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Book Review: The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Trouble with Peace

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: Age of Madness #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Conspiracy. Betrayal. Rebellion.
Peace is just another kind of battlefield… Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way. For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye . . . before it kills her. The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply. The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever. -Goodreads

The Review:

Reviewing middle books in series, especially ones where the entire collection is released, can be a bit tricky.

Sure, in this case it’s another opportunity to gush about an author I’ve been absolutely loving (I’ll take as many of those as I can get), but without the novelty of the first book and the finality of the last, it can be hard to figure out what to talk about.

Unless I repeat what I’ve said about the series and author so far. In which case, I’ll have you here all day.

Part of the struggle is that there weren’t a lot of plot advancement points in this book. A couple of doozies landed for sure, but overall it was still a satisfying middle book in a series. I can’t wait to see what Abercrombie has in store for the finale (I’ve talked about Abercrombie so much lately that my phone has the auto-populate for it ready with just a “Ab”). The book did, however, re-establish how much I’m enjoying reading about these deeply flawed characters. Some of them I love/hate even more than before (they’re not cooperating with what I want them to do and it’s maddening!), and one in particular is shaping up to be another favorite of the series. I’m drawn to the funny ones. :)

The book also solidified how much I appreciate Abercrombie’s writing. His style is so distinct, so creative, and there are a few signature scenes in here that left me in awe at the specific ways he conveys the story. It’s brilliant.

Recommendations: if you love character-driven, slow-burn fantasy novels where the author doesn’t pull any punches, this is a great pick for you. Many people have asked me how this latest trilogy compares to the rest of the works: It’s more reminiscent of this first trilogy, with a faster plot progression and a much stronger writing voice. I personally loved the stand-alones, but for those wanting to get back to basics, this latest trilogy is perfect.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

Title: A Little Hatred

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #8

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: 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 specializes 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… -Goodreads

The Review:

Warning: you’re about to witness and Abercrombie fangirl moment.

Aside from The Blade Itself, which I liked but wasn’t blown away by, my appreciation for this author has continued to grow with each passing installment. I think Abercrombie is only getting better with time – his writing has solidified into a distinct, immediately recognizable voice, and he seems to be really embracing the wickedly funny things that come along with being human, and is doing so to my unabashed amusement.

He’s such a brilliant study in character development. It’s not just that his characters are among the best in the genre, but also how he weaves the most unassuming drop-in details about their mannerisms into every iota of text. Constantly poking at each character’s deficiencies, it’s this constant reminder that they’re just people getting along as well as they can that makes them feel so alive. Their character profiles are so strong, even if I lose concentration and miss dialogue/thought tags, I can almost always figure out who’s POV we’re in just from the way things are written. It’s absolutely brilliant.

As a sort of next-gen continuation, A Little Hatred was everything I’d hoped it would be. Unlike with many other authors, I never worry about liking new characters as well as the last – they’re always good, which makes the possibilities of the First Law world endless. I delighted in all of the new faces (as scarred and misshapen as some of them may be) and felt that giddy excitement that I’d get to see what happened in this world next. I’m such a grouch these days. Coming back to a series that makes me feel as excited for a new book as I did back when I was a young bookseller is something to be cherished. I savored every page, felt completely engaged the entire novel, and am eager to pick up the next book.

Ranked against any other book I’ve read, Abercrombie books are solid 5-star reads. When comparing A Little Hatred to other books in the series, I’d say it’s near the top but not quite my favorite. So it gets a 5-stars on Goodreads and every endorsement I can offer, but a 4.5 for my personal records to indicate it’s not my favorite of the series.

Recommendations: this series takes a little time to get going. I read the first one twice before finally continuing and wasn’t sold from the beginning. It has now evolved into one of the funniest, most gut-wrenching, amazing things I’ve ever read, and I can’t wait to read more. Pick him up ASAP. Preferably via audio – Steven Pacey completes the experience.

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Sharp Ends

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #7

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!!!

