Vengeance, Bloody Vengeance: Medea by Euripedes (Reading With the Greeks # 01)

I’m making a point of examining the great surviving tragedies of Ancient Greece. The time was right, I knew, when a Signet Classics edition of Euripides: Ten Plays looked at me invitingly from a shelf in the Sofia Airport bookstore this January. It’s a wonderful pocket edition, and it set me back by three euro. My piece of advice? Never miss out on a brand new book full of Ancient Greek goodness for this low a price.

In Medea, the tragic could not be of a more personal nature. This is a tale of a woman scorned, a wife betrayed by the father of her children, for whom she’s spilled the blood of countrymen and kin alike. Medea, child of king Aeëtes of Colchis and granddaughter of Circe, grew up in the territory of present-day Georgia. The easternmost shores of the Black Sea were, to the Hellenistic people, a “wild place” (Paul Roche, Introduction to Medea). Though she bears the blood of the sun god Helios, she is foreign to the inner world of Ancient Greece.

Having taken with Jason and his Argonauts, and aided the hero in his quest, Medea comes to the Hellenistic world proper a barbarian princess. Having butchered her brother and thrown the scraps of his corpse overboard to dissuade Aeëtes from pursuing the Argonauts, she has paid the blood price of loving the hero, Jason:

How dare they do to me what they have done!
O my father, my country, the land I abandoned,
Flagrantly killing my brother!

p.342, Euripides, Ten Plays, Signet Classics

Her rewards seem every inch worth this first blood sacrifice – she is married to the hero, and bears him children, two boys, no doubt a source of pride for any father. At the prologue of the play, the Nurse says about Medea’s role as a wife:

exile though she came
and been in everything Jason’s perfect foil–
in marriage that saving thing:
a woman who does not go against her man.

p. 337

What, to a hero’s ambition and thirst for riches, is a wife who can only offer “in everything [a] perfect foil*”? Jason’s eventual betrayal is designed to further his position – through marriage to princess Glauce of Corinth, he becomes the de facto inheritor of the great Greek kingdom. The beautiful young bride does not hurt, either: “This father does not love his sons. He loves his new wedding bed.”(340)

This is where Euripides’ tragedy picks up at, with Medea furious at the betrayal: “Don’t approach. Beware. Watch out || For her savage mood, destructive spleen; || Yes, and her implaccable will.”(340). The depth of this betrayal has driven her mad, or perhaps the need for recompense has. Looking at her children, hers are the “eyes of a mad bull.” (340)

Soon after the ruler of Corinth, King Creon himself, comes to her doorstep to order her and her sons banished from the kingdom on pain of death. His reason is “Fear…|| I’m afraid you’ll deal my child some lethal blow || … You are a woman of some knowledge || Versed in many unsavory arts.” (346) Medea time and again attempts to earn herself some small respite and eventually wearing him down and earning herself until the following dawn. It is a decision that will cost Creon, as he suspects when he at last takes pity on her:

My soul is not tyrannical enough.
My heart has often let me down . . .
So now, Medea
Though I know I take a false step:
have it your own way.

349

Creon’s hope that a day won’t be enough for the savage sorceress to perpetrate her ill intent against his daughter is foolhardy. Medea says as much once he leaves, in a speech I can only describe as bordering on the gleefuly wicked:

Friends,
I can think of several ways to bring their death about.
Which one shall I choose?
Shall I set their house of honeymoon alight,
or creep into the nuptial bower
and plunge a sharp knife through their innards?

No, there is a surer way,
one more direct;
for which I have a natural bent:
death by poison.
Yes, that is it.

350

Perhaps this is one of those main sources from whom the notion of poison as a woman’s weapon comes from? Certainly, it would make sense, particularly with what Medea tells herself at the end of this lengthy monologue: “Besides, you are a woman: || feeble when it comes to the sublime || marvelously inventive over crime.” (351) It’s a fascinating monologue this early on, one that shows at once the hurt of betrayal, the impish delight at the prospect of vengeance and the marginalised identity of Medea as a woman. I’m partial to these four lines in particular:

See how you are being treated
laughed at by the seed of Sisyphus and Jason:
you, the daughter of a king
and scion of the Sun.

