Joe Abercrombie, The Trouble with Peace (2020)

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Trouble with Peace

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 506

Series: The Age of Madness #2

The Trouble with Peace is the second installment in Abercrombie newest trilogy, The Age of Madness – playing out approximately two decades after The First Law trilogy in the Circle of the World. I’ve read the first installment, A Little Hatred, back in 2019 – but never gotten around to reviewing it. Suffice to say, it was pretty good: slicker and sharper and funnier than The First Law, with the added benefit of hosting a less likeable crew of protagonist – which, in Abercrombie’s books, is actually a real benefit, as most of them will most probably meet their gory, humiliating and depressing ends long before the trilogy’s conclusion. I rated A Little Hatred 8/10; and I’m happy to say The Trouble with Peace is even better.

The First Law trilogy was written with the ingenious leading thought of “What if Merlin was evil?” The Age of Madness continues to build up on it and I’m very encouraged by the signs of an equally pitiless Nimue in sight. But most importantly, with his Age of Madness series Joe Abercrombie seems to be stepping into Sir Terry Pratchett’s shoes – if (and that’s a big if) Pratchett were cynical to the core, ruthless, and constantly angry. Sure, at the moment these shoes are still way too big, and at times clearly uncomfortable, but I’m pretty certain Abercrombie will grow up to fit them quite well.

So, what has Abercrombie in common with the great Pratchett, I hear you ask? The answer is “surprisingly much.” But first and foremost, it is satire. Pratchett’s favorite type of satire was wise and funny and forgiving, whereas Abercrombie delights in the sharp and painful and merciless, but both writers intentionally chose to portray – and enlarge – the flaws of our own world in their imagined ones. Banks and credits, merchants and inventors, barbarians and witches and magi, even a steam engine – all’s there in the Circle of the World (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Discworld, starting with the name). Yes, Abercrombie stands on Pratchett’s shoulders, but he’s also very much his own writer, going for dark everywhere where Pratchett chose light, opting for tragedy and heavy irony where Pratchett selected comedy as his preferred writing technique, focusing on character development where Pratchett concentrated on ideas.

I’m tempted to say Abercrombie is a writer for readers with a masochistic streak; for every time you laugh while reading his books, it’s a laughter rooted in someone else’s misery: Schadenfreude. And beneath it, there is a worm of doubt, twisting in your gut, making you question not the story or the imaginary characters, but the image of our reality depicted in them. And it’s a very nasty one, indeed, built on inequality, pain and suffering, on rage and entitlement, on luxury achieved through ruthlessness and egotism and elitism. Of course it’s simplified, of course it’s distorted – it’s a satire, after all. But there is enough similarity to our own world, enough plausibility, enough relatability, to feed that worm of doubt till it makes you sick.

I won’t enter that labeling contest and consider whether it’s grimdark or something else. For me it’s just very dark fantasy filled with gallows humor and a total lack of mercy toward its protagonists. That authorial ruthlessness is coupled with a twisted sense of empathy: Abercrombie can write wonderfully complex characters, making the readers root for them – or at least understand them – in all their squalid, grasping insecurity. But at the same time, he always puts them in untenable positions, where literally every available alternative is bad. I can picture Abercrombie writing away at his keyboard with a maniacal glee as he concocts a living hell for all his characters: trapped between choices bad and worse, haunted by their own ineptitudes, flaws and lack of understanding of the bigger picture, torn between loyalties big and small, carried away by their own delusions, and always, always remaining their own worst enemies. But in the end, if we were to find the true culprit of the Circle of the World’s horrible predicament, it would not be any single one of Abercrombie’s protagonists; not even the whole host of them. It would be the social system created by people for people, propagated and maintained by its various parts throughout the centuries, which traps them all in a prison of their own making.

And yet, Abercrombie, the true son of the British Isles, still upholds the Hobbes’s desperate belief that what we’ve got is immeasurably better that what we would be left with without civilization:

„He had always thought of civilization as a machine, cast from rigid iron, everything riveted in its proper place. Now he saw it was a fabric gauzy as a bride’s veil. A tissue everyone agrees to leave in place, but one that can be ripped away in an instant. And hell lurks just beneath.” A Little Hatred, p. 216

Now that’s a cheery thought! 😉

As there’s no A Little Hatred review on our blog I won’t divulge the plot details for The Trouble with Peace; I only want to point out that because Abercrombie is following in Pratchett’s footsteps, the plot is actually not the strongest element of this book. Certain choices and outcomes seem forced, for the sake of the broader argument Abercrombie is making here: so once again, we have a war-ish thing with the North, growing restlessness and unease in the Union, and an even more pronounced conflict between the old and the young. But the character development largely makes up for the plot deficiencies. I must say I’ve grown to like Orso and Rikke quite a lot – only Ninefingers and Glokta are still higher on my personal list of Abercrombie’s favorite characters – so I shudder to think what will happen to them in the next novel.

