A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie — Book Review
‘People can be tough, survive so much hunger and cold and disappointment, take beatings you wouldn’t believe and come out stronger. But they can be so fragile, too. One sharp piece of metal is all it takes to turn a man into mud. One little stroke of bad luck. One ill-judged whisper.’
By the dead, Abercrombie is back and he’s brought a bucketful of hatred with him! This time around we are given a fantastic blend of historical fiction and fantasy, as A Little Hatred methodically depicts life during times akin to the industrial and French Revolution. Life has never been easy in the First Law world, but now the effects of progress and profit have detrimental consequences to those who are used to a more simple way of life. In true Abercrombie fashion violence is coupled with humour, wealth contends with poverty, bloodshed is juxtaposed with tender moments, and the lines between good and evil are never quite defined.
The world has entered a new era. Gone are the days of honest farming and making enough money to merely live by; here comes a future filled with machinery, a glorious future, a future where commerce means wealth and luxury – but in turn breeds bitterness. So, where does that leave our characters? What happens when the poor and downtrodden are pushed to their final limit? Well, that’s exactly what A Little Hatred is all about. At its heart this book is a brilliant reflection on just how much the poor suffered and just how much the nobility didn’t care. A soldier can return from years of fighting for their country only to discover their livelihood is lost and their family are starving. A child chimney sweeper can burn to death and no one bats an eyelid. As long as there is money to be made, who cares about decency? These are the times our characters live in – you either get ahead, or you get left behind. Fear not though, the ‘Great Change’ may be upon us, but Abercrombie’s deliciously addictive storytelling remains the same.
What makes a story addictive for me? One aspect is when we can see the perspective of events from all angles. Throughout the book we see politics, power and gritty warfare played out from both sides of the rich and poor coin – say one thing for Abercrombie, say he always gives the reader a panoramic view. For example during the scene of the riots, we jump from various POVs to show how the violence and gory bloodshed affected the labourers, the nobility, the young and the old alike. We are shown that throughout times of upheaval no one is right or wrong, no one is left unscathed, and no one comes out of it unchanged.
This book is so embedded with the First Law trilogy and in particular with the standalone novels The Heroes and Red Country, that I must say you really shouldn’t read this unless you have read the previous six books. There is a myriad of characters and events which are interconnected with the past, it is a pure delight to truly understand those relations. Much like John Gwynne’s A Time of Courage, this book too brings much nostalgia to the table, but it is, simply put, an excellent continuation. Old characters return to reprise their roles and help set the way for new ones, and I particularly loved that there was much hero-worshipping for the old legendary warriors of the North. As much as the story is about progress for the future, it is also a look at the past, at the glory of days gone by.
A Little Hatred holds a large cast of key players, and I’m not going to delve into many of their narratives because I’m likely to give spoilers. So I will only mention a few. From the very beginning in The Blade Itself, I have adored characters from the North, and this book was no exception. Rikke, with her parentage that I cannot reveal for spoilers, immediately stole my heart. Her wild ways and her relationship with Isern-i-Phail was the source of much entertainment. To my surprise, I struggled to become attached to Savine’s character. I thought I would instantly be captivated by her given her parentage, but her ruthless business woman persona put me off. However, I did very much enjoy her reflection on being a woman in a man’s world and the way she manipulated everyone to suit her needs! Then there was Leo, the Young Lion, and Crown Prince Orso, our two horny heroes! Once again we are treated to spectacularly humorous and deeply flawed characters.
‘Attacking the city with an army would be like eating peas with a sword,’ he said. ‘Messy, frustrating and you’ve a good chance of stabbing yourself in the face. We need to be measured. Calm. The firm but necessary hand of authority. We need to be grown-ups.’
This is the beauty of Abercrombie’s writing, the way he dissects humanity down to their very core is where he shines the brightest. He has always been an author who creates characters that reflect a more cynical view on life, but I felt in A Little Hatred he takes that to whole new heights. Human flaws are laid right before us – selfishness, self-doubt, stubbornness, deceitfulness, fear, anger, greed – Abercrombie sprinkles every single character with traits that we could very well find in ourselves. However, he portrays caricatures of our baser instincts, the sort we can be capable of if we chose to live that way, if we abandoned morals and reason. That is why many of his characters are so damn compelling, we chuckle along (or in my case burst out laughing), we understand the dark humour, because they unapologetically reflect us at our very worst. Yet we too see a glimmer of tenderness from many of them, because, in our hearts, humans are also most moved by love.
So there it is, A Little Hatred is a story filled with Abercrombie’s trademark morally grey characters, his subtle magic, and his humour to delight your dark soul. This is Abercrombie at his most devilish.
‘When you feel the Great Leveller’s shadow cold on your back, it’s not your hopes you come back to, but your regret.’