Previously, in the Age of Madness…

September 7th, 2020

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 . . .’

Posted in recap by Joe Abercrombie on September 7th, 2020.

32 comments so far

  • Christopher Spiegel says:

    Thanks for the recap, Joe. Currently finishing up the First Law trilogy for the fourth time. Can’t wait for my next trip to The Circle of the World. Keep up the good work.

  • Simon Coombes says:

    Can’t wait for the next book in the Age of madness. And thanks for the re cap.

  • Sean Sullivan says:

    Thanks Joe, appreciate the refresher..Keep doing what you’re doing !

  • Ed says:

    Thanks for this, you can’t expect people to remember everything that happens, you have to be realistic about these things.

  • Sarah Ralph says:

    So excited about the next book! This was a really helpful catch-up, although I’ve been listening to the audiobook of ALH again for the past few days, to remind myself what happened. Picking up on a few things that I didn’t notice on the first read too.. I’m curious about the identity of the Judge, for example. I think this person has appeared before under a different name..?

  • Sandie says:

    This is just what I needed although I’m pretty sure I’m going to reread A Little Hatred anyway. Thanks Joe!

  • pete says:

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing this recap! I wish more fantasy authors did this (to even half this quality) – it is so valuable to me, and I’m sure, others. Not only because fantasy series are typically pretty complex, but I’ve read probably another 20+ books since I read the previous installment. Cheers Joe!

  • Justin Fitzsimmons says:

    Write faster Abercrombie!

  • waylander says:

    Just re-read Best served cold (my favourite abercrombie book) , The heroes, red country and A little hatred.
    have pre ordered the trouble with peace.
    You are my current favourite living author.
    Love a good profilic author (gemmell/dean koontz 🙂 also love a trilogy the ideal number for a series.

  • Frosty the Blowman says:

    This recap is better than some books I’ve read.

  • Laurence says:

    Thank you, Joe! With the whirlwind of new characters and events from the first book, I definitely needed the refresher. Can’t wait until The Trouble with Peace!

  • Jeff says:

    Hands down the greatest series of all time. Reread all at least once a year. Can’t wait to see who turns up to say words at dogman’s grave! Back to the mud. Thank you!

  • Robert Kurdve says:

    Beeing an audiobook junkie, by now I’ve probably listened to hundreds of books. A recurring theme has always been me re listening all of your books. Just love the narrating by Stephen Pacey and combined with your “delightfully twisted and evil” art of handeling the language, it’s simply a match made in heaven. By now, It must be more then ten times I’ve done the whole series and I somehow like them more every time. Just finished A little hatred for the third time. Best served cold I think is my favorite. Can’t wait for the next installment. Only three days to go. Aarrgh, the agony!
    Keep it up! Big phat love from Sweden

  • Morgan Murray says:

    In preparation for this book, I re-read all of his previous books. Then I treated each page of A Little Hatred like a severe diabetic savoring a decadent chocolate genache, one nibble a week, one phrase at a time, trying to stretch it out until The Trouble With Peace gets delivered.
    Reading Joe Abercrombie over the years has been one of the greatest joys in my troubled life, islands of respite in an often stormy sea. What a gift to the world.

  • Christian D says:

    Just re-read the book so ready for today but thanks 🙂

  • NeilM says:

    Excellent recap, which inspired me to go online and order the book forthwith.

  • Dan says:

    Thank you for this. Great to get a recap before delving into the new book today!

  • Nick says:

    “Make the Union Great Again”. Seriously?!?
    Also hilarious you have characters preaching the wonders of mass immigration in a country convulsed by worker strikes due to low pay and lousy conditions. Thousands of Gurkish laborers should really improve things.

  • Griffin Cooper says:

    Oh awesome, this is EXACTLY what I needed with my copy of “The Trouble With Peace” (hopefully) arriving tomorrow. Thanks Joe, and also, thanks for being so consistent with your output. It is so awesome to have one of your favorite authors regularly putting out new work. Can’t wait to start reading!!

  • Gemma Chapman says:

    Thanks for this. Now to enjoy The Trouble with Peace.

  • Sean says:

    Great! Now to crack on with the new one!!

  • Michael Smith says:

    Thanks for the recap Joe! I’m excited that the new book is now available but now have the dilemma of choosing an appropriate medium to ingest this story… I’ll start with the audiobook. Steven Pacey does such a good job!

  • Bogdan says:

    Awesome book Joe! Now i need to wait one year for the next book

  • waylander says:

    The book definitely delivered good job joe.

  • Dylan says:

    Loved the book! May be my favorite of yours ever!

  • Troy Evans says:

    Dear God man! One hell of a book. just when i thought i knew what was going to happen it flipped 180 degrees into the opposite direction. Just excellent!! I can’t wait for the next

  • GeminiJED says:

    Wow dude! Just finished The Trouble With Peace. Wow and thank you!
    I’ve been a mildly avid reader for years (mostly comic books and fantasy novels) and never once have I been moved to write a comment to the writer.
    I’m sure my praise is absolutely meaningless to you as just an anonymous nobody among a sea of loyal fans and adoring critics, but I wanted to give it anyway!
    Well done! Well fucking done dude!!!
    But what do I do now? Nothing holds up against your work. A pile of unread comics sit waiting for me but I know there is nothing but disappointment waiting there for me. Disappointment that its not more of the world you created. The Marvel Universe that I’ve been reading stories in for ~30 years? Trash compared to the world you’ve built. The X-Men comics I’ve poured over religiously for ~30 years? Not a single character there as interesting as even a throwaway character from your chapter “The Little People” (amazingly clever way to write an epic battle scene by the way).
    So what do I do now? With none of your work left to read and a whole year to see what happens next in The Circle of the World, what do I do? What can I read? What SHOULD I read? Help me out. I need something. Point me in the right direction. I will read whatever you suggest.

  • Jerry says:

    The blurb / refeesher makes it sound like those characters from the original trilogy i fell in love with would play more active roles
    They didn’t.

    However I see that you are trying to get people like me who are on the fence about the series more excited and give us the extra push to go buy the novel.

    Playing on an old characters popularity is great. I miss them. But dont make it sound like your devoting more then a few sentences to those said characters from original trilogy.

    You dedicated more time to Sand in this blog post then you did the last two books.

  • Tom says:

    Hi Joe!

    Loving ‘The Trouble With Peace’ so far!
    I think it will make me appreciate ‘A Little Hatred’ more, and I intend on listening to the both in succession after I finish TTWP.

    I understand that a great intertwined story like the ones you write take a good foundation, and it looks like that foundation laid with ALH is already paying off in TTWP!
    The plot Savine and Leo are currently cooking up where I am in the book, I can already see Bayaz turning it to his favor.
    It’s crazy, thinking about such a powerful character, and how he can be utilized, after the curtain of mystery is pulled back, but I can see it forming, and now I’m all in, all over again!

    Can’t wait to finish this, reread/relisten and then get to the last chapter of this new trilogy next year!
    Cheers from Phoenix, AZ USA, in the year of the virus! 🙂

  • Austin Quiggins says:

    Thank you for reigniting my passion for reading. It was all but extinguished until I stumbled across The Shattered Sea. Now I am invested thoroughly in the Age of Madness. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

  • Tim says:

    Your Grimness,

    This refresher-synopsis-summary was very handy.

    Can I request you do something similar for ‘The Trouble With Peace’ ahead of the release of ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’?

    Thanks for all your words.

  • John Sheppard says:

    say one thing for Joe Abercombie, say he’s a damn good writer!!

    ta for the recaps, mate. me memory is utter shite, so they are much appreciated. looking forward greatly to the third in the series!

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