Review: The Trouble with Peace

Posted: October 20, 2020 by in Books that are Mediocre (2.6/5 single_star) Meta: Joe Abercrombie, Dark Fantasy, Fantasy
The Trouble with Peace

I’ve been in a real funk lately. I know. Join the club, right? It seems like no matter which direction I turn, there’s always some new disappointment waiting to greet me. Hello, 2020. If I had any choice in the matter, and I could pick a single thing that this year might have left alone, it would have been my books. Yes, I know this is ludicrous. There’s no need to remind me of the fact that books published this year have long been completed, and that 2020 did nothing to affect them in the slightest. And yet. After reading this book, I’m seriously beginning to think that some part of me has been broken. It just doesn’t seem possible that my impressions of the story contained therein might be valid. Like in the slightest. But in the end, they are at least consistent in their nature, and for that I’m still holding onto the hope (barely) that something more will come of my current epic disappointment with The Age of Madness.

After being thoroughly let down by the first book in this new series, I went into this one hoping that the author would turn a corner, and all of the issues I identified in reading the first would fizzle into nothingness. Instead, the story, such as it is, stays entirely consistent and, if anything, retreats even further from what I’d hoped to see. And the large majority of my disappointment can be laid at the feet of two issues: weak characters and too many of them.

Instant rejection from the reading populace at large, I know. Do you think I’m not aware? Abercrombie’s characters weak? Whatever. Dan must be losing his marbles. By no means do I wish to insinuate that these characters aren’t well drawn. Goodness no. If anything, the amount of characterization and attachment that these POVs have to the world of the First Law is stronger than ever. All seven of them. Or, should I say, all 26 of them. (Two chapters burn through about ten a piece, and both of these sections were rough to get through.) BUT, when taken out of the context of the book and looked at on their own merits, I can’t help but find that they are weak individuals, with little motivation and minimal strength of character.

TROUBLE picks up several months after the end of HATRED. This passage of time has let the situations for a few of our characters to get better, and for a few of them to get worse.

Rikke is in a bind, with the effects of the Long Eye coming on strong. Without some kind of intervention, it looks like it’s going to kill her.

Leo dan Brock has recovered from his wounds insofar as he might be able. Political life is not agreeing with him overly much, and it doesn’t take long for his mother to provide a possible solution…

Savine dan Glokta is in near financial ruin, or so it seems. Investments have turned sour, and her current efforts to curb those trends are barely allowing her to keep her nose above water. And it doesn’t help that her belly is beginning to churn with life. It isn’t long before her mother provides a possible solution…

Gunnar “Bull” Broad now works for Savine, and is doing his best to protect her failing interests by using his particular brand of persuasion. But he isn’t liking what he’s finding along the way.

Victarine “Vick” dan Teufel is still doing the work of Sand dan Glokta, and is now in the city of Westport, trying to keep its ruling council from seceding from the Union.

With the death of his ailing father, Crown Prince Orso has now become the King. Surprise, surprise, he’s not much a fan of responsibility and structure. It isn’t long before he has to make his first major political decision, and let’s just say that it doesn’t go well.

And Clover, Clover. What can we say about him? He’s still a veritable camera through which we can watch the progress of the Great Wolf, Stour Nightfall, as he hangs out with those most closely resembling the Northmen of the original trilogy.

This story is, by and large, a political one. The main sequence of the book progress from “revolutionary tension” toward additional violence and is told mainly through the plot-based conversation surrounding King Orso and Leo dan Brock. Orso is trying to do the right thing amidst a toxic political environment and social/economic tensions, and naive Leo gets sucked into the vortex of power that exists within the Open Council. I found myself constantly frustrated with both of their POVs. Ultimately, this frustration boils down to the fact that neither of them has any kind of motivations or drive outside of reacting to the things that surround them. Orso is still much the feckless layabout and Leo the child whose life gets dictated by those around him, that I was constantly rolling my eyes and sighing with regret at finding another chapter for either of them. Might this stem from the fact that essentially everything they have has been given to them? Likely.

Several of the other characters showed minor glimmers of hope, but were given such a limited amount of POV time that their stories hardly seemed to get off the ground before the main conflict overrode them. They each in-turn become camera lenses through which the overarching plot gets told, seemingly no longer involved with their own individual stories. Broad, Vick, and Savine all fell into this category. These sparks of possibility kept me reading. Hoping to find that they took off and did something with it all. Rikke left me wallowing, with her situation first being resolved by those around her, and then her doing little of note for the rest of the book. I can’t help but blame this lack of progress to the fact that there are so many POV characters. There are just too many people that had to get through too much stuff in order for these pieces of the story that did show promise to be developed to a point where they could make a difference. Instead, the majority falls to the political story and the action rising toward the inevitable battle.

THE TROUBLE WITH PEACE is that it's boring. A lack of motivation and self-will leave these characters unmoored and weak against the strong.

I think if it hadn’t been for several characters withholding information until opportune times, I might have enjoyed enjoyed the book more. The betrayal that I, as a reader, experience when I find out that what I’ve been accepting as truth isn’t true to the character, and that I’ve been manipulated, is extremely strong. This issue comes up an annoyingly large number of times throughout this book via several characters. It has been, and will continue to be (so long as he continues to use it) one of the largest criticisms I have of Abercrombie’s writing. To my memory, he hasn’t used it often in the past, but it was used in abundance here and definitely spoiled my reading experience.

Abercrombie is famous for writing despicable, morally dark characters. Some people can deal with them. Others can’t. Truthfully, I’d be good with either. Even if he’s chosen a round of his darkest characters yet instead of the double-handful of weak, ineffectual individuals he has here, it would have been considerably better. However, each and every one of this bunch needs to die a horrible death at the hands of those around them.

Now look. I absolutely know that I’m in the minority with this. There are loads of people that love what Abercrombie has done here. I just don’t get it. But I’m a certain type of reader. I’m in it for the experience. I want to become part of the character’s story. I want to be absorbed, subsumed, remade. Plot turns don’t matter to me in the slightest, if I don’t believe them, and that belief can only be built through the character’s viewpoint. When I don’t get that from a story, I lose the ability to be entertained. Occasionally getting it only makes me more frustrated than I otherwise might have been because I know how amazing it can be when it’s all done “right”.

But I don’t plan on changing my opinion any time soon. So, here I stand on my own. Possibly with one or two others. You may agree with me. You may not. I wish I could disagree with myself, honestly. I really wanted to be able to enjoy this one.

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: Not as much as it's predecessor, but still plenty of it and plenty strong
  • Violence: Not as much as it's predecessor, but still plenty of it and plenty strong
  • Sex: Not as much as it's predecessor, but.. are you seeing a pattern here? :)

Comments

  • Chris T. says:

    I’m a big fan of Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy and I found this book to be an even bigger disappointment that ‘A little hatred’. The characters were not only two dimensional (as in the previous book) but they also started doing things that made no sense (like Leo deciding to lead a rebellion because? also Savine deciding in 10 sec to betray the Union government and support Leo…completely out of character for a master schemer).

    At the end when a certain character who’s lost an arm and a leg is struggling to climb the stairs I was laughing out loud. It felt like a parody of Abercrombie’s books.

    Personally, I feel that all the latest books by authors such as Rob J Hayes, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Anthony Ryan and Christian Cameron have been disappointments.

  • Xan says:

    In a reading funk? I recommend ‘Aurora Rising’ by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman. Fast paced, fun, sassy, YA sci-fi. Got me out of my reading funk! If you read it, let me know what you think!

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