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Review of The Trouble with Peace

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Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Still troubled by her encounters in the uprising and the discovery of her true parentage, leading her to reject Orso, Savine plans to win her way back into power and prestige. Marrying the heroic Leo dan Brock, she throws herself wholeheartedly into his schemes, gambling not only her future but also that of her unborn child that with her help, her new husband will rise to the highest position in the Union, by hook or crook.

Leo and Stour Nightfall, both see themselves as men of action but of entirely different principles. Leo is disturbed by the unrest and corruption he sees in the Union, and with the help of his friends, he looks to take drastic steps to restore his home to the glory and moral uprightness he believes is correct. To this end he seeks to enlist the support of his one-time enemy, Stour Nightfall, who cares nothing for the troubles of the Union but sees an opportunity to expand and enrich his own domain and reputation at the expense of others.

Rikke seeks to gain control over the Long Eye as she is increasingly disturbed by her inability to separate her present from potential visions of the future. Facing madness and death, she must travel to the edge of civilization where she can find help learning to live with the Long Eye, but it will require her to make a fateful choice about herself.

Vick and Orso seek to root out the conspiracies that plague the Union. Vick travels to different, fractious locations to calm or intimidate the populace in compliance, while Orso, newly crowned, struggles to be comfortable in his position of authority and find a way to try and be a better man and king than people expect of him.

Cover to The Trouble with Peace, art by Sam Weber.

Cover to The Trouble with Peace, art by Sam Weber.

The Age of Madness

For being the second book in this trilogy, The Trouble with Peace starts surprisingly slow given A Little Hatred ended with a tension that suggested more trouble was hot on the heels of these characters. While this slow start is somewhat redeemed by the focused structure, it will feel like an odd choice for many readers. Even through there are many different characters to follow, Abercrombie keeps their voices fairly well differentiated, and usually they are in different locations, keeping any potential confusion on that account to a minimum.

Abercrombie’s works have a consistently grim tone, but the nihilism can get a bit overbearing with so many characters making dire announcements and the sense that many characters have that everything is always getting worse or that betrayal is inevitable. There’s no need for a radical shift, exactly, but it can feel wearisome when nearly everyone has the same outlook. Small variations would help from hitting the same note. Early on when a question of helping people advance their position is life is brought up, Bayaz makes the cynical statement, “A ladder is of no use if all the rungs are at the top” (6). This pronouncement sets the mood for everything that follows. Similarly, the tone and attitude can feel a bit repetitive for longtime fans of Abercrombie because some characters here feel like they’re going over similar ground as characters from prior novels.

UK cover to The Trouble with Peace.

UK cover to The Trouble with Peace.

Can You Put a Price on Peace?

Thematically, Clover, Vick, and Broad are interesting because even though they are not always at the center of the action, they are all characters who are examining the question of loyalty. Clover and Vick in particular are fascinating in this regard because there are selfish elements of their servitude even as they support the power structures that have manipulated and harmed them. Broad is a bit different because he comes to question the reasons for his personal loyalties. He keeps telling himself he’s engaged in terrible deeds to keep his family safe, but he comes to question whether that is a rationalization for him to undertake the violent actions where he feels most comfortable (318). Leo and Orso also come into conflict over the question of whether being loyal to a person—like a king—is more important than being loyal to the ideals that king is meant to represent. The nexus between loyalty and betrayal is what ultimately colors many of the interactions in the novel at the personal and national levels.

The novel is tightly plotted, wherein nearly all the characters are pulled toward one pitched conflict. There are structural similarities to A Clash of Kings and Abercrombie’s own novel, The Heroes. Overall, the focused experience helps keep everything on track, with the readers and the characters understanding that everything is being drawn toward a single, massive conflict.

The most innovative writing comes from several of Rikke’s chapters, where she is essentially unstuck in time, increasingly unable to discern what is happening from what will happen from what are just prophetic symbols or possibly madness. She has a whole chapter of discordant scenes that she and the reader have trouble putting in any sort of order, but nearly every part of it has Rikke saying, “This hasn’t happened yet” until she encounters a heartbreaking memory from long ago (97-103). Her only way out is to make a choice about the person she wants to be and fully embrace it.

The Trouble with Peace is a good continuation of the Age of Madness trilogy and is worth the time of anyone who is a fan of Abercrombie’s books.

Source

Abercrombie, Joe. The Trouble with Peace. Orbit, 2020.

© 2021 Seth Tomko

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