How fucking good is that?! See the wounded pride, see how it urges her on, forces her hand to action like a thorn embedded deep in the heart of a wound. When Jason comes to try and persuade Medea to leave without creating any trouble, it’s like pouring gasoline on that self-same wound.

The scene, in the second episode of the play, is the first thing that’ll come to me whenever I think of gaslighting from now on. Jason explains:

Yet in spite of everything,
and patient to the last with someone I am fond of,
I come, Medea, to do what I can to help.

353

This is unusual cruelty, masked as benevolence. Before these words, Jason blames Medea for her words, tries to shame her, even – but she will neither be shamed or cowed by this oath-breaker:

Monster —
an epiteth too good for you.

This is not courage.
This is not being brave:
to look a victim in the eye whom you’ve betrayed
–somebody you loved–
this is a disease and the foulest that a man can have.

353

But hypocrisy is not so easily cured. Jason, who at one point claims that Medea’s sacrifices are far less compared to what their marriage has given her, eventually takes his leave, having done nothing so much as rekindling Medea’s fury to new heights.

She concocts her plan – the exact way in which she will take the life of Jason’s new bride. But this is too small a price to pay – and here, finally, is revealed the full depth of Medea’s severity:

But now, my whole tone changes:
a sob of pain for the next thing I must do.
I kill my sons–my own–
no one shall snatch them from me.
And when I have desolated Jason’s house beyond recall,
I shall escape from here,
fly from the murder of my little ones,
my mission done.

365

It is an unnatural act, a mother killing her children – yet Medea, in her savagery and her connection to the sun god Helios**, is bound to laws different and more ancient than those of the Ancient Greeks. Natural laws, what professor Daniel N. Pederson calls in his Great Ideas of Philosophy the law of revenge, “when the chthonic gods of the earth held sway…and the pleadings of the heart trump the demands of rationality.” Passion in this extremity is madness to the Ancient Greeks, and to us. To Medea, it is a power she cannot contest. It’s in her blood; the same force that bid her hack her brother to pieces for her lover now sees her commit an even more horrendous act to punish Jason – and, in a twisted way, reclaim her children. I repeat, again: “I kill my sons–my own– || no one shall snatch them from me.”

Medea, then, is aware of the personal cost of vengeance, and willing to pay it. Here is a woman capable of ruthlessness and savagery unimaginable to the Greeks, first stealing the lives of Jason’s new bride Glauce, and of her father Creon (the same Creon of Antigone fame), through deception worthy of the granddaughter of the sea witch Circe. Then, when the time comes to act, Medea has a moment of pure reflection:

The evil that I do, I understand full well.
But a passion drives me greater than my will.
Passion is the curse of man: it wreaks the greatest ill.

One of the greatest tragedies of this play is that this realization changes nothing. Medea goes through with it, her vengeance complete. She stays in Corinth just long enough to see Jason come to grips with her vengeance before flying off on the chariot of Helios, pulled by a pair of dragons, denying the father of their dead children even the last goodbye that comes with burying them. The play closes with the Chorus of Athenian women questioning the will of Zeus, wondering why the Olympians have willed this terrible thing to happen, as a disconsolate Jason walks away.

Medea is one of the tragedies of Ancient Greece in which a woman is imbued with the autonomous power to take her destiny in her own hands and deliver blow after blow to the one that has so abused her. It’s more than just a tale of vengeance in the face of infidelity. Medea doesn’t speak for herself alone – her voice is often the voice of the silent masses of women wronged and oppressed by men:

Of all creatures that can feel and think,
we women are the worst treated things alive.
To begin with,
we bid the highest price in dowries
just to buy some man
to be dictator of our bodies.
How that compounds the wrong!

p. 344-345

Hers is an extreme response brought about by the mute suffering of the many before her, a shout of warning and protest in the face of a time in which women are forced into what Pederson calls “a position of reclusive subservience.” It reflects the understanding of the Greek tragedians about the destructive powers of eros, erotic love; but it offers us also a different reading, one which seems not as alien as it first might.

