Book Review: A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Age of Madness
Publisher: Orbit (September 17, 2019)
Length: 480 pages
It’s been quite a few years since we had a novel set in the First Law World, and returning to it was a bit like coming home to a comfortable place—well, at least as homey and comforting as it can possibly be when it comes to a Joe Abercrombie book, but you get my meaning. And one thing is certain, A Little Hatred is in every way a story you can expect from the Lord of Grimdark, essentially told in a gritty style heavily emphasizing the bleakness of a world characterized with brutality and violence. And indeed, Abercrombie’s fans will be pleased to find these pages filled with his familiar brand of madness and chaos, in equal parts gory and comical.
But an important note before we begin: while A Little Hatred kicks off a new trilogy called The Age of Madness, in context it is actually the seventh full-length novel set in the greater First Law sequence. Although you can technically begin your adventure here, you will be missing out on many books’ worth of background information that would make reading A Little Hatred a lot more enjoyable, not to mention a lot less confusing. The First Law trilogy would be where I would start, and the bare minimum I would recommend having under your belt before you start this novel which is set roughly thirty years after the events of Last Argument of Kings. Much about the world has changed, but we do return to some familiar names and places.
Once more, we are thrown into the middle of a conflict between the North and the Union. Northmen, being Northmen, are rallying behind a new leader and setting their sights on an invasion, while in Adua, the seat of the realm, a new threat is secretly brewing in silence and gathering strength. A new generation of characters are at the helm, beginning with Rikke, daughter of the Dogman. Gifted (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with the Long Eye, a kind of second sight that allows her to glimpse the future, Rikke foresees something terrible and spends most of the beginning of the novel fleeing from the vicious Stour Nightfall and his men. Meanwhile at the border, Leo the Young Lion, the ballsy son of Finree and Harod dan Brock from The Heroes, is in the middle of the action fighting his own battle against the hordes of invading Northmen even as he dreams of the fame and glory of bringing Nightfall down himself.
At the capital, however, the situation is as lackadaisical as ever with the feckless Crown Prince Orso up to his usual self. A spoiled and pampered playboy, he’s aware that he’s a disappointment to everyone around him but is nonetheless perfectly happy to carry on with his philandering ways. That is, until his current dalliance with the beautiful and sophisticated Savine dan Glokta turns into something more and makes him realize he is not the man he wants to be. Savine is of course the daughter of the infamous Sand dan Glokta, a character whom fans of Joe Abercrombie should know very well. But while the king’s Arch Lector has a role to play in this one, it is Savine who really takes the reins and drives the story. A brilliant and shrewd entrepreneur, she sees the burgeoning dawn of new machine age as an opportunity to profit from the increased industry, but with the resulting worker rebellion causing violence to erupt across the realm, Savine quickly finds more trouble than she bargained for.
Why did I love this book? Let me count the ways. First, the characters, which are as ever on point. I can always depend on an Abercrombie novel to wow me with its cast of colorful personalities, and of course this was no exception. The individual perspectives of Savine, Orso, Leo, Rikke and others combined and intertwined to make up backbone of this fascinating narrative, and as the story progressed, all the threads became increasingly more complex and addictive. A Little Hatred is clearly this next generation’s chance to shine, and for those of us who loved the earlier books, it’s hard not to feel a rush of exhilaration and no small bit of concern for the children of some of our favorite characters as we watch them struggle to find themselves and forge their own way in this harsh and unforgiving world. Abercrombie is also known for putting his protagonists through the wringer, and so you can be sure there will be plenty of cruel emotional conflict as well as perseverance and growth through dangerous challenges.
Which brings me to the story. Rife with mayhem and moving pieces, the plot is practically brimming with action, with the Union beset on multiple fronts. From within, a revolution threatens instability and causes tensions to flare up into violent confrontation, while from without, the borders of the realm are being pummeled mercilessly by the invading forces of Stour Nightfall. Readers get to see all facets of these conflicts from multiple viewpoints, and in pure Abercrombie fashion, nothing is ever clear-cut or simple.
And so lastly, I want to talk about the world-building. This is the world of the First Law as we know it and love it, full of gritty detail and atmosphere. Needless to say, it was a joy to revisit this setting again, to witness how it has changed in so many ways and yet has remained the same in all the important respects. Abercrombie has created an undeniably living and breathing world, one whose wonders and grandeurs shine through even in all its brutality and darkness. Life is a strange and complicated business after all, with nothing ever remaining static, so you can also expect to see this kind of dynamism in A Little Hatred. One of the prime examples can be seen in the social environment, which plays a pretty big role in this novel, influencing character motivations and decisions, as well as being affected by them in turn.
So if you have been following this series and author, don’t stop now; A Little Hatred is a novel you will no doubt love and fully embrace the moment you start it because it is pure Joe Abercrombie. Sure, I haven’t loved all his First Law books, with The Heroes being first to come to mind, but I have to say this one feels solid and it speaks to me in a way that makes me feel confident for the future direction of the trilogy. Even if you haven’t read any of the previous books, I think this can easily hook you. It is simply a novel that commands your attention and keeps you compulsively turning the pages to see where it will take you. For a series starter, it has established a seriously impressive foundation, and I am looking forward to the next installment.