Book Review: The Grim Company

The Grim Company by Luke Scull

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


What do you get when you cross an aging Northern barbarian trying his best to become a better man, a narcissistic youth with incredible hand-to-hand combat skill convinced of his own importance by a Truman Show caliber lifetime of lies spun by meddling wizards, and a treasonous, jeering cripple with connections to upper government in a crapsack medieval dystopia where a cabal of immortal wizards are perpetually warring for control of the realm?

The First Law, by Joe Abercrombie.

What do you get if you took exactly that, leeched it of all charm and believable dialogue, and cranked the rape dial up to 11?

Ah, now we get to the Grim Company.

I gave it two stars because the writing was sufficiently skillful that I finished the book, but Joe Abercrombie is one of my favorite authors. Even bland First Law fanfiction holds my interest, apparently.

Salazar, obviously, is Bayaz, though more openly fascist. Cole is Jezal, but with constant ridiculous Three Stooges sound effects playing whenever he falls into pig shit or steps on a rake, which is constantly and tactlessly. The barbarian whose name was almost Cole, I don’t remember it, Cohn or something, he was the Dogman, but if the Dogman were Logen instead. The personality was stolen from the Dogman and pasted into Logen’s backstory.

The barbarian’s friend, “The Wolf”, that was Sandor Clegane, the Hound. Woop, left field! Yeah, he’s foul-mouthed, perpetually snarling at everyone around him, miserable, even down to the point where he was covered in burns. It’s that opaque. He was also closet-gay coded and in love with the Dogman character; this was evinced by his being the only character in the rapey grimdark fantasy novel to ever drop the f-slur.

Now, interestingly enough, the Fenris the Feared character, the unstoppable giant in the magic armor, he was swapped out for Gregor Clegane, so he could threaten rape more frequently. This character gouges out the eyes of someone who almost defeats him, just like in that episode of Game of Thrones. He is eventually defeated by the Hound character, also just like in Game of Thrones, though they are not siblings so it doesn’t make for much of a payoff in this. Not that Cleganebowl did in Game of Thrones, either, but that’s another rant for a harsher review that GRRM will get if he ever writes again.

What other baldfaced plagiarism sticks out, let’s see. Oh! The callow manservant/apprentice who travels with the party and hides a dark, sinister secret, the suggestion that he is something more than human and everyone can kind of tell but no one is certain until the big reveal? That’s Malacus Quai. He’s called Isaac in this one, and he’s an alien instead of an Eater. Great.

I’m not sure who Sasha was ripped off from, probably Ardee West, but she didn’t have much of a personality to speak of anyway. She mostly existed to give Cole something to pine after (almost characterization), and to keep the lingering threat of a rape scene constant throughout the book.

Charmless. Gormless. Shameless. And not the good kind of the shameless, where you push the envelope and inspire others to try new things. The kind where you keep stilting situations so your most annoying protagonist gets cock-and-ball-tortured by beautiful women. “Ah, no, mistress, please stop.”

I wouldn’t be this cruel if it weren’t for the dialogue, but holy shit, it’s like he’s never heard a human being talk before. You know what it is? Anime. The dialogue is written like anime. The one character calls the other a bitch or something like that, and she responds with verbatim, “Thanks for the compliment”. I remember the episode of Pokemon where Misty said that, dude. You can just have them say “thanks”. The ‘for the compliment’ part is implied.

I talked myself out of two stars, working my way through this review. One star. It was bad. It was a pale and insulting imitation of one of the greatest fantasy works of our time. I know what Picasso said about good artists borrowing and great artists stealing, but he never really clarified what bad artists do. This, I guess.



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Book Review: The Trouble with Peace

The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Presumably, the titular trouble with peace is its long-term untenability, and how goddamn treacherous everyone is.

A surprising number of loose ends got wrapped up in this one, which sets the stage of the third book in the trilogy focusing more on the labor disputes and the rise of the first real challengers to Bayaz’s power, the unwashed masses and their predilection for smashing the hell out of everything. As appealing as the Judge subplot is, and as entertaining as are the attempts at stick-and-poke anarchy made by all the dislocated skilled workers made irrelevant by the shiny new deathtrap machines, they don’t have anything that can challenge Bayaz’ pet demigod. No amount of rabble, no matter how roused, can overwhelm an Eater. They’ll just get ate.

On one hand, I can recognize the point of the allegory. Unmaking the foundation of society is supposed to seem like a pipe dream, no matter how broken the society might be. Bayaz is an institution unto himself, an immortal watchmaker who set the clockwork of the empire to spinning centuries ago and stops in every now and then to tune it up and sneer at the little people so they know just how superior he is. He has failsafes upon failsafes. It’s supposed to be impossible for young, morally upright idealists to try to effect change. You don’t need to be a poli sci professor to see the parallels.