Our evil Merlin is also still quite active – even more than in the previous book; and because with the onset of age of reason/madness/industrial revolution in the Circle of the World magic is said to be slowly leaching from the world, Bayaz has moved to richer pastures, i.e. banking system, creating a tight net of dependence around the Union and beyond. But as there are a few wonderfully nasty witches in his way this time, I’m very much looking forward to the concluding installment, The Wisdom of Crowds, set to be published in September 2021.

Score: 9/10

61 thoughts on “Joe Abercrombie, The Trouble with Peace (2020)

  1. Following in the footsteps of Pratchett? Now you’ve got me really intrigued, Ola. I’ve always enjoyed the satirical wit in the Discworld books. They are often so much cleverer than they are given credit for. I’ve only read the first two books of the First Law Trilogy, and I enjoyed them for what they were; mainly for the characters and the dark humour. So you rate these newer books higher than his earlier works? Good to know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Abercrombie went a step further in The Age of Madness; his satirical blade has been sharpened considerably since these days, and his precision – and ruthlessness toward his characters – only increased. While I still consider Logen Ninefingers his best creation, The Age of Madness boasts of a very strong, very even cast. And maybe that, too, is a mark of satire, where you can see the whole profile of a given society, distilled into separate, convincing avatars. There’s definitely a whiff of Moliere, or Swift, in Abercrombie’s new trilogy. And while I enjoyed the heck out of First Law, The Age of Madness is by far a more mature, more thoughtful creation – I’m really looking forward to the last installment and hope Abercrombie can deliver! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lol a cynical, ruthless Pratchett.
    I didn’t already have several books going at once, I’d consider picking up A Little Hatred next. I’ve yet to try any of Abercrombie’s books, but the more I hear about them, the more curious I get.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I ordered A Little Hatred last weekend and it arrived in the mail yesterday! I am really stoked to get back into Abercrombie. The guy’s my favorite “grim dark” writer. Yes yes yes!! I will be writing reviews and they will be glorious!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I never made the link between Abercrombie and Pratchett but somehow that sounds accurate. And Pratchett had a lot of anger in him. When I read Monstrous Regiment he really sounded a bit angry there. It’s the bedrock behind his satire.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, Gaiman wrote that Pratchett was always angry and that it was that anger that propelled him to write – I think it was in the foreword to A Slip of the Keyboard.
          Btw, I think you need anger to write a good, biting satire – you need to have something driving you mad to be able to show its madness. Pratchett was always trying to find that silver lining, always believed people may be stupid but are not inherently bad. With Abercrombie, I don’t think that’s the case 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Difficult to say, as I don’t remember details anymore: it’s been ten years that I’ve read the first trilogy. Logen maybe?
            As for favorite: the very first blew me away. It was fresh, funny, and just great. The next two were also great, but impressed me not the same way as the first.
            Then came The Heroes. Aristotelian structure (one place/time) as opposed to the roaming, long hikes of the first trilogy. Great way of telling action scenes. Those two, the first and fifth, were my favorites.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hard to believe it’s been over a decade since these were published!
              We’re in agreement, it seems: Ninefingers is my favorite Abercrombie character, hands down. And The Heroes – his best novel, by far, even if my favorite character(s) were largely absent from it 😉

              Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an amazing review!! 😍 I wholeheartedly agree on the Pratchett’s footstep, even if I have yet to start this series. I always said that, to me, Abercrombie is somehow “G. R. R. Martin meet Terry Pratchett”. I thought it when I first discovered this author with The Heroes (and by the way, I think that the first page of The Heroes is a masterpiece!) and even if this things is not always there on The First Law, is still there enough to be felt, here and there. And I am really happy to learn that in this new series is even more so!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Susy! 😀

      Yeah, The Heroes is amazing! 😀
      In The Trouble with Peace and A Little Hatred the satirical elements are much more visible than in The First Law trilogy, and as both books in The Age of Madness series are much slicker and sharper than their predecessors, they’re a joy to read (if you can forgive some easy/unbelievable plot choices, but that was the case with The First Law as well ;)).

