The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever.
On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal’s son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specializes in disappointments.
Savine dan Glokta – socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union – plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control.
The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die. With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another…
The Age of Madness series consists of three books: A Little Hatred, The Trouble with Peace, The Wisdom of Crowds. It is also part of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law universe, but it is hard for me to place exactly when this story takes place in relation to the rest because it was a very long time ago that I read them. Suffice to say, though, The Age of Madness fits perfectly within Abercrombie’s grimdark theater.
(Okay, I looked it up. This series takes place after all of the other books and approximately 30 years after The First Law Trilogy ends. Which totally makes sense based on some of the character references.)
The first thing I want to say about this series is that you really do not have to have read the previous books to enjoy it. You may enjoy it more if you have because there are a bunch of references to the previous works, but they really only mean anything if you know they are there; otherwise, it just sounds like a fantasy world with a rich history from which one can draw – which is the case whether or not one has read the others. If this is your first Abercrombie, it will not affect your enjoyment either way.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get down to business. My biggest impression of The Age of Madness is that I am torn about it. This is true Abercrombie: grim and dark (and grimdark), with really distinct characters and an epic narrative consisting of multiple perspectives. Joe Abercrombie excels at all of these story elements, and, as such, these are the aspects of the series that I loved.
I have mixed feelings about the rest of it, though. I thought the characters were super interesting and well-developed in the beginning, and, as I mentioned before, they were all really distinct. Voice is so important in a story, and the author does a great job of ensuring that characters from different places and situations have unique voices and perspectives. In the end, though, too many times they ended up in trope-y situations. And not in a fun way. I do not mind fantasy tropes, but for much of this series it put characters in situations where the story felt forced. This actually fed into my second biggest issue.
The story is so chaotic. Let me back up and say that there is a ton of drama and intrigue, and that is what really fuels the narrative for me. I actually read the three books in the series fairly quickly, because I always felt like I needed to see what was around the corner; oftentimes, I did not want to put it down. And, again, I say, I love me some chaos in a storyline! But there is a point where it crosses from chaos into randomness, and at times I felt like I could not trust a single thing that was going on. I am not looking for a straight-line narrative here, but, for me, there were too many changes in direction. There was no real consistency, and it left my head spinning.
Despite the issues I mention above, overall, I enjoyed reading The Age of Madness Trilogy. The positives outweigh the negatives, and I think it fits into the First Law portfolio just fine. I am recommending it for fans of epic fantasy, and those fans of Lord Grimdark himself, for sure.