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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London: Live Action Harrumphing

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Dropkick Murphys – The Gauntlet

England was a trip, man. I’ll need a few posts to get through all this, so I’m going to break this down into bite-sized pieces.

I survived the Ryanair flight, narrowly, and after the pilot landed the plane like a dribbled basketball I stepped out to the sweet solid ground. This particular solid ground, however, was British soil.

My last name is English. It’s not something I think about very often. I’m an American boy, and that’s as much heritage as I was ever given, beyond Ma’s painfully Irish complexion.

Now, I’m a firm believer that America is the greatest country in the world, despite our leadership, outrageously overpriced health care, disastrous system of cultural values, police brutality rates, test scores, lagging literacy, carbon emissions, obesity rates, car-centric comfort culture, academic debt slavery, intellectual cowardice, pop culture exportation, and humiliating representation on the global stage. I’m a patriot, and we’re still mad about the Revolutionary War.

I say this because it turns out, we modern Sons of Liberty aren’t the only ones.

The rest of the survivors and I were herded out into the little cattle chutes that led into the Southend airport, then divided into two groups: those with an EU passport, and those without. I was the only one without, and stood alone, like the cheese, until I was… regarded.

It’s said that the English take queueing (which is a special Metric system word for “waiting in line”) very seriously. I wasn’t prepared for quite how seriously.

It’s hard to picture this, but imagine a huge, open room with those little cloth bank turnstiles forming a maze. On one side of the room is everyone. On the other side of the room is me. I was being scolded for standing alone ten feet (that’s about 3 meters) of where I would otherwise be standing alone.

“How long are you planning on staying?” he asked, once he decided I wouldn’t experience the appropriate level of shame and started doing his job.

“Definitely not long,” I said. “I’m flying home from Dublin on Friday.”

“Enjoy your stay,” he said dryly, and stamped my goddamn passport already.

I left that charmer behind and found an ATM, withdrew a bunch of regal Monopoly money with one or more queens on it, then caught the train to the Tower of London (see next post). Then, I headed to my hostel, which was in a pub.

My first impression of London is that very few people there seem to be English. I mostly overheard Spanish. All the food stands were run by people from India or the Middle East. Both bartenders I encountered on my walk to my hostel were from Spain.

The people who ran my hostel were really nice, and really English. I chalked Angry Santa up to a fluke. In fact, all the English women I met on my trip were really nice and uniformly exuberant.

Four beers later, I discovered I was drunk! These are the dangers of eating one meal a day, friends. Man cannot live by a single burger alone.

The pub was starting to fill, and had collected a large number of Lads. I had been prepared for the Lads; I was informed that they would be raucous, perhaps cheeky. I did not anticipate them all being in their mid-thirties, or sitting at a table ten deep.

They were all ladded up, though, crowding the booth,shouting. I figured, if this was the rule, it must be real discomforting for British women. Maybe that’s why they were all so demonstratively bright and chirpy.

But that’s just at a glance. I would gain greater understanding of this great nation in the coming days. It was too noisy and ladly now, and I was full of beer. I slung my pack over my shoulders and stumbled out to sightsee.

Love,

B.

Barcelona: Encontré las Comunistas

October 26, 2017. Barcelona, Catalonia, Madrid.

The next day was a profoundly surreal amalgam of political dissent and nightmare art.

I run hot. I’m a fleshy furnace, and back in the Frozen North I considered 50 degrees to be t-shirt weather. As per the recommendations made by The Savvy Backpacker, I invested in three long-sleeve button downs because “You can just roll up the sleeves if it gets too hot!”

This doesn’t work. This makes your elbows hotter, and the rest of you no less hot. This was fine in Ireland, where it was always raining and cold, but in Spain the weather is perfect every day all the time forever and it was going to kill me.

I went to a kitschy souvenir shop and bought three t-shirts for 20€. Two of them were generic Barcelona dealies and one was an appropriately red shirt with a bull on it that said ESPAÑA. In the Wes Craven bathrooms of the Hell Museum of Psychosis Art (will cover in coming post) I switched into it and then went wandering through the narrow, winding alleys that comprise the city’s cultural district.

Earlier, at a coffee shop called the Sweetophelia Cafe, I was interrupted in my caffeinated morning blog musings by a troupe of flag-waving communist teens marching down the street with a police escort and shouting. I tried to get a video but my phone was charging and, with how long it takes to boot up, I’m pretty sure it’s running Windows 95. As I meandered through the labyrinth of corner shops and bars that is the Circulo de Arte, I found what must have been a major civic building where every political dissident under the age of 20 had gathered to shout in Catalan.

All the heavy hitters were there. Hammer and sickle flags, antifa in bandannas, dreadlocked white dudes with gauges, news vans, the whole nine yards. A lot of them were wearing flags for capes. No one was pleased. Further back, along the fence, locals 35 years of age or older looked on in notable disquiet.

I approached one of the girls along the fence and asked “Disculpe, que es esto sobre?” which was the closest I could get “The hell is going on here?”. She served me up a withering look and told me that it is about independence from Spain.

My dumb ass says “Okay, thanks!” and continues blithely on my way. In retrospect, I would’ve probably walked away whistling, if I could whistle.

I’m observing the protest when I catch my reflection in window glass and realize:

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whoops

(note: i made this face on purpose but this is coincidentally the same face that everyone in Dublin made 24/7)

So all this mean mugging is not necessarily because I’m a filthy American tourist, but because I’m doing the equivalent of walking around colonial Lexington 1775 with an “ENGLAND RULZ” shirt. I scrambled into an alley and changed into a less incendiary Barcelona shirt. I could see the la policia around the corner in another window reflection, but I can’t imagine they would stop what they were doing and yell at me for pulling a quick Superman switch as far from the public eye as I could get without buying more tapas.

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It was a madhouse, but, because it was not in America, none of the children were maced or beaten. I poked around until I found a trio of 15-year-olds who spoke enough English to give me a synopsis of what they were protesting.

Catalonia wants to secede from Spanish rule. I’m a major proponent of liberty, so if I had a dog in this fight, it would be Catalonia’s. They were going to hold a formal withdrawal but that same day there was some sort of closed-doors meeting at this particular building, and it was announced that tomorrow Catalonia would be involved in the Spanish presidential elections. The whole secession was swept right under the rug.

I thanked them for the information, explaining (unnecessarily) that I’m an American and that we don’t hear much about this, because of our own political circus. I wished them the best and headed out of the demonstration before anyone decided to get punchy.

I’m a simple dude. If you want freedom, I want you to have it. Buena suerte, Barcelona. I’d say it in Catalan but I definitely can’t.

Love,

The Bastard