Book Review: A Little Hatred (Age of Madness #1) by Joe Abercrombie

A Little Hatred Age Of Madness Joe Abercrombie

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Here’s a review I never expected to write.  This is my first Abercrombie, and if there were any of the fantasy greats I thought I might get along best with, but haven’t read yet, it’s Abercrombie.  His name gets tossed in with that of Mark Lawrence a lot, his books are described as grimdark.  I always had the sense they were exciting and action packed and filled with morally grey warrior-types.  Which is why A Little Hatred, sort of baffled me.  I went in with the wrong expectations, which is not really fair to the book, but that’s what I do.

I don’t even know how to tell you what this is about- mostly because it would take me too long, but also because there isn’t any strictly defined plot here.  We follow the lives of seven characters spread across Adua from different walks of life.  And while the characters grew on me in the end- at first I struggled with how very much I did not like almost all of them:

Rikke – One of the few I did like, almost immediately.  She has fits and what is referred to as “the Long Eye.”  The ability to see into the past and future.  Walks to the beat of her own drum.  Tough.

Savine dan Glokta – My reaction to Savine was immediate, visceral rejection.  I disliked everything about her.  I daresay I even hated her a little.  Something about her viciousness came off as fake, or trying too hard for me.

Leo dan Brock – Warrior.  But not the best warrior.  Young and Proud.  A momma’s boy.  Also a fool.  A whiny fool.

Prince Orso – Another whiny, spineless, gluttonous fool. Heir to the throne of Adua.

Vick – Another POV I disliked and continued to dislike, but can’t say much about here for sake of spoilers.

Clover – Another POV I liked at first.  An old warrior, dry sarcastic humor, cleverer than his betters- I got the sense he was a part of past books.

Broad – Another warrior and survivor of the Styrian war.  Liked him immediately, but failed to see what his contribution to the story would be.

I mean- when you initially hate 4 of 7 view points… It doesn’t bode well.  It’s grimdark… but it wasn’t fun for me.  I didn’t expect them to be shining examples of humanity, I just expected them to be smarter, cleverer, more interesting than they came off as initially.

I did grow to like them, eventually, but in some cases it took awhile and in some cases I never did get around to enjoying them.  Plus, the number of POVs crammed into a 470 page book was kind of overwhelming.  Can you pick this up and read it without having read The First Law trilogy?  Yeah.  Do I recommend it?  Not particularly.  I felt like if I’d read The First Law I would have enjoyed or appreciated this much more.

The second thing that threw me off was the inclusion of industry and manufacturing.  This I had been warned about from various reviews… But it still felt like an odd mix for me.  Sword fights and industry.  By the time industry comes into the history pages of the real world, guns have been around a long time, and multiple wars have been fought using them.  The battles felt medievalish while the cities felt more like the late 1800s.  It just didn’t work for me.

Now towards the middle of the book, where we work up to what very much feels like the climax, I was invested.  The characters had grown on me a little, I’d had a lot of the world building figured out, the action was picking up and it was written well. But again, I had a really bad feeling following all that action because it seemed to come to a complete stop so we could watch all the romances in the book disintegrate. *eye roll*

The pacing in this book was all over the place.  Boring, Exciting, More Boredom, Brilliant Ending.  And what’s more, I didn’t feel like any of those 100+ pages between Exciting and Brilliant Ending were really necessary.  I skim read a lot of it.  I still didn’t care enough about the characters to want to read that much of their inner monologues or see how they interacted at diplomacy parties.

I’m sorry okay?!  I know most reviews I’ve seen have been glowing, and those readers aren’t wrong.  Abercrombie’s writing is perfect.  Truly some his lines had me grinning ear-to-ear.  But his structure and pacing and character building often didn’t work for me particularly.

I will probably go back and read The Blade Itself and see if that book agrees with me more.  I mean, who doesn’t want to read about about a guy called the Bloody Nine?  He *sounds* like much more of what I expected in this book, which I hope will make me appreciate The Age of Madness just a little more.

