Publisher: Orion Audio (Audiobook – 15 September 2020)
Series: The Age of Madness – Book Two
Length: 21 hours and 56 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The master of dark fantasy fiction, Joe Abercrombie, returns with another masterful and incredible novel, The Trouble with Peace, the second entry in The Age of Madness trilogy, which is easily one of the best novels of 2020.
Abercrombie is an extremely talented author who has written several impressive dark fantasy novels over the years. His most distinctive works are the books in The First Law universe, which started back in 2006 with the author’s debut novel, The Blade Itself. The First Law trilogy (which I really need to review) was an amazing and captivating series that followed a motley collection of broken characters and bastards as they found themselves caught up in the chaos of a dark and brutal fantasy universe. The author has revisited this universe several times, first with three standalone novels set after the events of The First Law trilogy, and then with The Age of Madness trilogy, of which this latest book is a part. The Age of Madness novels serve as a sequel series to The First Law trilogy, and follow several of the children of the original protagonists (as well as some other new characters), as they engage in a whole new level of chaos and destruction. The first entry in this trilogy, last year’s A Little Hatred, was an exceptional novel that not only got a full five-star rating from me but which was one of my favourite books (and audiobooks) of 2019. As a result, I was extremely excited when I got my copy of The Trouble with Peace, and it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020.
The age of madness rolls on! Following the death of his father, Crown Prince Orso has taken the throne of the Union and is now king, a role he never wanted. What he inherits is a nation riven with discord and disharmony, with enemies within and without waiting to cut him down and take power for themselves. Forced to deal with the machinations of the lords of the Open Council, the revolutionary Breakers, the anarchist Burners and the rival Kingdom of Styrians attempting to take his kingdom from him piece by piece, Orso soon begins to learn that even as king, he is just as powerless as always.
As chaos begins to descend on the Union and the North, the great and the powerful attempt to find their place in the new world order. For Savine dan Glokta, formerly Adua’s most powerful investor, she finds herself in a vulnerable position with her judgement and reputation ruined. However, her ambition remains unchecked and an unlikely alliance may help to secure the future she has always desired. In the North, peace temporarily reigns and the governor of Angland, Leo dan Brock, chafes at the lack of action and finds himself drawn into the political turmoil surrounding the rulership of The Union. As a famous war hero, he now wields great influence in the Open Council and many seek to use him for their own ends. This chaos leads to him making deals he never expected, including with his former enemy, the new King of the Northmen, Stour Nightfall. At the same time, the Dogman’s daughter, Rikke, attempts to control her dangerous gift of prophecy and heads along a new path of blood and violence.
As order and peace unravel across the Union, discord and rebellion raise their ugly heads. With the old leaders of the world dead and the new generation taking their place, war seems inevitable. Those who remain must decide who they are loyal to and who they can trust. However, no alliances, no peace and no friendships last forever, and when the dust settles the Union will be changed forever!
Well damn, that was a good read!! The Trouble with Peace is another exceptional and captivating novel that takes the reader on a dark thrill ride that proves impossible to escape. The author once again comes up with an impressive and clever story of war and betrayal, which is anchored by a series of complex point-of-view characters, each of whom is damaged in some unique and compelling manner. This results in a truly incredible book that was an absolute joy to read and which I flew through in a relatively short period of time. I absolutely loved this latest book from Abercrombie, and The Trouble with Peace gets an easy five-star rating from me as a result.