Thanks for reading my essay! You should, without a doubt, read Medea. Me, I think I’ll tackle The Bacchae next!

*I wonder if the notion of the wife as her husband’s perfect foil is drawn out from the Ancient Greek and/or Platonic notion of man and woman as constitution one whole?
**Though I say “god,” Helios is of the older generation of pre-Olympian gods, the titans.

The Reviews To Come to the Reliquary in April 2020

With everything going on in the world right now, I find myself forced to write something like this in the hopes that I’ll keep to a stringent posting schedule, over here and at booknest.eu both.

Giant Days Vol. 01 by John Allison

This slice of life has a female version of me as one of the leads and I LOVE IT. It’s one of the most enjoyable comic books I’ve come across and an engaging read that lets me unwind. I’ve got thoughts about it, with pictures! It also has the most relevant message I’ve come across in print media regarding this crisis (despite the first volume’s release years ago):

See wot I mean?

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

This alternate history take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula has no right to be as much fun as it is! What if Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and co. had failed in their attempt to kill the Wallachian Count? Most of them are now dead, except for John Seward. Meanwhile, Dracula’s plans to spread vampirism have come to fruition, and then some – he is now the Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, and rules over the British Empire with a bloody fist and plenty of impalements.

It’s ridiculous fun in the way only alternate vampire history which manages at once to imitate Victorian literature’s language while being far more engaging.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick’s novels are a guaranteed mind fuck. Don’t look at me like that’s a new piece of information you’re only now finding out about, it’s true! Ubik is about reality and our relationship with it, it’s about its malleability, and it’s the most the author’s tapped into existential horror – at least in my experience. Ubik‘s ending is unsettling and disconcerting to no end; it’s been four months since I was done with it, and yet…there’s no moving past something like that, my friends.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastian De Castell

I listened to the audiobook version half a year ago and still I’ve not reviewed it! Deep disappointment plagues me over this one; it’s an excellent novel and the adventures of Falcio val Mond and his fellow Greatcoats deserves plenty of wonderful words of praise. It made me feel like I was a kid again, reading my copy of Duma’s The Three Musketeers. No wonder, as it draws inspiration from that timeless classic.

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

This novel is less a work of fantasy than a piece of philosophical fiction which makes use of fairy tale and fantasy conceits to great and powerful effect. The references in this book are numerless and run deeper than I’ve the knowledge to appreciate them. Books like this one, I am scared to review.

Carter’s opus is a brilliant work of postmodernist fiction with a powerful feminist message.

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry compared the titan Atlas to a Bulgarian weightlifter. Five out of five.

Blood of Empire

The closing chapter of one of my favourite series – fantastic, but with a rushed climax. I am having difficulty scoring this one.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I ❤ dragons. I ❤ tea. I </3 society.

2/3?

Good enough!

theartiswonderfulandilovethepremise

Welp, those are the books I’ve read that need reviewing. What about the ones I’ve yet to read? Gulp, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Sunday Star Wars: Kreia, the One-Woman Critique of the Force

Concept art of Kreia.

At the heart of the best-written video game based on the Star Wars universe is Kreia, a complex character who serves to voice criticism against, and complicate, the way we perceive the Force.

Kreia, known also as Darth Traya, was a Jedi Master turned Sith after her exile at the hands of the Jedi Council. Her best-known apprentice is the Jedi Knight Revan who led many Knights to arms in opposition to the Mandalorians in the Mandalorian Wars, circa 5,000 years before the events of the Original Trilogy. Revan is one of dozens of characters who deserve their own posts but we’ll leave him alone for now. Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks!

