I know that times are tough. Pandemic, a looming economic crisis, people do what they can to make ends meet, churning out books like there’s no tomorrow, with less than usual regard for logic or excellence. It’s hard, and I understand, and Abercrombie is certainly not the first one to fall into this trap. But that knowledge doesn’t lessen the disappointment much. For this is the first First Law World book that unequivocally sucked for me.
My disappointment is twofold, and I’ll try my best to separate the technical, rather more objective one from the bitterly personal ;).
It’s been some time since we did a TAG! And there is one that caught our attention earlier this month, when it appeared on Bookforager. Get to know the Fantasy Reader – sounds like a great post to finish the Wyrd & Wonder month with. So, here it is!
What is the first fantasy novel you read?
Ola: The Lord of the Rings. I was seven when I read the whole trilogy – it was a copy borrowed from my older brother’s friend. Right after I finished it I went to the bookstore and with my saved pocket money bought my own copy, which then I instantly proceeded to reread. And here we are! 😀
Piotrek: I want to say Hobbit, and it’s likely the truth. My first & favourite short story collection is Joan Aiken’s Room Full of Leaves and Other Stories, but Hobbit is the novel I received as a gift from a cousin some time early during my primary school years and it was my gateway into fantasy. What can I say? This is a wonderful book, accessible to the youngest readers, sucking them into the wonderful world of wyrd & wonder! It enchanted me and I never looked back 🙂
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Piotrek: It’s not an easy question. Some of my favourite authors write stories where horrible, horrible things happen to the protagonists. Maybe Guy Gavriel Kay? He creates wonderful worlds and usually delivers a happy ending without too many casualties…
Ola: Hmmm. Pratchett, I think. Discworld is a fabulous place, and I’m sure I’d fit right in ;). As much as I love dark stories, I would not want to become a part of them, be it a hero or an onlooker or the hapless victim of friendly fire ;). Happily ever after trope is the one I insist on when my personal life is at stake 😀
What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?
Ola: Revelations, huh? I’d say I’m too old to get revelations from fantasy books 😉 but it wouldn’t be entirely true. My revelation, and one that will last much longer than just this year, is the discovery of Dragon Ball manga (I know, I’m stretching the definition a bit, but that’s my answer :P). Seriously, I never expected to love it at all, let alone as much as I do. Some of original DB volumes are among the best books I’ve read this year, and the whole series (well, maybe except the Cell arc) is an instant pick-me-up for me! 😀
Piotrek: I haven’t read that much fantasy this year, yet. But Gardens of the Moon, finally fully read, turned out to be better than I remembered from my first failed attempts. I’m a bit late to this party, but yay to Malazan Book of the Fallen!
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?
Piotrek: Favourite? That must be either High Fantasy, or Military Fantasy, judging by what occupies all my all time favourite lists. If I had to choose one, it would be high fantasy, the source of it all.
But what subgenre is the most neglected by me as a reader? Romantic Fantasy, most likely…
Ola: Genres and subgenres… Not a fan :P. If I had to choose, I’d opt for military fantasy (Cook, Tchaikovsky) or science fantasy a la Zelazny, with lots of mythology thrown in the mix. Romance in any form gets an instant NO from me, so if there’s something like Paranormal Romance/Romance Fantasy that would be the ultimate no-read subgenre for me. Also, YA. Please, no YA, fantasy or other…
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
Ola: I don’t have any auto-buy authors. I rarely buy books at all – only those I really really love and I’m certain I’m going to reread one day. I don’t think I have complete works of any one author, to be honest. I prefer to borrow books – then, if the book is less than stellar, I don’t have a problem of it taking shelf space. And if it’s good enough for me to want to have it – well, welcome aboard, there’s still space on the shelves! 😀 Besides, everyone writes a weaker book from time to time, even the best of the authors, and I wouldn’t want to own these anyway. But I do buy whole series that I love (especially when I know they’re finished) – Discworld, Shadows of the Apt, Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fitz and Fool… 😀
Piotrek: Not really, no. Used to be Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he writes new stuff faster than I’m able to read it. He’s still one of my favourite contemporary writers though!