A Little Hatred can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to all the buddies who read this with me and tolerated my moaning and groaning.  I’m sorry.



Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan

Wicked Saints Emily Duncan

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb from GoodReads: A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

What you see is what you get with this blurb.  The plot is very straightforward. A war has been going on between Tranavia and Kalyazin for what seems like forever.  It’s a religious war.  Tranavia is full of blood mage “heretics” while Kalyazin remains true to the gods and has one single cleric (god-blessed mage?) to help them.  Now a ragtag group of teens has decided to put a stop to it all by assassinating the King of Tranavia.

The book started out relatively good.  It was a little simplistic for my tastes but after spending all that time with The Stand it was a decent follow up read.  The characters  did feel a little flat to me.  There wasn’t anything about them that popped off the page.  On the plus side, there was some diverse representation in there.  It wasn’t explored too deeply, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing.  I’m happy to see it being normalized.

There are two different magic systems.  One for Kalyazin, where a mage’s ability is divine and god-granted.  Nadya must ask the gods’s permission to use their power and they can either grant or deny it.  Most clerics can only speak with one god, but Nadya speaks to all of them.

The other magic system is for Tranavia, where some people choose to become blood mages.  This magic system was very odd to me.  I just couldn’t envision it working in any practical way.  The blood mages have special razors that won’t scar sewn into their coats so they can cut themselves quickly and easily.  They are also holding a spell book which is written by, I don’t know, someone who is not the mage using it.  Then they tear out the page and soak it in blood and crumple it or stick it to a wall.

So here’s where the confusion comes in.  How does one cut themselves with a razor sewn into their sleeve while holding a book in the heat of a battle or duel?  I feel like by the time all that has been accomplished, someone’s probably already stuck a sword in them.   It’s not that it was terribly complicated, it just would have required so much concentration and coordination I couldn’t imagine it being practical in a duel or war.  Given that the blood needs to touch the page I couldn’t work out the logistics of it, and had to pause and think about it anytime it was mentioned, which took me out of the story.

Towards the end, the book fell apart a little bit.  I often felt like I was missing parts of the conversation or character’s thought processes.  I was confused and it involved a lot of flipping back and forth and re-reading trying to figure out what was going on.  Sometimes it felt like characters were removed from the present moment to stop and have little side conversations while other really important stuff was happening, which messed with the sense of place.  I would scratch my head and go: “Where are we right now?”

The romance was kind of silly.  Nadya loves Malachiasz (I’ve probably spelled this wrong).  She often says things like: “I know he’s lying but I love him anyway.”  And I get it- that describes plenty of relationships that exist in the world.  However, you can’t also be presenting that character as a “Strong Female Protagonist” and have her saying stuff like this.  Maybe my idea of the strong female protagonist is narrow, but I personally can’t relate to it, and it makes my eye twitch.  The romantic scenes were also very redundant (lots of fingers in hair) and I ended up skimming a lot of them.

My final complaint is about the character growth.  Nadya shows none and therefore the message of the book was pretty murky.  This is labeled as “Something Dark and Holy #1”, so it’s very much possible that her growth is being saved for later books, which is fine.  Basically, in a book about religious war where two enemy characters are coming together to fix a problem, I expect each of them to gain a little understanding of the other side, and their belief systems to change a little bit.  In Nadya’s case, we make it all the way to the end with her believing that the Tranavians are heretics and need to go back to worshipping the gods as Kalyazin does.

I really hope that is not where this story is headed because that’s an incredibly problematic message.

All in all- if you don’t look too deeply at it, it’s not a bad read.  It’s quick and has some entertaining moments.

Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1) by Emily Duncan can be found on GoodReads here, or ordered on Amazon here.

Thank you to Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s Press and Edelweiss for the ARC.

Book Review: The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife Maria Dahvana Headley

Rating:  ★★★★1/2

“The world isn’t large enough for heroes and monsters at once. There’s too much danger of confusion between the two categories.”

