Review: The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

The Trouble with Peace marks the ninth installment in the First Law world as envisioned and scripted by the self-proclaimed Lord Grimdark, Joe Abercrombie.  I know it’s nine books because I have just completed a wonderful journey for the last 12 months reading through all the currently published books with my now 15-year-old son, Josh.  In fact, I read all the books out loud to him, averaging around 10-15 pages most days at about 3-4 minutes per page.  Reading one book immediately after the one before created a wonderful larger narrative of nearly 4,500 pages, and allowed us to experience these tales together in a satisfying story arc full of rich characters and a completely developed world.

Before I go any farther, if you are reading this and considering The Trouble with Peace as your next book to read, please STOP.  While I will spend the rest of this review trying to convincing you to pick up this grimy gem, I suggest that you first make sure to read all eight of the books that came before it.  There is just way too much history that would be missed, way too much perspective missed with the depth of characters, and the current tome will not be nearly as satisfying.  So, it would seem, I’m trying to sell you nine books, not just this one.

Before moving into the details on The Trouble with Peace, Josh and I both place this book (and A Little Hatred, the first volume in The Age of Madness trilogy) just behind the three books in The First Law trilogy.  Honestly, The First Law books take a slight edge because of the prominence of Glokta and Logen in those books, two of our all-time favorite characters.  While Glokta was again in this book, he is portrayed as only a fraction of the ruthless, heartless, vicious monster as he was before.  He is still great, but the charisma is diminished.

The Trouble with Peace picks up largely where A Little Hatred ended.  There isn’t exactly peace, or even a true cease-fire, it’s more like the losers are licking their wounds and plotting their next moves.  Before long, unlikely alliances are brokered, and dissent is fueled to a frenzy.  King Orso, who only recently was given the crown, and who is still dealing with a rejected marriage proposal, and who has lived a life absent of effort or cares, is dead center in the sights of those who mean to overthrow him.  While much of their hostility is truly birthed out of a system that elevates the wealthy, the nobility and the powerful while oppressing the masses, more notably as influenced by the members of the corrupt Councils, he is nevertheless the representative and the target for their anger.

Written into this struggle is a form of commentary to the greater struggle that humanity faces in our modern day.  We still face corrupt politicians, as well as rampant issues of inequality and prejudice.  When we see how this book handles topics like politics and worker’s rights, they come across as believable because they have a familiarity to them.  All of this follows a seemingly natural progression where injustice leads to debate and a sense of helplessness which escalates through private backroom deals and eventually can boil over into war.  Every aspect of his world is diverse and expansively realized, far beyond socio-economic, geographic, ethnic and more, clearly showing a meticulous attention to detail.

These books, in our opinion, stand out because of the superbly crafted characters.  Josh was even telling me, moments after finishing this book, how well written many of the characters are, such that he can practically picture them in his mind.  He is already inspired to create some drawings based on those whose bodies have been more disfigured.  Beyond just visually, the characters are so well portrayed as constantly wrestling with choices between bad and worse, between black and dark grey, and despite the probable unfortunate circumstances.  Even more impressive is that all their choices fit who we have come to understand them to be.  “Of course Savine would do that.”  “That’s classic Shivers, right there.”

Many will point to the action in this book as its strength, and they will comment about the massive conflict that is inevitable given the posturing and positioning, not to mention the furor that is barely restrained.  Abercrombie does not hold back in the mayhem and carnage, and the scale of the conflict here is equal to his previous offerings.  All his works feel like a secret game of cat and mouse, in which the powerful use the hoi polloi as pawns, and this one is no different.  They also feature plot twists aplenty, and we see it again here.  While most of this book is not surprising, the last 20 pages sure are. 

Suffice it to say that we are eagerly looking forward to the conclusion in The Wisdom of Crowds in 2021.  If you love other Joe Abercrombie books, you will probably love this one too.  It is as good as we hoped it would be.  No actually, it was better.  5 stars!!!

Review: Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M. Nair

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There is a bit of a risk whenever I read a debut novel, especially one without many reviews from others I know. There is even more risk when it seems the author is relying, at least in part, with the element of humor, given its subjective nature. I don’t often take that risk, but something in my gut told me to give Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire a chance. I am glad I did.

