Joe Abercrombie: The Trouble with Peace – Book Review

Joe Abercrombie: The Trouble with Peace - Book Cover

What can happen in a monumental fantasy series after the supreme mage deals with everyone as he pleases? (Raymond E. Feist could tell you about this in connection with the Riftwar Cycle books.) However, Lord Bayaz doesn’t really have any opponents left on the horizon. Joe Abercrombie decided to sideline Bayaz and continue the adventure in the First Law world with The Age of Madness trilogy, introducing many new and old characters, advancing the history of the Union in a tableau-like manner, now also welcoming the industrial revolution alongside magic, spewing smoke and fire.

The second part of the trilogy, “The Trouble with Peace”, seemingly follows the same recipe as the first. The characters engage in conflicts of local significance, and nothing earth-shattering really happens. A rebellion raises its head here and there, and the strong men of The North, as usual, make trouble, but they always do that. (Let’s add that without this tough and wild masculinity, Abercrombie’s series probably wouldn’t work so well, as mostly only the Union’s bureaucracy and petty political disputes would remain.)

And yet, you find that The Age of Madness is much better to read than all of Abercrombie’s previous books. Perhaps because now the characters from earlier stories, who were often of simple (solely fighting or sulking) nature, come to life. (Except, of course, Caul Shivers, the current most dangerous man in the North. But he’s doing just fine as he is.)

It is said that truly good writers can write about everyday events in a way that makes them seem much more than they are. Well, the viewpoint characters of “The Trouble with Peace” easily accomplish this task. If we consider just the three extremely strong female protagonists of the book (a spy loyal to the point of self-sacrifice, a clairvoyant who regularly poops his pants, and Adua’s ruthless and ambitious businesswoman, who is provided with a tailwind by the Inquisition itself), we see that at least two of them are very difficult to fit into the likable personalities category, yet you eagerly flip through the pages, following their fate with bated breath.

One of the main attractions “of The Trouble with Peace” is exactly this excitement factor. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that was so captivating. But it wasn’t recently, that’s for sure. In at least three instances, I have felt my blood pressure go up PERMANENTLY as I anxiously followed Abercrombie’s characters. (Can a novelist strive for a greater impact than this?)

The First Law series, especially in the earliest parts, wasn’t recognizable for its sophistication. The often burlesque stumbling of the characters took care of that. In contrast, you are amazed to find that the second part of The Age of Madness works almost with character development reminiscent of “Game of Thrones”, even if by the end of the book the two characters who have made the greatest progress in this respect (Savine dan Glokta and the Young Lion) come to only the realization with which every honest person should be familiar by default.

“The Trouble with Peace” is also an excellent anti-war book. In this regard, it’s a worthy counterpart to Sapkowski’s Witcher series. Abercrombie couldn’t deny that the main inspiration for the scenes depicting the absurdity of the clashes, which form a separate unit, was the Polish fantasy writer.

“The Age of Madness Series” is conspicuously lacking one of the main components of Abercrombie’s previous writings, namely the cartoonishly depicted characters. (In which the author could certainly count on the participation of the worthy Corporal Tunny.) There is only one (!) such scene in “The Trouble with Peace”, and compared to the previous ones, it is characterized by its restraint.

And there is no shortage of hostility. The mandatory war is obviously given, but as a new element, almost Godfather-like intrigues and reckonings appear in the book.

In return, the book is sometimes downright witty!

“Enemies are like furniture, aren’t they? Better chosen for oneself than inherited.”

With “The Age of Madness”, Joe Abercrombie has actually brought the Age of Reason. Even the first part of the trilogy was definitely better than his previous works. “The Trouble with Peace” represents another qualitative leap. And as you read, you realize that when you reach the middle of the 700+ page book, you’re clearly regretting that there are only 350 pages left!

8.6/10 (86%)

The Trouble with Peace (The Age of Madness #2) by Joe Abercrombie
506 pages, Hardcover
Published in 2020 by Gollancz

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