Review of A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
Progress and industrialization have brought the Union great wealth, power, and danger. Savine dan Glokta has acquired riches and social influence through her ruthless investing and by being the daughter of the king’s inquisitors. Crown Prince Orso has earned his reputation as a lazy and feckless heir, even as he waits for some chance to prove—to himself as much as anyone else—that he has the capacity for leadership. Both of them are caught in sudden upheaval, though, as groups of radicals know as Breakers and Burners revolt, seeking to redress social and economic ills that have elevated and enriched a few while crushing the many underfoot.
In the North, Stour Nightfall has invaded the protectorate, trying to unite by force all the territories to make real the kingdom envisioned by his grandfather, Bethod. Leo dan Brock, however, aches to lead soldiers into battle to win the fame of his father and childhood heroes like Logan the Bloody-Nine and Whirrun of Bligh. Caught between them and the violence they bring is Rikke, a young woman who is developing a magical talent to see the future and struggles with her own conflicting senses of kindness and a need for retribution.
You Can Never Have Too Many Knives
This novel is the tightest and most concise that Abercombie’s writing has ever been. Each scene and each sentence pull the reader forward, and there is almost nothing that does not advance the plot or reveal new information about a character. The prose is stripped-down without any of the digressions frequently found in other contemporary fantasy stories. Stylistically, the uprising in Valbeck follows the same jumpy, shifting of multiple perspectives that Abercrombie used to excellent effect with the Battle of Osrung in The Heroes. In that prior book, the technique works to showcase the chaos and violence of close combat and how everyone from generals to common soldiers saw and experienced it. In A Little Hatred, it gives views of a violent revolution from the gutter to the palace, so to speak, and the attendant destructive anarchy that comes with it. The sequences are perhaps more harrowing and intense in this novel because nearly everyone involved is a helpless civilian without the training, preparation, or desire for violence that characterized the combatants in The Heroes.
Part of what allows Abercrombie to hit the ground running is that this novel is a return to the world he established in the First Law trilogy and build upon with subsequent books and short stories. The novel presumes a passing familiarity with this world, so if a reader does not have basic, working knowledge of the First Law trilogy, he or she might get lost. A portion of the dramatic irony hinges upon the reader knowing elements of these characters’ origins from previous novels that the characters do not know themselves. Unlike Best Served Cold or The Heroes where knowledge of the previous books wasn’t really necessary, A Little Hatred depends a bit more on knowing what has transpired before the novel begins.
Being a Named Man
A major theme of the novel is the precarious position of desiring power and glory. The young characters all seek it to one degree or another while older characters like Finree, Dogman, Clover, Black Calder, and Sand dan Glokta try to pass on the wisdom they’ve earned through suffering in those same pursuits. There is also commentary on the illusory nature of power, as Orso finds his titles and noble heritage grant him no leverage to affect change, and Savine finds much of what she valued is of no worth when her life is in danger.
Tied into this theme is a question of fate. With the Long Eye, Rikke can sometimes see the future, though there is always a question of whether or not that future can change. Additionally, she discovers that seeing glimpses of the future doesn’t mean she knows if she’s doing the right thing. In the aftermath of one of her prophetic announcements, two characters decide to resolve their dispute with a duel, and Rikke wonders “Had she done this? Had she made this happen?” (335). She remains uncertain if telling people what she sees is worthwhile.
You Have to Be Realistic
Fans of Abercrombie, especially his work in the world of the First Law, should be thrilled with this novel as it shows off the author’s thematic and stylistic sensibilities. Though it is presented as the first novel in the Age of Madness trilogy, it would be more correct to consider this the eighth book of the First Law series. New readers can start here, but there’s a lot more to be gained by encountering this novel after some of Abercrombie’s earlier novels.
Abercrombie, Joe. A Little Hatred. Orbit, 2019.
© 2019 Seth Tomko