It wasn’t just he amongst Kreia’s apprentices to have left behind the Jedi’s role as peace-keepers in the Galaxy at large. All of her pupils followed, which contributed to the weakening of the Order and its eventual near-destruction, one of the closest times the Jedi have come near extinction. But let’s not open that can of worms either.

Kreia from the KOTORCG (Wookipedia tells me that’s the source)

At the core of Kreia is this: She hates the Force. The notion of it disgusts her. A power that runs through all living things, dictating and influencing their every choice in the search for balance in all things. The Force is destiny, with a will all its own. And isn’t destiny anathema to freedom?

Kreia is a humanist. I just realised this now, and considering the lives lost over her actions, I can see how you would doubt this – but she seeks the death of the Force, the end of its power over all living beings. She seeks to unchain the galaxy from a cyclical struggle between destiny, a fight that’s gone for untold millenia and, as we well know, shall continue to go on and on for millenia yet.

But for all that, this Grey Jedi – for I can think of no one who’d fit the title better than she – still made use of the Force. Was it because she sought to destroy it from within, or did it become a crutch? She herself is uncertain – though I like to think it was the former rather than the latter.

Kreia is the most deliciously complex character in Star Wars, and her role is Socrates-like in KotoR 2. No matter the choices you make she will question you, forcing you – as a character in the game and as a player outside it – to question, in turn, the preconceptions you’ve constructed about the way this universe operates.

Kreia is the reason I fell in love with Star Wars all the more as a teenager, and I bet that if I went back and played it now, I’ll find her even more endearing than before. Props to the amazing Chris Avellone, former lead writer for Obsidian Entertainment, for giving voice to such brilliant, engaging criticism of Star Wars all those years ago. I leave you with this, Kreia’s reason for hating the Force in her own words:

If you enjoyed this, please don’t forget to hit that like button, share the post on your socials and leave a comment to tell me what you think about Kreia! Come to think of it, Kreia wanted to prevent the Sequel Trilogy. #showerthoughts

The Die of Death by Kenneth B. Andersen – Book Review (#TheWrite Reads Blog Tour Edition!)

When I read The Devil’s Apprentice last year, I enjoyed it well enough, though I had a number of issues with some of the prose and saw the revelations coming from a mile away. How does its follow up compare? Read on to find out!

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The Die of Death follows up six months after the conclusion of Apprentice. Philip has been marked by his time in Hell – no longer the angelic boy he used to be, our young protagonist has made some new friends. Prone to mischevious behaviour and white lies, Philip is having a grand old time.

That is, until he is struck by lightning and finds himself down the familiar steps to Hell. It’s not there that he’s destined to go, however – because Mortimer, cantankerous old personification of Death that he is, has work for Philip.*

What The Devil’s Apprentice did well, this continues to do in the same vein. A return to Hell makes for plenty of fun, blood-curdling moments but the exploration of both the domain of Death and of Purgatory made for welcome additions to the tapestry of the underworld, or the afterlife, or wot-have-it. The characters remain true to themselves, and all the old, well-established characters make a comeback. They bring with them old friendships and adversarial relations, new revelations of forgotten crimes.

Perhaps what I enjoyed more here than in the previous book of the series has to do with the twists and turns. In Apprentice none of the revelations towards the closing third of the novel surprised me. Die held a few surprises I did not see coming, along with the ones I inferred. It’s a slyer novel than the one before it – and that’s something I can appreciate.

Mortimer, especially – old Death himself started off as someone I disliked and his standing with me only grew worse. Andersen, bless his talented writerly heart, turned it around!

Philip is more interesting by far in this one. The story flows better, the dialogue and prose are stronger. You will be surprised. This one does plenty right, and I’m happy to recommend it to people who enjoyed the previous one and to those who, like me, were on the fence at the prospect of reading the follow-up to the previous one.

My score for The Die of Death is a 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a fun second chapter, and I enjoyed it, and that’s all that matters.