At the centre of this awesome novel is an extraordinary and fast-paced narrative that sees various diverse characters and factions attempt to manipulate and outwit each other in order to gain ultimate power in the world. The plot of The Trouble with Peace continues immediately after the shocking conclusion of A Little Hatred and sees each of the characters introduced in the previous book continue along their established storylines. Of course, as this is a The First Law novel, it really does not take long for events to take a downward turn and soon the characters find themselves on opposite sides of a growing, major conflict. There is a real focus on political intrigue, personal relationships and revolution in this novel, all of which proves to be deeply captivating and a lot of fun to read. On top of that, Abercrombie throws in his usual blend of high-adrenaline action, extreme humour and wild personalities, resulting in an impressive and addictive story that readers will lap up and try to finish off as soon as possible. Abercrombie does a great job of making this story accessible to new readers and those people unfamiliar with the universe could easily jump in here and have a great time. However, this is definitely a novel for those readers familiar with the other entries in The First Law series, especially the preceding novel, A Little Hatred, and fans of the series will love the clever directions Abercrombie goes in The Trouble with Peace. This is a first-class story, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Abercrombie backs up this amazing narrative with a powerful and distinct writing style that helps to turn The Trouble with Peace into a first-class read. Like all the novels in The First Law series, The Trouble with Peace is told from some different and unique perspectives, as several captivating characters show the events of the novel occurring in front of them. This results in an impressive and far-reaching story as the reader gets to see a bunch of different points of the same story. This allows you to witness the various political, tactical and personal manoeuvrings on each side of the conflict, enhancing the overall narrative and driving certain key plot points home. Abercrombie uses these multiple perspectives to great effect throughout the novel and some of the best sequences in the book are the result of some quick changes of perspective. This includes an amazing succession of scenes in which two rival characters are disguised in a casino and have subsequent meetings with the same person in quick succession. It proved remarkably entertaining to see the different approaches both characters took to the same situation, and served to highlight the similarities and differences between them. Other scenes showed how the major point-of-view characters deal with each other when they meet, and it was fun to see the various mental gambits from both sides of the conflict, especially as Abercrombie ensures that all these characters are competing to be the most manipulative person in the room. There are also two extended sequences where a single event is witnessed not only by a main character but also by a series of side characters and minor one-off characters to really showcase the chaotic nature of some scenes and the wide range of people they impact. The use of various perspectives also really helps to set the brutal and dark tone for the entire novel, as the characters they follow are usually right in the centre of a series of different messes that they are either the cause of or they are trying to avoid. I also really enjoyed the unique outlooks of each character as their fun reactions to the outrageous events occurring around them provide a great deal of the book’s impressive and entertaining humour.
As with all of Abercrombie’s books, the true highlight of The Trouble with Peace is easily the fantastic selection of damaged and deranged characters that make up the main cast of the series. Like the first entry in The Age of Madness trilogy, The Trouble with Peace is primarily told throughout the eyes of seven separate point-of-view characters, each of whom has their own unique and captivating character through the novel. These characters include:
- King Orso – son of King Jezal, who has taken the throne after the sudden death of his father. Orso has inherited a fractured kingdom, essentially made up of people who all hate him. Orso has a lot of growing up to do in this novel as he soon discovers all the troubles that relate to being king and the limited power he truly has. I really liked Orso’s storyline in this book, mainly because he comes into his own and starts to demonstrate some backbone and leadership abilities. His unique way of dealing with problems, many of which relate to his background as a wastrel and a coward, are surprisingly effective and often very entertaining. Orso proves to be a very enjoyable protagonist throughout this book, and I personally found myself really getting behind him and hoping that he comes out on top.
- Savine dan Glokta – the adoptive daughter of Arch Lector Glokta and the foremost businesswomen in the Union. Savine has gone through some substantial changes since the last book. Rather than the confident and crafty women we were introduced to, this Savine is a mess, still reeling from the horrors she experienced in Valbeck and the revelation that her former lover, Orso, is her half-brother. However, Savine soon manages to find a way back on top, thanks to a profitable marriage, and sets her sights on a particularly tempting target. Savine is a rather despicable character in this book, and the readers are going to have a hard time feeling too sympathetic for her. Still, Abercrombie does an amazing job exploring her trauma damaged psyche and she ends up being a very compelling character to follow.
- Leo dan Brock – the new governor of Angland and the son of two of the protagonists of the standalone novel, The Heroes. After securing the North and bringing Stour Nightfall to heel, Leo has gained much influence and celebrity in the Union. However, even after the events of the first book, Leo is still as hot-headed as ever and finds himself easily led into a number of conflicts. Despite his apparent heroism and charisma, Leo is a very hard character to like, mainly due to how stupid he is. Essentially anyone with half a brain can manipulate him in some way, and it becomes quite tiring to see him do something stupid and destructive merely because he has been told it is the noble thing to do. Despite this, Leo forms a very fascinating counter point to his rival, Orso, as Leo has many of the things that Orso desires, such as heroism, martial prowess and the love of the people. I also quite enjoyed the author’s exploration of Leo’s sexuality and love interests, and I look forward to seeing how that progresses in future books.
