First Law Along #8: A Little Hatred

Although at the moment I have no idea when the live show for the discussion of this book in the First Law Along will take place, the schedule originally scheduled this book for February-March 2024. With that the previous book was postponed by a month, I thought it likely that this book would also be moved forward.
So April became the month that I read this opener of a new trilogy in the First Law world!

Joe Abercrombie – A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness #1) ★★★★

Genre: Grimdark Fantasy

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 specialises 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…

A Little Hatred kicks off the second trilogy in the First Law world.
A couple of decades have passed since the wry ending of the first trilogy. We’ve caught glimpses of the evolving world in the standalones, but now we are fully introduced to a world at the cusp of an industrial revolution. Amidst the promise of innovation and progress, the shadows of exploitation and ruthless opportunism loom.
Despite this changing world, the same old problems persist. The tensions between North and South are still unresolved and there’s a renewed build-up to open warfare, adding extra pressure on a struggling society.
Against this backdrop, the story unfurls with the recounting of an unsettling vision, which I feel hints at the trajectory of the entire trilogy.

“I saw a wolf eat the sun. Then a lion ate the wolf. Then a lamb ate the lion. Then an owl ate the lamb.”

Through the eyes of seven point-of-view characters, we meet a large cast, often related or closely linked to characters we already know from previous books.
The different perspectives are strategically spread across key locations, providing the reader with an overview of all the cogs that are beginning to turn.
Overall, this book truly read like the setup of a new chess game, with each piece carefully introduced and positioned for the start of a new, bold and intricate game of power, politics, ambition, and consequence.

“Believe it or not, we all want what’s best. The root o’ the world’s ills is that no one can agree on what it is.”

The story is steeped in contradictions: rich versus poor, experienced veterans versus ambitious youth, resignation versus idealism. Abercrombie doesn’t shy away from exposing every ugly, sickening, and dubious aspect of humanity, and his distinctive style of sombre cynicism mixed with humour never fails to draw me in.

“We’re cogs in the big machine.”

The character work remains the area where, for me, Abercrombie excels.
Each character feels lifelike and memorable. Despite the extensive cast, I never had trouble remembering who was who.
While I didn’t have a standout favourite character, I found each perspective fascinating in its own way, even if it came with a certain degree of disdain or dislike. This made the title of the book all the more fitting.

While it’s said that this trilogy can be read without prior knowledge, I only partially agree. I think a reader unfamiliar with the first trilogy will miss many nuances. Especially a certain aspect that gave me a huge sense of discomfort and disgust wouldn’t have had the same impact without that prior knowledge. Although it was sometimes very unpleasant to read, it adds to the author’s brilliantly sadistic side.

“The figurehead goes at the front of the ship. Braves the terror of wind and waves, takes the risks and reaps the glory. But it’s an unnoticed fellow hidden away near the back who does the steering.”

While this book largely felt like setting up all the pieces before the actual story can begin, the setup was entertaining, exciting, and surprising. Chess pieces were sometimes moved gently, sometimes forcefully, to expected but often unexpected locations. The ending knocked over several pieces and left me as a reader reeling. It was chaotic, dramatic, and unexpected, although part of me should have seen it coming, given that a certain someone won’t leave their home without grand world-spanning plans.
I’m very curious to see where this goes!

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