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*Writing a variation of my name this many times makes me a touch more megalomaniacal than usual.

I’m not sure I’ll pick the next one up anytime soon – there’s another blog tour a little while from now, but I’ll admit to some reluctance on my part about participating. A case of oversaturation, perhaps.

I, Exile by David M. Samuels – Book Review

This book review was originally published over at booknest.eu.

Self-Published
Genre: Fantasy, Low Fantasy
Pages: 220
Format: Kindle e-book
Copy: Courtesy by the author through r/fantasy’s TBRindr list in return for an honest review;

The opportunity of coming across a gemstone of a book is why I am happy to read the works of indie fantasy authors whose titles haven’t yet gained wider recognition online. I’ve come across some brilliant works, and I’ve faced off against some reads that didn’t quite cut it – in the face of all those, David M. Samuels’ I, Exile measures up as an engaging and entertaining story of personal growth and adventure, with no small dose of sarcasm thanks to smartass protagonist Emelith. Oh, and a bloody lich makes this feel like a proper romp through pulpy fantasy goodness.

What this book reminded me of, as I read it, was the Forgotten Realms novels in the 90s, those Drizzt Do’Urden books every fantasy nerd and their father (i.e. me and my dad) read; not in the characters, necessarily, as there isn’t much in Emelith to remind you of Drizzt, but in the excitement and swift action, in the stakes that are never anything less than life-and-death, in the easy prose which allows you to glide through the pages, and in the unexpected allies found and forged along the way.

The setting for I, Exile is a post-apocalyptic desert in a world that has undergone a massive flood as recently as a few centuries back. All sorts of nasty buggers have made this desert their home, as is the way of these things but the nastiest, perhaps, is a lich seemingly no longer happy with staying with his skull buried in the sand. I’ll say no more about the lich, as that’d be giving away more than is strictly necessary, except for this – this is a fun villain, who strikes a balance between tropey and novel in all the right ways.

Emelith’s journey made I, Exile more appealing than it otherwise would’ve been. Prone to anger and snap judgements, the further our protagonist goes into this Mad Max-esque (to use the author’s own comparison) wasteland, the more she realises about herself. Quiet moments of contemplation abound in-between the excellent action sequences.

Samuels’ novel is technically adept – for its vast majority, I had a hard time finding any typos, grammatical errors or punctuation mistakes. Only the last few percent offered a slight increase in that type of issues, and that might be because I was sent an arc pre-publication date. The prose is expressive without coming across as bloated; if anything, it’s on the economic side as far as descriptions go. 

One piece of criticism I have is, the short blurb and the cover for the book did not work for me – the cover looks so very much like a bad 90s comic, I considered skipping it on this basis alone. That’s not the kind of feeling you want your cover to elicit. The blurb is too short and doesn’t arouse interest nearly as much as it should.

The cast of supporting characters includes plenty of interesting names, many of whom have their own motivations which conflict either with one another’s, or with Emelith’s, There’s a mysterious priestess, a few warriors.

I enjoyed I, Exile. My score for this one is 4/5 Stars on Goodreads, and I happily recommend you put it on your to-read list!

You’ll enjoy this one if:

  • You like less magic and more wit in your fantasy;
  • You’ve a love for desert settings, monsters, and a pleasing surplus of back-stabbing;
  • You’re looking for fun action and choppy dialogue, courtesy of a brash badass;
  • You want to take a deep breath of that action-adventure-y nostalgia of 90s fantasy – it’s pulpy, it’s fun, and it’s head and unlike many of the 90s Forgotten Realms book, it’s actually good!
  • And more! Prob’ly.

Sunday Star Wars: March Meme-A-Thon

It is a dark time in the galaxy. So what better way to alleviate the darkness than via a selection of memes based on everyone’s favourite space opera?!

DISCLAIMER: I’ve made none of these memes, I’ve merely saved them over the years.

