September 2020 Archive

Previously, in the Age of Madness…

It has occasionally been pointed out that in a long and complex fantasy series with several points of view, dozens of characters and hundreds of pages, after a 12 month wait between instalments, a little recap might prove useful.  And so, for those who might be about to pick up The Trouble With Peace but could do with a refresher, here’s a précis of the events of A Little Hatred.  Needless to say, spoilers for that book and others in the First Law world will abound….  

It is an age of dizzying changes.  The chimneys of industry sprout over the cities of the Union and old certainties are swept aside.  The nation totters, weakened by three fruitless wars against the Styrians, crippled by disastrous interest on loans from the Banking House of Valint and Balk, and riven by internal feuds.  King Jezal is well-meaning but indecisive, and it is Arch Lector Glokta, ruthless head of his Majesty’s Inquisition, who has truly ruled from his seat on the Closed Council for the past thirty years.  But whether his unofficial reign can long continue remains to be seen.  The aristocrats on the Open Council are restless and, in spite of brutal attempts at suppression, the Breakers and Burners strike increasingly bold blows for the common man, hoping to unleash a Great Change that will turn society upside down . . .

For those at the top, it is an age of progress and opportunity.  Savine dan Glokta, the Arch Lector’s venomously ambitious daughter, has spun a web of favours, partnerships, loans and blackmail across the Union.  With the help of her peerless Lady’s Companion Zuri and her famous engineer friend Honrig Curnsbick, Savine has made herself one of the richest and most envied entrepreneurs in Adua, the exemplar of a new breed of investors and industrialists.

Her secret lover, Crown Prince Orso, son of King Jezal and heir to the throne, is anything but industrious. Crippled by the expectations of the Union’s public and the corruption of the Union’s politics, for ten years he has wasted his talents on wine, women and low company, dodging all responsibility and the constant attempts of his mother, Queen Terez, to find him a wife.

For many at the other end of the social scale, it is an age of inequality and exploitation.  Victarine dan Teufel is a hard-bitten ex-convict turned spy, infiltrating the Breakers on behalf of the Arch Lector, dragging conspiracies into the light by any means necessary in search of the mysterious revolutionary known as the Weaver.  Gunnar Broad, meanwhile, returns from the bloody nightmare on the battlefields of Styria to find his way of life as a herder is steadily vanishing. Always at the mercy of his own temper, he kills the men sent to turn him off his land, and flees with his wife, Liddy, and daughter, May, to the overcrowded factory city of Valbeck, where the river is stained with dye, the rain is black from soot, and revolutionary feelings are beginning to run hot.

Across the Circle Sea in the wide and barren North, things have changed less than one might like.  Scale Ironhand is King of the Northmen but spends most of his time drinking and reliving past glories.  It is his cunning brother, Black Calder, who is the true power behind the throne, and Calder’s fearsome son Stour Nightfall, who men call the Great Wolf, who stands to inherit Skarling’s Chair. Jonas Clover, once a famous warrior but now scraping a living teaching sword-work, is given the unenviable task of helping his old friend Wonderful keep the savage and arrogant Stour on the right path, whatever that might be.

Sensing the Union’s weakness, Black Calder seizes the opportunity to settle old scores, and invades the protectorate of Uffrith, sitting between the North and the Union’s northern province of Angland.  Uffrith’s ruler the Dogman, a respected old chieftain, and the Lady Governor of Angland, Finree dan Brock, are taken by surprise.  Heavily outnumbered, they are forced into a fighting withdrawal, hoping they can turn the tables when King Jezal finally sends reinforcements.  The constant retreat is not at all to the taste of Finree’s son Leo dan Brock, the Young Lion, already a famous warrior but, like his enemy the Great Wolf, with more than a hint of recklessness and vainglory about him.

The Dogman’s only daughter, Rikke, is prone to fits and visions and thought half mad. The hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, thought at least half mad herself, is convinced that Rikke is blessed with the Long Eye – the ability to see hints of past and future. Taking her into the hills to test her theory the two are caught behind the Northmen’s advance and must pass through a gruelling ordeal to escape – one that gives Rikke a passionate hatred for Stour Nightfall and his kin.  They finally reach the Dogman’s camp with a little help from Clover and Caul Shivers – a Named Man with a metal eye, one of the most feared warriors in the North.  There Rikke runs into Leo.  They were friends as children, strike sparks as adults and, drunk at a celebration, soon become lovers.

Finally stung into long overdue action, Crown Prince Orso resolves to lead an army to the North. Unable to prise money from the debt-stricken treasury, he persuades Savine to lend him the small fortune required to raise the troops. As he prepares for war, she arranges a trip to Valbeck to check on her many investments there, and finds herself sharing a carriage with Vick dan Teufel, whose investigations have led her to believe the Breakers may be active in the city.  She is shocked to discover the revolutionaries organised and in numbers, already planning an uprising, and led by the Weaver in person, revealed to be none other than the city’s Superior of the Inquisition, Risinau.

