is as sharp and funny as it is here.
Class, wealth, power, progress, the decline of magic, the impact of foreigners, it’s all here and echoes revolutions and industrial changes of the past and even chimes through to these post-Brexit days. If book three contains a pandemic running riot across the lands then I’ll really think that Abercrombie can see into the future, meanwhile we do get his trademark character development involving characters the reader has already grown to love, or love to hate; as well as multiple, changing viewpoints; battles; and unflinching gore, although the reader may well flinch reading these sections.
The trouble with peace is that it comes at a cost, with compromises, and you don’t always even get close to what you want. Rest assured, you are in safe, but bloody, hands with Abercrombie and expect a few jaw-dropping moments before the final page, setting things nicely up for book three, and part VII. Difficult second book? Hardly. Recommended, and I’m looking forward to The Wisdom of Crowds, due out next year.
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