      I’ll be looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. While I have not yet read Pratchett, I’m aware of the tone and content of his famous series, so your comparison between the two authors – with Abercrombie as Pratchett’s “Dark Side” – is a very intriguing one. I might not have a masochistic bone in my body, but I have to admit that the author’s way of portraying the worst in humanity exerts a strong fascination on me – and probably I would hate his characters if they were handled by someone without Abercrombie’s skill in blending evil and humor with such dexterity. But I love them all, and I can hardly wait to see where he will take this new set of his…victims 😀
    Great, quite thought-provoking review! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I felt so bad for Abercrombie’s protagonists, it took me years to get a bit inured to their plight and start looking at them with a bit more distance and less empathy 😉 Maybe that’s why Best Served Cold is my least favorite of Abercrombie’s books ;).
      Yup, Abercrombie is Pratchett’s newly found evil twin son 😂😂

      Thanks for reading, Maddalena! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks, Dawie! 😀
      I think you might enjoy Abercrombie’s books – definitely worth giving them a try! 😀 Though to be fair, the evil Pratchett vibe is noticeable only in the later books – but the first ones can give you a Warhammer-y whiff as well 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. piotrek

    I’m very happy it turned out so great! I have volumes 1 & 2 on my shelves, will probably wait for the final one to be published to devour the entire trilogy at once 🙂

    I’m intrigued by your comparison to Pratchett, I’ll need to read the books to judge for myself… every novel is a mirror, but I did not see enough overtly satirical elements in Abercrombie’s books, rather grim realism, you say he moves into this direction now… very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, after so many duds this year it was a relief to read such a good book 😉
      I’d suggest not waiting for the final installment but taking these one book at a time – you’ll probably remember the contents well enough in half a year’s time, and these are really full on, quite exhausting books 😉 More protagonists, more action, and even more snide, dark humor. With less attachment to the characters, Abercrombie in The Age of Madness goes all out 😉

      I was actually quite surprised by this evil Pratchett vibe as well – I didn’t get this from any of Abercrombie’s earlier books, which were more straightforward grimdark epic fantasy. But here? Oh, man. You’ll see! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A very apposite review, Ola, bearing in mind I somehow seem to be on a Merlin streak this month. And it looks as if this series may have to join the end of a very long wishlist, but that’s fair given the wishlist I seem to have gifted you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Now you’ve reminded me, that I haven’t read any Pratchett yet (besides from Good Omens) and really want to. So perhaps I’ll start with Pratchett and perhaps get to Abercrombie, when the latter is closer to filling out the shoes? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

        1. The first is not the best 😉
          If I can offer an advice I’d point you to our post on Discworld: https://reenchantmentoftheworld.blog/2019/06/24/nostalgia-post-5-terry-pratchetts-discworld/, maybe this could give you some ideas. The first few books are the most satirical, with plot and characters in the background. I’d say the middle books are the best – you could pick a stand-alone one, like Small Gods, or follow a character – like witches, or Death, or the Watch 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That was an amazing post! It was fun to read what Pratchett’s books have meant for you. I am even more keen to get started on the series now. Still a bit sceptical if I will “get it” if I pick a random book in the middle of the series. But let’s see how it all goes.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Well now at least you know not to surrender after one or two first books 😁 I’m so keen on making people realize how amazing Pratchett’s idea of Discworld and some of his books are that I’m close to pushing copies into people’s hands, like some crazy televangelist 😅🤣

              Liked by 1 person

      1. Reading chronologically. Wanted to stick to the order that Pratchett came up with them and see how the series develops. I understand the first one or two are maybe not the best but in a series this size it would be unusual to love them all. 😁

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  9. I haven’t yet gotten around to picking up this sequel but I’m really glad that it was better than the first one for you! I also love that you went ahead to say Abercrombie was a darker Pratchett here. With my only experience of Pratchett not being toooooo positive, I can definitely understand the comparison and it has me all the more excited to pick this one up. Great review as always, Ola! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, now you’ve got me motivated to convince you to give Pratchett a second chance! 😁 Do read at least one of the amazing stand-alones from Discworld: Small Gods, or Reaper, or one of the sequences: The Watch or Witches, or Death!!! 🤩 (I mean, “or Death” is not a threat, it’s a suggestion 😜)

      And yes, this new Abercrombie is quite exquisite when it comes to the satirical content; the plot has substantial holes, it must be said, but the language and mood are impeccable here: the result is something between Occupy the Wall Street, British industrial revolution, and the decadent and gory side of French Revolution 😁

      Like

  10. For sheer witty, clever brilliance, Abercrombie wins for me every time. I’m currently listening to ‘Best Served Cold’ and loving it.

    My only issue with The Trouble With Peace, is that it feels very much the sane old story just with a new cast. Still a bloody good read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I felt his characters are more diverse here than in The First Law- and less sympathetic and likeable, especially those like Savine, Leo or Stour. As for the story, agreed – the war with the North, or the revolt, was very much forced into the plot, not something arising organically from previous events – just an instance of authorial fiat as a way for more cutting satire. That’s the only reason this didn’t get full marks from me – because language and Abercrombie’s observation skills are exquisite. Looking forward to the last installment! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not sure which set of characters I prefer. Also not sure which I’d class as more diverse.