We all know the bothans are incompetent, Admiral Ackbar Just Confirms it.
Here you see Darth Vader and his son refusing to practice social distancing. Though Vader is using a futuristic hazmat suit, his boy has no such luck and is directly under the threat of the coronavirus.
One could argue that the writing of the Clone Wars is of superior quality to the dialogue as crafted by one George Lucas
This one courtesy of Jedi: Fallen Order – the best Star Wars game since Knights of the Old Republic 2
You CANNOT have a meme-a-thon without baby Yoda…
…or this nightmare.

Lawlesness, cruelty, what else do you need as proof for the corruption of the Galactic Senate? Well, I’ve a message for you all.

Every time I see this, I snort-giggle.
And in the annals of personal ideology…

And, before we wrap it up for the day, the most upvoted post on r/PrequelMemes ever:

Most glorious thing I’ve ever seen, courtesy of 0_darth_plagueis_0

If you did not enjoy this rubric…

Ecstasy and Terror by Daniel Mendelsohn – Book Review

I don’t remember how I came across Ecstasy and Terror but I knew when I read its blurb that I would love it. Having read every one of the essays in this collection, I’ve found myself not only loving it but hungry for more of Mendelsohn’s writing. This anthology by Mendelsohn(who is Editor at Large over at the excellent New York Review of Books) has the apt subtitle From the Greeks to Game of Thrones, which might as well have added the following two words: And Beyond, and would still have been every bit as true.

Mendelsohn’s most interesting and illuminating essays draw connections to Ancient Greece and parallels to modern times; the first section, Ancients sees him exploring tragedies such as Euipides’ Bacchae and Sophocles’ Antigone, the role of the poet Sappho and her sexuality in Greek culture, the place of the Aeneid in modern society and the links between JFK’s assassination and Greek myth.

Following up is the weakest of the three sections, Moderns, which is by no means dull reading; it’s that some of the essays here speak of novels whose themes and problems hardly ever interested me. And yet Mendelsohn’s exceptional skill as a critic offers plenty to enjoy in “The Women and the Thrones: George R. R. Martin’s Feminist Epic on TV” and in “The Robots are Winning!: Homer, Ex Machina and Her“. Equally captivating was a review of an epistolary novel looking at the first emperor of Rome, Augustus. The remaining essays, while interesting to read due to Daniel’s ready supply of wit, left less of an impression, perhaps because the works examined by him pose little intrest to me at this time.

The third and smallest of the sections, titled Personals, I found as fascinating as Mendelsohn’s takes on Classical culture. Whether he spoke of his correspondence with Mary Renault, a lesbian author of historical fiction through his childhood – how her novels affected him and made him fully accept his sexuality – and early adulthood in the 70s or about the role and responsibility of the critic in the excellent piece “A Critic’s Manifesto”, this last section is stellar. It gave me a glimpse into a man whose work I’ve come to admire over the 377 pages of this remarkable collection and for that, I am all too happy.

What is there left to say? Plenty – I could speak about each of the essays, and you know what? I think I’ll make a weekly column out of it. I won’t talk about each and every one of these since, as I said before, I don’t have nearly enough to say about all of them. I’d encourage you to read Ecstasy and Terror for yourself, but in case you need more convincing, I will share with you a few of my favourite essays – what they are about, why they left an impression and what they taught me; because if there’s one thing I cannot stress enough, it is this: You will learn a lot from Daniel Mendelsohn.

Rating this anthology is a task I’m woefully underqualified for, and yet – since I will be cross-posting this to Goodreads, this is an unequivocal 5 out of 5 Stars. I cannot recommend it enough.

Sunday Star Wars: Enough With the Crappy Retconning!

Star Wars fans on Twitter, Reddit and all over the Internet have had a field day with all kinds of interesting tidbits, courtesy of Episode IX’s novelization. Virtually all of it has to do with Palpatine clones – which is one nightmare I’d hoped we had collectively turned away from after Disney’s wiping of ye olde Star Wars cannon.

Alas, no such luck. That nifty legacy idea of clone Palpy is back and ready to rumble, everyone!

