Review: A Little Hatred
So, it’s been a while since we’ve had a book like this from Abercrombie. Real quick US publication timeline for those of you that aren’t immediately aware: 3 years since Sharp Ends (last short stories), 4 years since Half a War (last YA), 7 years since Red Country (last stand-alone), and 11 years since The Last Argument of Kings (last series book). Thus, I’d be painting the canvas pretty thin indeed if I were to say, for instance, that I was stupid-excited to finally read this thing. I won a contest over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist back in the day and inherited all three books of the original First Law trilogy, published by Pyr. Was the beginning of my first love affair with the works of Abercrombie. Guy just knows how to do story right, and I was hoping that he’d continue that trend. His response was a little bit “Yes”… and a little bit “No”.
A LITTLE HATRED (Amazon) is the first book in the planned Age of Madness trilogy from Orbit. To all reports, all three books have been completely written (hopefully not akin in any way to Rothfuss’s definition of “completely”), and we’re going to be getting the sequels at one-year intervals. Upon inspection, this book looks very similar in length to its forerunner, THE BLADE ITSELF. Why might that information be important? Because this story is told from the perspective of not three, and not five, but seven POV characters, as compared to three in BLADE. I’ll qualify my emphasis of that point in a bit. For now, the characters.
Rikke (rhymes with prikker) is the Daughter of The Dogman — one of the infamous secondary characters of the original trilogy. She’s out wandering in the wilderness with Isern-i-phail trying to plumb Rikke’s connection to the Long Eye (seeing the future) when her home is sacked by raiders from The North. The son of Black Calder, Stour Nightfall, has come south, looking for blood and glory, and she happens to be a bloody point of interest for the man.
Leo dan Brock, son of Finree dan Brock — another secondary character from the original trilogy — has come north with his mother to fight against the armies of The North. His head is full of stories of the glory of old, and he’s looking to make something of himself on the battlefield. It is frequently difficult, however, to do so while standing beneath the shadow of his successful, stubborn, and overly protective mother.
Savine dan Glokta, daughter of the infamous Sand dan Glokta, has used the power and influence of her father along with her own cunning and intelligence, to make a very successful businesswoman of herself. When it comes to making the deal she is vicious and underhanded and will always get her way. When she decides to take a short trip to a nearby city where she owns several business assets, nothing goes anywhere near to plan.
Victarine “Vick” dan Teufel is easily the character most removed from those we know. She grew up in the prison-mines of Angland, but she is now a member of the inquisition, serving underneath the purview of the Arch Lector of the King’s Inquisition, Sand dan Glokta. The very man that sent her father to the mines.
Crown Prince Orso is the son of King Jezal dan Luthar. He is, in all respects, a feckless layabout, druggie, and drunken blowhard that does little of consequence and desires even less, unless it is to feed his childish humor, his empty belly, or his voracious lusts.
Clover is a Northman that we’ve met a time or two in previous outings with the author. Clover has been asked by Black Calder to keep his headstrong son, Stour Nightfall, from becoming too overly reckless in his drive to make his uncle Scale, King of the Northmen, proud of him, while solidifying his position as the heir to the throne of The North.
Gunnar “Bull” Broad is an ex-soldier that has just come home from the war in Styria. He has a history of violence and a difficulty keeping his temper in check, but still he wants nothing more than to be left alone to his farm, his wife, and his daughter, and to live out the rest of his days in peace. Of course, things don’t work out that way, as the world has already started down its path toward massive change.
From the first page of this book to the last, I kept wanting to love the story I was reading. I just found that I wasn’t, and it didn’t take me very long to figure out what the problem was. There was this little voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “Some of these characters need to be killed off. Like, the sooner the better.” I don’t want you to think that there was anything necessarily wrong with characters. Far from it. They’re all well-formed and portrayed in the story, just like I’ve come to expect from Abercrombie.
I think the issue is that I like to think I have a very solid understanding as to the type of world portrayed in these stories. It’s ruthless and wicked and hateful. It makes a fool of the honest, a slave of the ignorant, and a bloody mash of the weak. There is nothing redeeming about the world, and it is only within a relatively few of the characters that we find something to cheer for. Whether that be because those characters have a large amount of strength, or power, or tenacity, it doesn’t matter. It is “they” that make the story shine.