        I think one of my favourite moments in the first one was when Savine realised who her brother was … ‘I’ve been sucking my brother’s cock?’

        I miss the Dogman 😭

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, Logen is still my favorite – and I’m glad to see a bit of a mellowed Glokta in the new trilogy; that said, I think Orso’s much more compelling character than his father (though Jezal did grow in the first trilogy). I also love Rikke’s character and the ways in which responsibility changes her and robs her of her idealism, layer by layer, while she still fights to stay true to herself. Savine for me is… irredeemable, at least for now, though I enjoy her POV immensely, with Schadenfreude 😉 The weakest is Leo, very much like Jezal at the beginning, but now he has some room for growth, so we’ll see.
          I think Dogman had a great sendoff. Sure, I miss him too, but at least Abercrombie gave him peace and dignity, not a fate many of his character can boast of earning 😉

          Like

          1. I’m just glad Dogman got the comforts he deserved. Biggest bed in north, or so men say 👌

            Schadenfreude is easily derived from any of Abercrombie’s works. Currently experiencing it with Nicomo Cosca 😂

            I loved Jezal in the first trilogy and, in book one of the new trilogy, felt Orso to be a carbon copy. Both snivelling little brats destined for greatness. Both warm to the crown (Orso a little quicker, admittedly). Both fall for a woman they shouldn’t have (at least Jezal went shopping in a different gene pool 😂).

            I miss Glokta’s ever present war on staircases. I can only hope Joe does something with him later on as, currently, I feel like he’s gone off into the night far too quietly. I picture him getting bored too quickly. Or Bayaz (your book boyfriend😉) furious that he’s left his post.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I actually thought Glokta was the Weaver 😉
              Hate Bayaz like the pox, you’re just writing it to get a rise from me – and here you go! 😜

              I feel Orso is much more self-aware and full of insecurities, and grows up much more quickly while still retaining a bit of innocent belief in right and wrong – but then, he hadn’t witnessed Bayaz and his Eaters firsthand yet. I suspect that Savine’s companion is the missing Magi, so things might get even more interesting soon!

              Still, I pin my anti-Bayaz hopes on Rikke! 😁

              Like

              1. I had the same thoughts about Savine’s companion. Great minds!

                Yea, I think if Orso was to get the same kind of exposure to Bayaz that his father had, his bowels would loosen and not tighten up again in a hurry.

                Pfff, get a rise out of you? Would I stoop so low? I genuinely thought you had his name tattooed upon your left breast so he could always be close to your heart. And don’t even try to tell me you don’t have Bayaz fan art lining your walls and printed upon your bed sheets 😂

                Liked by 1 person

                1. You forgot about the special platinum heart-shaped locket with his picture inside that I always wear… But yeah – kudos to Abercrombie for creating such a nasty, evil character. He’s a thoroughly modern totalitarian leader with almost limitless power and complete disregard for anything human – he treats humans like humans treat cows. Oh, how I hate that guy! 😂😂😂

                  I see some traits of Terez in Orso – so I think he’d moan and botch, but still stand straight, because he’s always been his own worst enemy and even Bayaz cannot really faze him – at least that’s my fervent wish! 😉

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I have the feeling that he’ll try to stand up to Bayaz, but your Romeo will make his eyes blaze, throw a few heavy somethings around as though they were light somethings, ridicule Orso for being an ‘incestuous quim eater’ and Orso will sink into a mopey state of shameful disobedience.

                    If it’s men such as Bayaz that set your heart a flutter, I’ll do my best to be meek if ever our paths cross. Can’t have the male population around you getting jealous 🤷‍♂️😂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. I give Orso a bit more credit than that. Plus, I hope Savine’s companion will deal with Yoru, and Rikke and co will defeat Bayaz – that spear needs to be used 😉

                      Blessed are the meek, right? But my husband is the only one who sets my heart aflutter, so no worries on that account! 😜

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. I want Bayaz to succeed. How would you feel if you created life in a pietry dish, only for said microbes to suddenly rise up and kill you. It’s just thoroughly unpleasant of the people Bayaz has helped build a world for.

                      Phew! This is good news. I may love the character of Nicomo Cosca, but his love of having a long list of enemies is one I do not share. So your area’s male contingency, plus an angry husband, are several thousand bullets well dodged 😝

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Piotrek is also rooting for Abercrombie’s evil Merlin 🤔 though Bayaz didn’t create humans – he was one of them, just with a lot of talent. And now that magic’s disappearing he’s moved on to different kind of black magic, banking 😂

                      Definitely! Though my husband is rarely angry 😉

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. The analogy was a tad flawed. It was more the ‘creating the world they live in’ as he’s essentially built up the modern world brick by brick.

                      I knew I sensed a kindred spirit behind this blog somewhere. Good old, Piotrek 👌

                      Liked by 2 people

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