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!!!