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?
Piotrek: In my seventh year of blogging it really is mostly fellow bloggers, definitely. Thank you, guys!!
Ola: I second Piotrek’s answer! Thanks, all!!!
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
Ola: Well, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (out in September) and Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake (September, too) – both the final installments in what’s shaping up to be very good trilogies. The review for Abercrombie’s The Trouble with Peace is here, and the reviews for the Barker’s earlier books are here, if you’re interested: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships.
Piotrek: Hard to say. With my TBR as long as it is, I mostly read series already finished, and books published years ago. I don’t want to insert a GRRM joke here, as these stopped being funny years ago 😉
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
Piotrek: The one that fantasy is somehow not proper literature, that including fantastical elements somehow makes it less serious. This silly superstition still lingers among some close minded people, and I would like to see it vanished forever 🙂 There was a short post about it early in blog’s history…
Ola: Again, I second that. How come Shakespeare can be rightly considered a titan of world literature, but modern authors implementing the same fantastical elements can only be “fantasy authors”?
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
Piotrek: I’d ask some questions first. My answer would depend on person’s age, interests, favourite non-fantasy books… it might be Hobbit, Harry Potter or one of the Discworld books, or something dark and bloody, like the Black Company series.
Ola: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for all! Well, mostly maybe for mythology/anthropology lovers ;). Tolkien’s Hobbit for those adventurous at heart. And for those young and delighting in creepy, maybe Meggitt-Phillips’s The Beast and the Bethany would be a good place to start, or Roald Dahl’s books, even before Harry Potter.
What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?
Piotrek: Apart from blogs? Tor is the last one I regularly visit…
Ola: Blogs, and sometimes Tor. I do visit magazines websites, but I mostly read SF short stories, rarely fantasy.
Well, this was fun! We’re not tagging anyone but if you’d like to give it a go, be our guest! 😉
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.
Abercrombie’s Red Country is in many aspects a continuation of the First Law Trilogy, the review of which was incidentally one of our first Two-shots. After all, Logen Ninefingers, known in the North as Bloody-Nine, is one of the main protagonists of this bloody fantasy western. And if that comes as a spoiler… Well, it’s on the back of the freaking cover, so we don’t count it as a spoiler – though probably some of the book characters would disagree 😀
In many other aspects, however, it’s as standalone as Abercrombie’s novels go: it takes place in a fundamentally different part of the First Law world, on the very frontier of the Western continent, Far Country. This part of the world is no more peaceful than Angland or Styria: torn by gold fever, hostile encounters with elusive aboriginal people called Ghosts, and inhabited by the shattered dreams of people who ran away from their past, hoping for a new opening, Far Country only seems serene from far away. But its biggest selling point, especially for the Lamb, was the pronounced lack of Bayaz.
Piotrek: Two armies march to battle. Black Dow’s Northmen and three divisions of Lord Marshal Kroy’s Union soldiers. They meet and fight for three days, and 500 pages, upon a river, next to a small town of Osrung and a famous hill called The Heroes.
For a teenage me that would be the good parts distilled. Like what the little boy wanted to hear from his grandpa instead of all the talking and kissing and other boring stuff.
Oh no, no it isn’t. It’s a fighting book. But not about glorious adventures of dashing heroes. It’s about the blood and piss and human stupidity. With very little magic it’s basically a detailed depiction of a fictional battle between Vikings and an early Renaissance army getting medieval on each other.
Ola: Very much a fighting book; nothing less and nothing more. And it’s not even about a whole war, just about one, maybe not even the most important incident, of this war. It’s Abercrombie at his best, reveling in gore and misery, depicting the primitive, intimate and brutal human fighting in all its terrible glory.