Savine is caught in the uprising while visiting one of her manufactories, forced to flee her rioting workers by crawling through her own machinery into the river, and escapes disguised as a beggar to find all of Valbeck has descended into violent chaos.  She reaches safety with Gunnar Broad and his family, but with the city now firmly in the hands of the Breakers and Burners, escape is impossible.

Learning that Savine is in danger, Prince Orso abandons his plans to head North and leads his forces to Valbeck to contain the uprising.  Within the besieged city things go from bad to worse. Judge, the lunatic ringleader of the Burners, sets up an improvised court and hangs several dozen owners and collaborators, while fires sweep the city and food stocks dwindle. With Vick helping from the inside, Orso is able to negotiate a surrender, promising amnesty to the Breakers. Savine finally escapes the city with the Broads and is reunited with Orso. Realising his true feelings for her, he proposes marriage, finally feeling he has achieved something to be proud of in his largely peaceful capture of the city . . . until Arch Lector Glokta’s right hand man, Superior Pike, reneges on the his promise of amnesty, and hangs two hundred Breakers on the road out of Valbeck as a demonstration of the cost of treason.

With Orso’s troops tied up in Midderland, Finree dan Brock and the Dogman have no choice but to force a battle with the Northmen. They hope that the rash young warrior Stour can be tricked into a reckless attack only to be outmaneuvered by Black Calder themselves.  It is only a vision, from Rikke’s Long Eye, that saves them from disaster, proving to all that her magical powers are genuine.  Leo dan Brock finally has his heart’s desire of leading a heroic charge, but the battle ends in a stalemate, with Young Lion and Great Wolf challenging each other to a traditional duel in a circle of shields to settle the future of the North.

The more circumspect parents of the two young champions, Calder and Finree, are firmly against this mad gamble, but they are overruled by Scale Ironhand and Leo’s sudden elevation to his father’s Lord Governorship of Angland. The duel goes ahead and Stour proves to be the better swordsman, but he insists on toying with Leo, and Rikke is able to use her Long Eye to tilt the outcome. Leo is victorious, the Protectorate is saved and the war brought to a close, but he chooses to spare Stour’s life and try to make an ally of him, to Rikke’s utter disgust.

Savine returns to Adua determined to marry Orso and become Queen, but her mother Ardee crushes her dreams with a single revelation – she had an affair with King Jezal, and Savine is the king’s bastard child, Orso’s half sister. Unable to marry her brother or share the secret with him, Savine refuses Orso’s proposal and breaks off all contact, plunging them both into despondency.  Throwing herself back into business with even less mercy than before, she finds that Gunnar Broad is the perfect man to threaten partners and workers alike, his promises to his wife and daughter to stay out of trouble failing once again.

Hailed as a hero, Lord Governor Leo dan Brock travels across the Circle Sea to Adua with a reluctant Rikke in tow, their romance in ruins. But his welcome is not all that he hoped for. Arch Lector Glokta refuses to pay Angland’s heavy war debts, and insists that Leo share his triumph with Crown Prince Orso, whose image is in dire need of some sprucing up.  Old resentments are only deepened, and Vick dan Teufel begins to suspect that the Breakers might in the end have been strengthened by their failure in Valbeck.

Bayaz, the First of the Magi, chooses this moment to return to Adua. The legendary wizard is credited with saving the Union from the Gurkish thirty years ago, albeit destroying half the capital in the process.  Deferred to even by Arch Lector Glokta and King Jezal, he begins expanding his formidable influence with the help of his assistant Yoru Sulfur, a man who always manages to appear at the right moment.

Haunted by her experiences in Valbeck, nursing a terrible secret and mourning the loss of Orso, Savine’s famous judgement is not all it was. When the dashing Young Lion is presented to her – appearing to be everything Prince Orso is not – she throws caution to the wind and seduces him. Jealous and rejected, but surprisingly well-matched in their senses of humour, Rikke and Orso also become unlikely bedfellows.

In the North, King Scale Ironhand holds one of his ale-soaked feasts in order to console his chosen heir Stour Nightfall after his defeat in the Circle, but the Great Wolf has turned surprisingly philosophical, apparently having learned a lesson. Unfortunately, that lesson is to seize his birthright at once, by murdering his uncle and making himself King on the spot. Ordered to kill his friend Wonderful or die himself, Clover chooses himself without hesitation, and Black Calder arrives to find his long-nursed plans for the future of the North in bloody ruins.

At the parade in honour of Leo’s victory Rikke has a vision of a dead chieftain and, fearing for her father, she returns home. But the sudden death that next throws the world into turmoil is not that of the Dogman, but of King Jezal.  Beside the deathbed, Bayaz places a fatherly hand upon Prince Orso’s shoulder and says, ‘long live the king . . .’

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