A Review of ‘A Little Hatred’
Contemporary fantasy literature is dominated by a singular notion: Grit.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good battle sequence, real-world characters, and dialogue that uses big-kid swear words as much as the next reader. But after a while the same tropes and trends can wear a reader down, making nuanced worlds feel tiresome and fresh, interesting characters appear bland.
Then, just in time, along comes Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred to save the day.
On the surface, it appears to be an adventure story not unlike its contemporaries; a huge cast of rich characters, a fantastical geopolitical landscape fraught with secret councils and private interests, magic, and mayhem all play key roles throughout the book. However, unlike other fantasy novels, all of these components are presented with Abercrombie’s unique wit and precise prose, resulting in a truly masterful work.
And best of all, this is only the first part of the trilogy.
First, A Brief Introduction
Rather than reveal too much too soon, here’s a quick glance at what to expect, from A Little Hatred — free of spoilers.
The novel revolves seamlessly between a hard-fought conflict on the border between the Union and the North, the growing unease this very conflict inspires in the capital city, Adua, the economic exploits of Lady Savine dan Glokta and their consequences, as well as the quickly deteriorating conditions in Valbeck, the Union’s foremost industrial city.
Much like George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, readers are given glimpses into principle, as well as tertiary (and even quaternary), characters’ perspectives, hardships, successes, and defeats, while these events progress.
Thus, the novel unfolds as if it were historical fiction. The incidents themselves take on importance from the characters living through them. History — even speculative, fictional history — doesn’t happen to only one individual or group, but to everyone. Abercrombie displays a firm understanding of this very notion, and his expansive cast of characters, and by extension his narrative, are all the more compelling for it.
Late to the Party? Have No Fear
This was my first acquaintance with Joe Abercrombie’s work. As a newcomer to an established, well-loved world I anticipated a good bit of legwork on my end in order to fully appreciate the intricacies of the narrative and the motivations of the characters who inhabit it.
I was pleasantly wrong.
While new works in established series’ can sometimes prove difficult, even impenetrable to new readers, A Little Hatred is just the opposite. Abercrombie is an expert storyteller, introducing his characters at just the right times, elaborating on crucial historical moments at all the right beats. He pays close attention to the pace at which the story moves, making sure not to let the reins go too slack in his hands, never once letting the plot get away from him and fly off on an unnecessary tangent.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Abercrombie demonstrates a keen command of narrative distance, meaning he draws his audience impossibly close to the action, as well as pulls them away as needed, and he does so with an economy of language that is neither too sparse nor loquacious.
His is a style that’s simultaneously entrancing to longtime readers, inviting to new ones, and offers a great deal for writers — practiced and beginners alike — to learn from.
The Final Word
While most of what I affectionately call ‘hardboiled’ fantasy novels attempt to distinguish themselves, either through archaic syntax, overly complex magic systems, or character aesthetics that border on obnoxious, A Little Hatred takes a very different track.
Rather than strive to separate itself from other works of fantasy, Joe Abercrombie’s work embellishes its own grit.
Instead of pushing to differentiate itself from the themes and aesthetics that have proven so popular this last decade and a half, A Little Hatred leans into them in all the right ways, supplants gore with crafted characters, replaces pointlessly explicit dialogue with meaningful (still explicit) discourse, and exchanges needlessly complicated magic systems with the familiar, all-too-real motivations of greed, lust, and, most pervasive, hatred.
The first installment in the Age of Madness trilogy, A Little Hatred will keep you reading late into the night, and anxious for what’s to come.
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