But on the other, it’s a little dissatisfying. (This is the closest I have to criticism, this book is a masterpiece.) You want to root for the underdog, but the underdog is too realistic. We see the looters and rioters, warts and all, and though their cause is just, they’re nothing but warts. There’s not much character development in the Breakers and Burners, which was a deliberate stylistic choice to maintain the air of mystery around the organization. Consequently, the only things we see are them acting like animals, pillaging and raping and burning their way through the cities that have been grinding them further and further beneath their heel over the past 30 years (longer if you disregard the sudden-onset Industrial Revolution and think about the lot of the smallfolk under aristocratic feudalism).

In the third-person omniscient provided by all these perspective hops, the reader can recognize that the politics of the Empire are a Machiavellian nightmare, and the North is nothing but tribalist feuding, as the North has always been. You want to root for the peasants. You want the system to be burnt down. But the peasants are just so grotesque and fairytale-goblinoid evil that you can’t sympathize with them. Brod is okay, but only because he’s surrogate Logen, and even he can’t decide whether the uprising is the move.

All of this to say the revolution is the backdrop, with the main focal point of the story being the relationships between the main characters. I don’t want to go into it and risk spoiling anything, but it’s gripping. I can’t wait until the next one.

And Abercrombie can be relied on to pump out the next one before I die of old age. Unlike certain contemporaries I could and will name: George R.R. Marten, Patty Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch, for starters. It must be real embarrassing to be those bums, watching Joe Abercrombie, the new and unrivaled king of grimdark, just churn up an entire new trilogy in the 10-year silent expanses of time between each of their individual volumes.



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Book Review: A Little Hatred

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A tremendously entertaining book by my favorite fantasy author. I cleared the whole 20 hour audiobook in almost one sitting. I don’t even want to hear my own internal monologue for 20 consecutive hours, but everything Abercrombie writes is gold, and Steven Pacey really brings the characters to life.

A Little Hatred follows Abercrombie’s patterned precedents of graphic violence, mentally ill protagonists, a continuum of nihilist greyscale morality, and biting, acerbic wit from pretty much every involved party, dumbasses included. However, this go-around, things are much sexier, because most of the protagonists are the 20something progeny of fan favorites from the previous trilogy, rather than a collection of grizzled, belching, genre-appropriate barbarians.

A thorough explanation of the young, dumb, and full of… you know 😉 trope comes from the three male characters driving the narrative, undoubtedly due to Abercrombie’s firsthand familiarity with the idea, having been a man in his twenties. Dark days indeed, and many of us barely escaped them with our hides intact.

Leo dan Brock is a caricature of arrogant vainglory, dominated by his chessmaster mother and trying to earn his place in the world by allowing his poorly controlled emotions to steer him through straits that, quite frankly, his ship isn’t outfitted for in the first place. Despite his myriad of character flaws, women keep forgiving his pomposity, because he’s pretty, and they really do.

Orso dan Luthar leans hard in the other direction, confronting the meaninglessness through self-effacing apathy and hedonism, right up until he can’t anymore. He is utterly adrift, drinking and fucking himself into a coma and not allowing the crapsack reality to disillusion him, right up until a flicker of idealism convinces him that, well, if he doesn’t try to change the world, who’s going to?

Brock’s Jungian shadow work counterpart is the Great Wolf, Stour Nightfall. The same basic drives motivate them both, but Nightfall comes at it as conquest, less high fantasy and more sword-and-sorcery, with Nietzschean sadism and performative brutality.

These are the figureheads, the puppets that shape the play. The actual new powers coming to fruition develop in the form of the female primary characters, each in their own way.

Savine dan Glokta is the daughter of the Archlecter, the most feared man in the Union, now operating under the dismissive sobriquet “Old Sticks”, though it isn’t clear as to whether that was because of his cane or because of his withering. Savine uses her last name as leverage to catapult herself to the apex of Union high society, and weaponizes her keen intellect to get a stranglehold on all of the newly emergent business ventures that come from a civilization proceeding from the medieval to the industrial era. She doesn’t need or care about the money, but she figures it’s as good a way to keep score as any.

Rikke is the daughter of the Dogman who was, himself, a humble and goodhearted everyman. So is Rikke, although she also has the Long Eye, which allows her to see the future and makes her prone to epileptic fits and shit herself. Rikke is probably the most relatable character, operating on Northern naturalist sensibilities and the Dogman’s politesse, tempered with the advice from her friends, the mad witch Isren-i-Phail, and renown murderous spook Caul Shivers.

These five guide the flow of the future, gaining and losing influence as the events of the book unfold and banging each other like a Denny’s table full of drama club kids. (The exception being Stour, whose pathology has likely replaced sexual release with violence). In turn, they are guided by significant figures from the previous generation, though they all eventually turn from them, some more performatively than others.

I don’t want to risk spoiling it. It’s a truly incredible read. Abercrombie has a masterful command of psychology and characterization.

I profoundly hope someone kills Bayaz this go-round. I know he represents the status quo, or maybe the Illuminati conspiracy that there are unseen hands making sure everything in the world continues to suck so they can guarantee their own profit, but I think the catharsis of watching the miserable old fuck get his baldness sundered might make up for the breakdown of the analogy.



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