The “controversial” news is that Palpatine’s Rey’s dad was a bad Palpatine clone, and that the Palpatine we saw in Episode IX was also a Palpatine clone, I ain’t impressed. I’m also a Palpatine clone, to tell you the truth. And so are you. It’s a palpandemic.*

Point on the first – ah, yes, gods forbid if any Disney property admits to its bad guys having sex. As for the second? Of course it was a Palpatine clone, this makes as much sense as everything else in the movie does! Which is to say, it’s not even in the same ball park.

To avoid more of this nonsense, I offered an elegant solution over on twitter:

This would work so much better for everyone involved, don’t you agree?

This is unfortunately the shortest entry in the venerable four-week history of my weekend Star Wars column as I’ve been busy with several other projects, including the conclusion of the penultimate chapter in my four-year long D&D game; I hope to talk about that too but for more Star Wars goodness, tune in next weekend! I suspect I’ll be talking about one or some of my most beloved or hated characters. Time will tell.

*No comedy writers were hurt in the writing of this joke.

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

Originally posted over at Booknest.eu.

Pictured here is my own copy. So pretty @_@

Published by: Gollancz.
Genre: (Dark) Fantasy
Pages: 486
Format: Hardback
Purchased the Exclusive Edition from Waterstones.

The world we readers knew from the First Law Trilogy has changed. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Joe Abercrombie’s standalone novels in the world, Best Served ColdThe Heroes, and Red Country. As the world’s timeline has progressed, we find ourselves amidst an Industrial Revolution much like the one the UK went through in the 1800s, and with it, some of the worst excesses of early capitalist society. 14-hour working days, scant payment for dangerous, life-draining factory labour, child labour, air and water pollution. All this under one common denominator, that of Progress with a capital ‘P’, and see how it encloses all that suffering within itself?

But rest assured, there’s a lot more than this going on. Abercrombie skirted away from the Union after the excellent Last Argument of Kings. We caught glimpses, here and there, of changes, particularly in the excellent Red Country, but the streets of Adua were left closed to us for over a decade until September 2019 rolled along. To date, I think this is the only book I’ve ever pre-ordered from a UK-based bookstore; goes to show you my excitement for it.

Why the hell did it take me so long to get to it?!*

A Little Hatred makes the beginning of Abercrombie’s first trilogy seem sluggish by comparison; from the first, the personalities of each Point-of-View character shine through. No handholding here, no soft introduction to the world and characters. Tragedies, both personal and socio-political see a new generation of characters challenged from the get-go.

The theatres of operations, as it were, are centered around the latest external conflict with the North and the internal tension within the Union itself. In the North, Black Calder’s bloodthirsty son is on the offensive against the Union’s Protectorate ran by old favourite Dogman; his daughter, Rikke, is in a whole lot of shit for more than one reason – to start with, she’s got the magical Long Eye, which gives her glimpses of the future while suffering bouts of agonizing epilepsy. Matching wits with the Wolf of the North is Leo dan Brock, the soon-to-be Lord Governor of Angland, who is at once likable and a reckless idiot. Don’t worry, I spoil nothing, you pick that vibe up on the very first page he’s on.

The Union is a different story altogether, a den of intrigue, full of serpents, the biggest ones some of our main characters, Savine dan Glokta and Vick Teufel – everything’s changed, everything’s the same, and you can’t help but love it to death. Also in the Union but removed, at first, from the heart of intrigue and conflict either by drunken uselessness and privilege or by post-traumatic stress disorder are Prince Orso and former farmer-turned-soldier Broad, a family man excellent at violence and little else. Orso, despite being one of the most disliked men in the Union – and considered spineless by virtually everyone – is a decent human being, though it takes him a little while to realize it. Between you and me, I’m not sure it’ll last

Fan-favourites from days gone by come back, as well – His Eminence, Sand dan Glokta the most prominent among them, his iron grip over the Union seemingly slipping due to the pressure of internal and external forces alike. Finree dan Brock also plays the role of governor and general of Angland’s armies, as does a brittle, severely damaged Dogman.