I will admit that at first my opinion was mixed. Of the two main characters, I liked Michael a lot, but I could not stand Stephanie. Michael is an Everyman in a meaningless job and with a somewhat worn-down-by-life personality. (Certainly days when I feel that way.) Stephanie is his lazy roommate who basically contributes nothing to the financial support or upkeep of their apartment. I cringed at Michael’s growing frustration at her unwillingness to help, and a parent leeching off of his long-term friendship. Everything about Stephanie made my blood boil.

This odd couple finds themselves, through very unusual circumstances, being called on to offer help as detectives. What ensues is a bizarre sequence of events. Wait. “Bizarre” doesn’t even come close to how off-the-wall, nuts it becomes.

My son and I have a running joke about Cartoon Network’s Regular Show. Almost without fail, at one point in the episode, things become crazy, or as we say: “And then it got weird.” THAT is the middle half of this book. There is inter-dimensional time travel where they encounter outlandish creatures and characters. Seriously, there are no words …

Through it all, everything about the book feels like it’s about to fly off the tracks at any moment, but hangs in that tension. The thin threads that hold it tenuously in place are the yin-yang nature of the Michael-Stephanie relationship, and the witty, snarky comments by them and those they encounter.

And then.

At about three-quarters of the way into the book, it all started to come together, and I was stunned. The plot, which had seemed so random, instantly made sense in a very satisfying way. Also, Stephanie was no longer (in my mind) an entitled brat. She became something much better, and I now adore her so much. Ultimately, I was not expecting how this would became such an emotionally gripping book.

By the end of the book, I was speechless. And now, writing this review about 4+ months after putting the book down, my opinion of it has only grown. For some books, I almost forget them as soon as I close the book on the last page and pick up the next. In contrast, this book has refused to go away. In fact, initially I gave it a 4 stars, but I am doing a re-count and bumping it to a 4.5 stars.

This is one of the biggest surprises I have read in quite some time. Highly recommended, and well worth the risk!

I received a copy of this book from the author. (Thanks again! My review is not influenced by his generosity.)

Review: Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward

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Legacy of Ash is an ambitious debut fantasy novel from Matthew Ward, and it is certainly epic in scale.  Without a doubt this book will appeal to those who love to linger in their books, letting the story marinate for its nearly 800 pages.

The synopsis singles out 3 main characters – Viktor Akadra, Josiri Trelan, and Calenne Trelan – but there is easily another dozen who share a lot of the spotlight in this story.  While there were some clear standouts, unfortunately I struggled at times to track with a number of the others.  I think part of the problem was that some of the names were too similar (such as Akadra / Ashana / Apara / Sidara).  Another issue was that the way names were given was inconsistent.  For example, Revekah Halvor was rarely mentioned with both Revehah and Halvor together, and would flip between Revekah in one scene and Halvor in another, making it a challenge at times to keep all names straight.  Fortunately, the book came with a Dramatis Personae which listed all main characters, but I found myself needing to refer back to the list too many times for my liking.  This made it hard to get into the book for the first 200 pages or so, but I am so glad I stuck with it.

I believe this book shines brightest with its intricate plot.  Aside from some of the issues I had with character recognition, the story that unfolds is well worth the investment.  Its always difficult in a review to explain what makes a plot so well-crafted without spoilers, and this is no exception.  Suffice it to say that there are layers of deception and betrayal, often culminating after a few decades of scheming and political posturing.  Make no mistake, these is a war going on, and it is much more than a few families feuding with each other.

Another strength of this book is the tension between good and evil, not to mention those who find themselves in the middle.  There are a few truly despicable people, others who are faced with moral struggles, and a constant shifting of alliances, changing misconceptions, and all with dire consequences.  Additionally, one of the other more compelling aspects of the book is that more than one significant character is killed, giving a heightened sense of suspense and intensity.

Despite a few minor squabbles, this is a solid introduction to new fantasy series that is likely to leave fans eager to pick up book 2.  I recommend this debut novel and give it a 4.3 out of 5 stars.

(Thank you to Angela Mann and Orbit for the advanced copy.  My review is based on my honest opinion and is not influenced by their generosity.)