The Overview: Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue’s gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of the First Law. The Union army may be full of bastards, but there’s only one who thinks he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta. Curnden Craw and his dozen are out to recover a mysterious item from beyond the Crinna. Only one small problem: no one seems to know what the item is. Shevedieh, the self-styled best thief in Styria, lurches from disaster to catastrophe alongside her best friend and greatest enemy, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp. And after years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left — his own lunatic champion, the most feared man in the North: the Bloody-Nine. -Goodreads

The Review:

This was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever read!

It’s a short story compilation for the First Law world, and for starters, I usually don’t have patience for short stories unless they’re for series I’m loving (this qualifies). And even then I usually prefer to read them in tandem with the series so I don’t forget details.

The book was hysterical. I laughed too many times to keep count and even felt compelled to share certain passages with other people (my mom is reading it now even though she’s only read the Blade Itself lol). That feeling of reading something I’ve loved and now need to share with others is the compulsion that caused me to start my book blog 10 years ago and there are only a small number of titles that have evoked this reaction. Sharp Ends is now among those all-time favorites. I ordered a hardcover.

I am completely rubbish at remembering character names in series these days. I read so many it’s just not worth the effort to me to retain those details beyond how long it takes me to devour a book. The problem comes when trying to revisit series after a long break or even just when discussing it with others. It’s a trade off… my brain is full. But it struck me as profound while reading this book that I was able to recall almost every single one of Abercrombie’s side characters with vivid clarity, which made the stories just as vibrant as if they’d been included in the series. It’s amazing to me because this author is clearly good enough to bypass my shitty memory and give me the rare experience of feeling truly immeshed in a series. Granted, I read these books fairly back to back compared to most, but even so, I’ve been known to forget names the instance the book gets finished (or even while I’m freaking reading it, so I have to backtrack). It’s just another piece of evidence that Abercrombie belongs on my favorites lists.

Sharp Ends is listed as book 7 even though it bounces around the timeline a lot. There are some series prequel scenes, some alternate viewpoints for memorable scenes throughout the series, an alternating set of stories following the same two characters (my personal favorite of the bunch), and there are a few that take place after the last time we’ve seen some of these characters. It definitely should be read as the 7th installment to avoid spoilers. One of the highlights in the audio format was an interview with Joe Abercrombie and audio narrator Steven Pacey. It was a total delight, and I busted a gut listening to it. The only story I didn’t care for was the satire (the writings from the bloke Costca hired to overinflate his exploits). It was fun, but I usually don’t have patience for the style. But I’ll admit to always wondering what he was writing throughout the story…

Recommendations: clearly, this is an Obsessive Bookseller favorite and I’d highly recommend it if you’ve read the first 6 books in the series. I found it wildly entertaining.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Red Country

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #6

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: They burned her home.
They stole her brother and sister.
But vengeance is following.

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she’ll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she’s not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old step father Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb’s buried a bloody past of his own. And out in the lawless Far Country the past never stays buried. Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into an alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m becoming an Abercrombie fangirl.

Red Country was probably the biggest offshoot from the main trilogy so far. It had a sort of Wild West/colonial vibe that I didn’t hate. But as offshot as it may have been, it effectively tied up some burning questions I’ve had since the end of the first trilogy. Ahead of most of the books I’ve read lately by a long shot, it ranks somewhere near the upper middle compared to other books in the series so far.

The characters are so rich and vibrant and not a single one of them can be put on a pedestal. I think truly flawed characters might be the magic ingredient to why authors like Abercrombie and Hobb are among my favorites. Maybe it appeals to my growing cynicism, but oftentimes when people act their worst in books it’s more believable and relatable. Even in the most depraved bastards Abercrombie writes about, there’s always a spark, a smidgen of a redeeming quality that makes them feel, well, human. And he’s especially good at putting his characters in such horrid situations that it can’t help but bring out the best or worst in them (usually the worst). It truly is a mastery of characterization that I hope to live up to one day in my own writing.

The way I talk about these books makes them seem like such downers. And in truth they kind of are. But that bleakness is part of their brilliance, because when something good happens, it’s stands out that much more profoundly by contrast. I love each and every one of the characters I’ve read so far and I can’t wait to see what happens to them next.