- Rikke – a Northern girl and the daughter of The First Law trilogy point-of-view character the Dogman. Rikke is a troubled waif who is regretting her decision to force open her Long Eye in order to increase her prophetic abilities. Rikke has to make some hard choices in this novel, but her eventual storyline sees her take up a leadership role in the North that sees her face off against the vicious new king of the Northmen, Stour Nightfall. Rikke is another character that really comes into her own in this book, as she is forced to grow up quick and do hard things to survive. There are some interesting story elements involved with this character, especially thanks to her magical Long Eye, which allows her to see into the future, and which also results in some very trippy chapters shown from her perspective. I really enjoyed Rikke’s storyline and character arc through this book, and there are some excellent scenes that show just how devious she has become.
- Vick dan Teufel – a Union inquisitor who works for Arch Lector Glokta and is loyal only to him. Vic spends a good part of the book working throughout the Union and attempting to identify the King’s enemies, as well as trying to find out who is behind the Breakers and the Burners. Vick is a really interesting character and I like how much of her storyline seems to mimic Glokta’s from the original trilogy. For example, in The Trouble with Peace, she is sent to a far-off Union city and must find a way to hold it against a rival kingdom. However, she soon starts to discover the truth about who really runs the Union and the extent of their power. Vick is a great character to follow, especially as her chapters tend to focus on the hidden political intrigue and manipulation that infests the Union. Abercrombie also spends a bit of time continuing to explore the traumatic childhood of Vick, and it was interesting to see how her damaged and dangerous personality came to be.
- Gunnar Broad – a former Union soldier with a perchance for extreme violence. After the events of Valbeck, Gunnar, a former breaker, now finds himself in the employ of Savine, and works as her brutal enforcer. Gunnar is another fascinating character, who attempts to escape from the violence that he has known his entire life. However, this is easier said than done, and his chapters feature some fantastic examination of self and philosophical thoughts on personality and the events of the past.
- Jonas Clover – an old and experienced Northern warrior who works as an advisor for Stour Nightfall. Clover, who remains my absolute favourite character in this new trilogy, is an exceedingly entertaining person, thanks to his unique sense of humour and jaded personality. Clover really stands out as a character, mainly because he is so different to the other Northern characters in the book. While most of the people he surrounds himself with are eager for combat or glory, Clover is the only one extolling the virtues of patience and self-restraint, much to the other character’s annoyance. However, he is usually right, and he has developed a habit of surviving as a result. I really love this character, especially because he has some of the best lines and insults in the entire book. It was really entertaining to see him work under the brash and arrogant Stour Nightfall, as Clover is constantly forced to try and reign in his new king, with little effect. Despite not being used as much as I would have liked, Clover is still a standout character in this novel, and he has some very memorable moments as a result.
I really enjoyed all these excellent character arcs, and I thought that each of them was incredible and enjoyable in their own rights. However, thanks to how the narrative progressed, many of these character arcs crossed over a lot more than in the previous novel, and you get to see the various storylines proceed side-by-side as a result. Because of how they were connected, Orso, Savine and Leo tended to get the most focus throughout the book, and some of the other point-of-view characters (Vic, Broad and Clover in particular), did not get as many chapters told from their perspective. While I would have loved more scenes from some of the other characters (more Clover would have been awesome), I felt that this was a good character balance and I liked how the various arcs progressed. All the character arcs worked together exceedingly well, and I really liked how together they formed an exceptional and addictive plot. The protagonists of The Trouble with Peace go through a lot in this book, and I enjoyed seeing how each of them progressed through their latest trials and dangers. I look forward to seeing what happens to them in the final book of the trilogy and I imagine some dark things are in store for most of them.
