Sometimes you get sent a book written by one of the people whose work you do your best not to rip off. I was sent an advanced reader copy by Gollancz. Here’s what I thought.
For an author, the problem with reading the books of another author whom you kind of grew up on, is that (a) you’re really worried about whether their work will stand up, like when you try and watch The Princess Bride with someone who has never seen it before and really hope they’ll like it, and (b) if you’re writing anything of your own at the time, you have to be really careful that your characters don’t mysteriously start sounding like Abercrombie’s. As a writer one can’t help but absorb what you’re taking in. You have to be realistic about these things.
The strength of Abercrombie’s writing has always been in the depth and realisation of the characters. Those who’ve followed The First Law since its beginnings will be well aware that every key view point character is immediately recognisable. This is a really deep part of the storytelling, but when you think back on these memorable players, you know what they look like physically, how they would react to any given stimuli, even how they talk. These characters live and breathe on the page. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that they aren’t actually memoirs.
Them Abercrombie Characters
A Little Hatred serves up quite a lot of new characters, and every character in this book stands out as clearly as a blade in the neck. Abercrombie pulls his familiar trick, of showing us the characters in their proto-form – which one could be mistaken for thinking of as one dimensional – before slowly fleshing them out. The denial, the self-loathing, the lack of self awareness, all those awful, negative, and frighteningly real feelings we all have in our moments of self-doubt come creeping in and twist your understanding of who these people are, and what they do. What’s particularly surprising is the way that you can start off enjoying the characters, while rather hoping that they get what they deserve, to really feeling for them – even a character as corrupted and morally bankrupt as Savine.
I don’t want to spoil the reveals of the familiar faces as they pop up through the book, but it’s a credit to this novel that while we get to say “Hi” to some of the old favourites, they are not running the show. A Little Hatred is a book about a new generation and they get to show their own lives, their own troubles, and yes of course all that good stuff sending people to the mud, torture, bad sex and what not.
In the Mud
There is a lot of shagging in this one, and since I’m pretty much sure you’ve read Abercrombie before, you’re likely also familiar with bad morning breath, trousers getting tangled up and so on. I like a good dose of romance in my reading, but I’m not exactly sure that this is dates and flowers. But then, what does one expect?
I particularly also enjoy how we’re constantly reminded and informed by all of the jaded, world-weary characters about how stabbing people in the back is the best option, and how violence never solves anything, and that nothing was ever achieved with a sword blah blah and we readers nod along feeling all smug because yeah, tell it like it is man! And then we get into the Circle and we’re baying for blood just like every Northerner and secretly hoping that someone’s going to earn their Name.
A winding road
One of the curiosities about this novel however is that this is the kind of novel that you can only write when you’re already a megastar in the fantasy literature world. There’s not really an actual single plot running through the narrative. We see a lot of characters, and they all have their adventures, and while towards the end of the book they get tied together, when I turned the last page I still wasn’t entirely sure what the book is about. The stability of the Union, maybe? Although we’re never really asked to care about it. It’s more like a waltz through the First Law world, taking in a little here, a little there, and watching glorious characters make a huge mess of everything.
Of course, I’m pretty sure that there’s a current of narrative that runs beneath it all, especially as Abercrombie has finished all three installments before releasing the first. It’s testament to the depth and strength of the characters in this story that I’m already pretty keen to get my hands on the next one, even if I couldn’t actually tell you what the story is actually about. And maybe that’s kind of the point. Life rarely has squared off endings. Maybe not all stories need them too.
There are some really interesting themes running through A Little Hatred. I was at times reminded of the Levellers and other reformation groups in the 17th century (not the indie folk band). Questions about division of wealth remain suitably muddy throughout. Perhaps one of my highlights was when Rikke picks up what is essentially a copy of The Daily Mail, or the reflection of Brexiteer attitudes from the mouth of one of the principal cast. There’s some interesting feelings for the reader as they see some of the rich made poor, some of the poor made rich, and how we feel about it in each case.
Overall, A Little Hatred shows Abercrombie at his blood-and-dirt best. Characters that come to life on the page, bloody showdowns in the Circle, backstabbing, intrigue, loving and hating and dying all rolled into one infinitely digestible package. You will love to hate and then hate to love these people, characters who are once flawed and perfect. With A Little Hatred, Abercrombie proves that he’s still the one to beat.
A Little Hatred is due for publication on 17th September 2019 by Gollancz.
I got sent a free copy because I asked Gollancz to send me one.