Within the new batch of characters that fill this book, we have the following:
- Rikke — largely clueless, but quickly learning to hate the world and those within it
- Leo — a big talker when around his buddy sycophants, but a quivering weakling when dealing with his mother, who frequently makes a fool out of him
- Savine — savvy and intelligent, when she finds herself in the right setting; liked her second best
- Vick — an infiltrator and turncoat that does what she’s told and accomplishes little without having a solid reason for either
- Orso — think I elaborated on his many virtues earlier; really didn’t care for any of his POV time
- Clover — another weakling that is placed near powerful set-pieces, but actually does very little of note
- Broad — easily the closest thing to a typical First Law character; my favorite of the bunch by a good bit
Only very seldom did it feel like any of these characters should be characters of note in a story within the world of The First Law. Besides Broad and Savine, it felt like all of them should have been the ones that were being beaten and stabbed to a bloody pulp within the wicked machine of the first several chapters. Instead, they find themselves wandering around, having lots of sex with each other, and making me wonder what exactly I’m supposed to be getting out of all of this.
Combine this lack of characters that seem to fit the world with the fact that they’re all showing up on top of each other all the time (both figuratively and literally), and the difficulty starts to become clear. Why do we need two and three POV characters present within each event that happens in the book? Remember my reference about the relative sizes of this book and BLADE? With a little math it’s not too difficult to tell that we get to spend less than half the amount of time with each character in HATRED than we did in its brilliant predecessor, BLADE. So, overall weaker characters and compoundingly less time to develop them. How could that not be a recipe for relative disaster?
And I can’t help but mention the fact that Logen Ninefingers was arguably the best character of the original trilogy, and there’s nothing that even remotely approaches that same level of success here. (Though I am curious as to whether or not he might make an appearance later in the series after one of Rikke’s Long Eye events mentions she saw that a “Lamb ate the Lion”.)
With well-drawn characters and loads of potential, A LITTLE HATRED accomplishes little more than a fizzle due to an unfortunate selection of POV characters.
Let me be clear though. It’s not this list of technical “thou shalt nots” I’ve mentioned here that made me not enjoy reading this book. I just didn’t enjoy reading it very much. Period. The explanation I’m giving here is my way of trying to disentangle my complicated and varied experience and figure out just what caused it to be so poor. I’m trying to figure this out for myself, because as a general rule I absolutely LOVE HIS STORIES.
Was this a bad read? Absolutely not. It’s still a great example of Abercrombie showing off his ability to portray character, and continuing to develop the very interesting and detailed world that he’s been writing in for nearly the last two decades. I can still see loads of potential with what this book delivered to us. Just feels like the goodness is going to come later in the story, as these characters are finally able to turn into something that more resembles the individuals that will rise to the top of this struggling mass of selfish humanity instead of being crushed beneath its considerable bulk.
At this point, I’m still willing to keep riding this train, because of how much awesome history I have with the author’s previous books. Still, there’s a part of me that’s got my fingers crossed and held behind my back.
I remember referencing a quote somewhere here on EBR that I *thought* came from Abercrombie (which I can’t find anymore) that says something to effect that if you’re doing character right, you can have a bunch of characters just sitting around a campfire talking and generally doing nothing, and it’ll still be riveting. If I’m attributing that quote correctly, then it seems to me that Abercrombie has drunk a little bit too much of his own kool-aid before putting this book together. There’s just too little that is happening as a result of any of the choices that these POV characters are making for me to enjoy their stories. Perhaps, as I intimated above, that means he tried to start his story too early in the history of Angland and Styria for me to enjoy it as much as I have his previous books. Perhaps not. Perhaps he has something hidden up his sleeve that’s going to completely justify everything he’s done here and make me completely forgive him. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
- Recommended Age: 18+ in every way, shape, and form
- Language: Strong and frequent
- Violence: World of the First Law is known for it's penchant for extreme violence. This book was consistent with that yardstick.
- Sex: Loads more than normal, and loads more than necessary