Recommendations: if you like grimdark fantasy, read all the things Abercrombie. Give the first trilogy a bit to get going, then hang on!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Heroes

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbor, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. For glory, for victory, for staying alive. –Goodreads

The Review:

The Heroes was an entertaining read even though it’s my least favorite of the saga so far.

But not by much. True, it didn’t offer a lot of variety in setting and plot (which I think accounts for why some may not have liked it as much) but it did make up for it considerably with good characters and a really creative execution of the story. It’s essentially a series of battles in the north that take place over the course of just a few days. Bouncing around POVs, it provided insight into what the battle experience was like from every perspective. In that regard I really appreciate the total immersion. There was one battle scene in particular that was done so creatively I’ve never seen anything like it before. Abercrombie’s deft writing style continues to impress me more with every book. He’s definitely solidified among my favorites.

I’ll admit it took me a good 25% to get acclimated with all the characters. I had to use a few more brain cells than normal to keep straight who was on which side. I also thought the POV bounced around too much for me to really get invested at first, but eventually we came back to the same ones often enough that by the halfway point I was super into it. It helped considerably that many of these characters we’ve seen before and I love how Abercrombie expands his reach to give secondary characters a moment to shine. It’s not something you see many authors doing. It’s also cool that some now have a ton of depth and development because we’ve been with them in past novels. It feels like a giddy secret knowing the history behind certain characters when they are still enigmas to those around them. I’m excited to see how Abercrombie ties in the stars of this show in future books. Not surprisingly, Gorst was my favorite here (though they were all good). Reminiscent of Glokta with his many dualities and entertaining inner dialogue, he added that heavy sardonic flair that I’m starting to crave from Abercrombie’s works. I’m not sure how I’m going to cope when I finally get caught up in the series.

This is one of those books which compared to other Abercrombie novels is a bit more modest, but compared to any other book on the market is still superb.

Recommendations: I highly recommend anything Abercrombie as a staple in the fantasy genre. He’s a master of character and writing and the more time I spend with him, the more he solidifies as a new favorite author. Don’t be like me and let the books sit collecting dust for 10 years before picking them up. They’re worth a jump in the TBR.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Best Served Cold

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play adeadly game to choose who will be king. War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die. Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started… Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge. -Goodreads

The Review:

I can’t believe I’m only just now reading this series.

I had my doubts when people told me the books after the initial trilogy were just as good, but if all the others are anywhere as amazing as Best Served Cold then I’m in for a fantastic year of reading. I would be hard-pressed to name anything I didn’t like about it.

I’ve heard mention that BSC is essentially a Count of Monte Cristo type story, and as I’ve made a habit of avoiding classics like the plague since grade school, I can only take their word for it. Presumably the similarity is the relentless pursuit of vengeance at any and all costs. I normally find plot structures like that boring. After all, if you kind of already know where it’s going, where’s the excitement? But I tell you what, Abercrombie added so many interesting characters and dynamics – the story felt anything but a tropey knockoff. I was glued to the pages the entire time and loved every moment of it.

Upon reflection, this may have been my favorite story in the First Law world to date, which is saying something considering Glokta (easily one of the best characters in the genre) doesn’t even make an appearance. It’s an amazing combination of gruesome, funny, heartbreaking, exciting, and depressing all wrapped up in an angry little package. I think I might be adding it to my very short list of all-time favorites.

Overall, this was an excellent tangent novel that did a superb job expanding the world-building of the series and giving us a whole new cast of characters to love/hate. I can’t wait to devour everything Abercrombie has on the market. And to think I was only so-so after reading the first book. This author is now a favorite.

Recommendations: if you loved the First Law trilogy and are wondering if you should keep reading, the answer is an emphatic yes!! Best Served Cold was written brilliantly, with careful care given to all the characters and a plot that will have you cringing and laughing and loving every moment. Consider it a new Obsessive Bookseller favorite!

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by Niki Hawkes