More than one chapter makes for a masterclass in the writer’s craft. CHAPTER NAME puts two of the most cutthroat characters in the novel, Savine dan Glokta and Vick Teufel face to face; it’s a moment of reflection for both as they look in a mirror, each seeing the other as the opposite of what they are while unconscious of how similar they view the world. Here’s Savine reflecting on the woman in front of her:

It was not mockery, exactly. They simply both knew that Teufel had seen things, suffered things, overcome things that Savine would never have to. Would never dare to. She needed no wigs or powder to hide behind. She sat safe in the certainty that she was carved from fire-toughened wood, and could break Savine in half with those veined coal miner’s hands if she pleased.

A page and a half later, Vick observes, “It wasn’t mockery, exactly. They just both knew that savine had more manners, money and beauty in one quim hair than Vick could’ve dug from her whole acquaintance. She sat safe on invisible cushions of power and privilege, knowing she could buy and sell Vick on a whim.” Funny how two of the most ruthless characters Abercrombie has written have so much in common without either realizing it – the world I look forward to seeing them share the page again as by the end of A Little Hatred at least one of them has undergone a metamorphosis the kind you’ll have to read to believe. 

And of course, it wouldn’t be Abercrombie if he didn’t have a scene or two full of hopping into the heads of minor characters. I love this contrivance because it’s an excellent way to sketch out significant events from points of view other than those already established. Abercrombie does more in forcing me to care about a minor character with two pages than some authors do with entire books. If that isn’t proof of his skill, I don’t know wot is!

Beyond the glorious escapism, A Little Hatred examines themes relevant to the socio-political environment we all live in. The Gurkish Empire, the ‘bad guy’ of the First Law trilogy, has suffered through political collapse; as a result, the Union is struggling with wave after wave of refugees; late in the novel, one character tells another:

‘Lot of brown faces around,’ he said, frowning.
‘Troubles in the South. Refugees are pouring across the Circle Sea, seeking new lives.’
‘Fought a war against the Gurkish thirty years ago, didn’t we? You sure they can be trusted?’
‘Some can and some can’t, I would’ve thought. Just like Northmen. Just like anyone. And they’re not all from Gurkland…Dozens of languages. Dozens of cultures. And they’ve chosen to come here. Makes you proud, doesn’t it?’
‘If you say so.’ *Redacted* knew nothing about those places except that he didn’t want the Union to become one of them. He took no pride in the watering down of his homeland’s character. … ‘Just…hardly feels like the Union’s the Union anymore.’
‘Surely the great strength of the Union has always been its variety. That’s why they call it a Union. 

Bit of a scathing critique, that, if you think about it. And you will think about it, unlike the character whose name I’ve redacted. It’s this kind of social commentary that makes for an excellent argument on the merits of fantasy in exposing the faults of our own world. Escapism, but not just.

Examined also is the “nothing can stand before profit” mentality of the hyper-rich, most directly through the character of Savine dan Glokta, who suffers from the same condition of her father in the previous trilogy, in that she does have internal morals and can recognize her actions as wrong but does not allow them to stand in her way. That’s what made Sand the most memorable character in the First Law trilogy and it is what makes me so fascinated with Savine.

Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred is a revelation, and if you haven’t yet read it, it’s well past time that you do. This is a modern masterwork; my score for it is an unapologetic 10/10. I cannot wait to see the challenges and changes all these characters, and their supporting casts, will go through over the next two novels as The Age of Madness shambles onwards. The themes I illustrated are but a handful of the ones you can find in this opening act and I encourage you to read with care, conscious of this adult, intelligent novel. It has plenty to say, long as you are willing to listen.

*If you must know, I moved from one apartment to another, then bode my time until I had the chance to fully submerse myself in this work. I do not regret it, not even a little bit.

Only autographed book I own!