I finished this book a week ago, and I have been delaying writing the review, because honestly, there’s no way I can do it justice.  The Mere Wife is a contemporary retelling of Beowulf.  Not only does it move at an exciting pace, while also containing lots of twists and turns, it’s largely allegorical, and gives the reader a lot to think about in just three hundred short pages.

I’m going to start by saying, generally, contemporary settings and times are not my thing.  I read for escapism.  I prefer fantastical places, settings, events, characters, etc.  I picked it up mostly because people who have far better bookish taste than me were interested in a buddy read, but also because I think there’s something incredibly vicious about modern day suburban life: competing with the Joneses, whose grass is greener, that sort of thing.

It was even better than I had hoped.  The dedication reads: “For anonymous and all the stories she told.”  I knew right from the beginning I was in for a treat, something sharp and cutting and unapologetic.  Moving onto the prologue, Headley opens with:

“Say it.  The beginning and the end at once.  I’m face down in a truck bed, getting ready to be dead.”

This is one of the best prologues I have ever read.  This book starts with a bang, hooks its claws in you and refuses to let go until the end.

One of our MCs, Willa Herot, is savage in such a way that I couldn’t wait to see what she would do next.  Her character and her thoughts are incredibly loathsome, and yet, she’s also really sympathetic.  Her life has never been her own.  She’s expected, as the wife of a doctor, to be pretty and perfect, meet all the standards everyone has set for her, and hold up her husband all the while.  Not to complain at his shortcomings, only work on improving her own.

“You don’t really own anything. Nothing is yours forever, not your body, not your youth, not even your mind.”

Dana Mills is our second MC.  She’s a veteran, and she suffers from PTSD.  She’s Gren’s mother, and all she wants is to see her son grow up safe.  Dana acts as a catch all stand in for most of the oppressed peoples of the world.  She’s incredibly sympathetic, and arguably the hero of our story.  Her chapters are heartbreaking, and filled with bone chilling statements, and observations of the world we live in.

“The world has teeth and claws, and my baby thinks he can walk in it.  Hotel balconies and back rooms, speeches given in public, children marching, fists up, nothing to shield their hearts from bullets.  They shoot, walk away, let him bleed…My son becomes a place where the sidewalk is stained.”

Headley takes these two women, who couldn’t be more different, and somehow manages to give them common ground.  She does the same with Dylan and Grendel.  The lines between everything, hero and monster, haves and have nots, become blurred.

My favorite chapters are the Greek Chorus chapters.  Sometimes they are told from the POV of the mothers of Herot Hall, sometimes hounds, sometimes ghosts.  They are written in first person plural and invoke a sense of war, marching forward, collectively, against any threat.  Every single chorus chapter absolutely blew me away.

“Do you think sixty-five-year-old women don’t go to war? We are always at war. Our husbands spent their lives in comfortable chairs. Have we ever sat in comfortable chairs? No. Yoga balls, haunches tensed.”

It was an empowering read for women, no matter your background, and I loved every glorious moment.  But Headley manages to comment on many issues.  Race and racism.  Oppression.  Politics.  War.  Hero worship.  Feminism.  The 1%.  It’s a book that has something for everyone, carefully dissecting and picking apart everyday modern life.

“The famous ones kept going, video, photo, headlines, and here they still are, running countries, pressing buttons, standing in offices, insisting all the money in the world belongs to them, pushing secrets through votes, starving the bottom so the top can feast.”

My only real complaint about the book, was the ending.  A lot of things weren’t quite clear to me about the end.  It felt very rushed.  I had a lot of questions.  In a book that’s only 300 pages long, I felt like there was plenty of time to dig a little deeper into the details.  It’s also the end chapters that deviate the most from the Beowulf storyline itself, where everything prior to that had been pretty much on point.  The ending is the only reason it wasn’t quite a five star read for me.

I highly recommend this both as a thought provoking, literary read, and for readers who just want to be entertained.

I do have content warnings- but I hate to leave plot spoilers in my reviews- so if you need them, please comment below so I can let you know.