In addition to all the outstanding and complex main characters, Abercrombie also has a great swathe of supporting characters throughout the novel and are extremely entertaining or memorable in their own right (I was a particular fan of the wild hillwomen, Isern-i-Phail). Abercrombie does an excellent job building these characters up through the course of the book, and there are some amazing and entertaining personalities featured as a result. However, readers should be extremely cautious about getting too attached to some of these characters, as their life expectancy is a little less certain than the main cast. The Trouble with Peace also saw the return of several characters featured in the original The First Law books, including a couple of former point-of-view characters. It was great to see how their stories continued years after the heydays of their adventures, and it adds an interesting aspect to the novel. Fans of the original trilogy will no doubt enjoy seeing these characters return but should prepare to have their hearts broken. I really liked the various storylines associated with these characters, and I was also impressed by several twists Abercrombie threw in around them, including one particularly good twist about who the ultimate antagonist of this latest trilogy really is. Several of the scenes that utilise a ton of separate perspectives to show a single event are often briefly shown from the perspective of some of these side characters, as well as a few additional minor characters who only appear for that scene. The author really makes the most of these scenes, introducing the character and setting up their personality and history in short order, and then showing how that event affects them (usually in a terribly negative way).
The awesome and exciting action sequences really helped to enhance The Trouble with Peace. Abercrombie’s books have always featured some brutal and graphic fights and examples of combat, and this latest book is no exception. There are some very impressive fight sequences in The Trouble with Peace, and the reader is always guaranteed of some action just around the corner. I really do have to highlight one particularly massive and well-done war sequence that occurs in the latter half of the book. This battle is the culmination of much of the novel’s plot and has a lot of build up as a result. Luckily, it did not disappoint in any way, as the reader is treated to a series of powerful sequences that really drag them into the midst of the fight. Thanks to Abercrombie’s excellent writing, the reader gets an incredible sense of the chaos, the fear and the claustrophobic horrors of a battle. I really got sucked into this major fight, especially as the author makes good use of multiple perspectives to showcase just how bad it could be in the midst of the fighting, and how destruction, death and despair can infect anyone on the battlefield. These action scenes are exceptionally written and extremely memorable, and all I can really say is thank goodness pikes are no longer used in war.
In addition to the outstanding story, characters and action sequences, I was also quite impressed with the new elements introduced into the series’ dark fantasy world. While part of The Trouble with Peace is set in the brutal North, most of the plot takes place in the Union, which has gone through some dark times recently. This version of the Union is extremely different to the setting that was featured in The First Law trilogy, with a recent industrial revolution bringing both progress and problems, as the land moves away from agriculture to factories. I really appreciate how Abercrombie has altered his primary fantasy nation since the last trilogy, and his portrayal of an early industrial nation which is on the brink of various revolutions proves to be an awesome setting for this brutal and creative novel. The author really explores the essence and heart of the Union in this book, and there is a particular deep dive into the politics and social economics of the nation as a result. I had a lot of fun seeing how the Union falls into war, and a lot of the elements are set up extremely well during this book and the preceding novel. The resulting conflict has a real English Civil War feel to it at times, with the parliament-like Open Council facing off against the forces of the Crown. All of this works extremely well as a setting, and I had an amazing time once again visiting this chaotic and dangerous fantasy world.
While I did receive a physical copy of The Trouble with Peace, I ended up listening to the excellent audiobook version which was narrated by Steven Pacey. Pacey is a talented audiobook narrator who has lent his voice to all the previous The First Law novels. Pacey does an outstanding job narrating this audiobook and the amazing story clips along at a substantial pace thanks to him. The narrator also has an impressive repertoire of cool voices for the various characters featured in this book and he even utilises some of the voices of the returning characters from the original novels. Each of these voices is distinctive and fits its respective character perfectly, which in turn enhances the book’s writing and helps to showcase the character’s personality. All of this results in an enjoyable and deeply addictive listen and I can already tell you that The Trouble with Peace is going to be one of my top audiobooks for 2020. Listeners should be aware that this is a substantial audiobook, which has a run time of just under 22 hours (it just cracks my top 20 longest audiobooks list). However, I would say that it is worth the time investment to check this amazing book out in this format and listeners are guaranteed a superb listen.
Joe Abercrombie continues to cement his position as one of the best modern fantasy authors in the world today with the awesome second novel in his Age of Madness trilogy, The Trouble with Peace. Serving as the latest instalment in the overarching The First Law series, The Trouble with Peace is a captivating and impressive novel, containing an outstanding plot, memorable multi-layered characters and intense action, all set in one of the best dark fantasy worlds in modern fiction. The Trouble with Peace is one of the best novels of 2020 and I am so glad that I got the opportunity to read it. Abercrombie has really knocked it out of the park again and I cannot wait to check out the final book in the trilogy next year (currently titled The Wisdom of Crowds). You will love this book!