John Scritchfield spends his days wrangling three future readers and his nights wearing costumes and pretending to hit people with blunt weaponry. There is very little money it. He holds an MFA in Acting, which he puts to use by teaching at a Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan and as the Creative Director for the Calvin Theatre Company. In his free time, he enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons, reading, writing, and spending time with his wife, three children, and two cats (Jasnah and Vin). Oh, he's also the new Booknest Admin.
I went into A Cat’s Guide to Bonding with Dragons knowing nothing of the story. Judging by the title alone and the cover art, I expected a lighthearted romp with Terry Pratchett vibes where a cat becomes a dragon rider, and that is essentially what I received. The premise is fairly simple: an Earth cat is transported to a secondary fantasy world by an evil warlock. The evil warlock is a terrible pet owner (because duh) and uses our protagonist feline Ben to kill the demonic rats he inadvertently summons. When Ben finally escapes, he finds his way to a dragon academy where an obstinate dragon Salanraja decides to bond him. What ensues is a pretty standard fantasy adventure but with an anthropomorphic cat in place of the farm boy, which does provide enough of a change of pace to make this a unique experience.
Although there is an attempt at that Discworld humor, it didn’t resonate with me in a way I had hoped. It’s by no means bad or cringeworthy, and it is most certainly lighthearted. It just wasn’t laugh out loud funny. But considering that I was reading The Trouble with Peace concurrently, it provided a nice amount of levity.
At the end of the day, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys lighthearted fantasy, and for me it was a nice palette cleanser, which is exactly what I want when I reach for something Pratchett-esque. So, check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Also, on a side note, I blame Rick & Morty for making me imagine Matthew Broderick as Ben's voice.
I first encountered the name Joe Abercrombie in 2016 when a friend of a friend recommended The Blade Itself. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I finally picked up a used copy and sat down to see what he was all about. Little did I know I was about to discover one of my favorite authors. From the very first page, I was hooked. I tore through the trilogy, becoming evangelistic about his works as I do with every author I adore, only to come to the end of The Last Argument of Kings with a hollow feeling inside. It was perhaps the first time I really experienced that emptiness you feel when you recognize the epic fantasy shaped hole in your heart. I never really found a way to fill that spot until I finished the final book in his trilogy of standalone novels Red Country. I think that feeling of contentment is what kept me from tearing through A Little Hatred. I savored that book, reading it from November 2019 through March 2020. Then, The Trouble With Peace sat on my shelf from the day it came out until August 4th of this year when I received an e-mail inviting me to the Age of Madness read-a-long. The timing couldn’t have been better. With the imminent release of The Wisdom of Crowds and my upcoming family vacation, I knew the time was ripe to dive in.
Now, understand that this Part 2 of the Read-a-long. If you are looking for the first nine chapters, you can head over to Fan Fi Addict and then come back…I’ll wait.
Alright, let’s do this.
Chapter Ten: Safe Hands
New monarch King Orso, Arch Lector Glokta, and High Justice Bruckel visit Lord Fedor dan Wetterlant who has been accused of rape and murder. Wetterlant has requested the king’s justice, which Orso is inclined to give him…Death by hanging, baby. On the way out, the trio are met by Wetterlant’s mother who makes thinly veiled threats against Orso should he not let the rapist go free.
Upon returning to his gardens, Orso meets with Bayaz who intends to leave soon. The two engage in a conversation where the weight on Orso’s shoulders is painfully apparent.
“I must confess I have always had some sympathy with villains. Heroism makes fine entertainment but sooner or later someone has to get something done.”
Orso meets later with Lord Isher, and they exchange pleasantries before discussing the Wetterlant issue. Isher suggests a compromise to potentially please the Open and Closed Councils and the common folk: a life sentence for Wetterlant. Orso finds this agreeable as he hates hangings. Lord Isher asks what kind of monster would enjoy them.
Chapter Eleven: An Ambush
Savine dan Glokta takes a stroll with her adopted father Sand dan Glokta to his place of work as she has done once a month since she was a girl. They engage in a stilted conversation despite Savine’s understandably sour mood before they encounter Bayaz near the statues of King Jezal and Lord Marshal West. Bayaz makes several confusing remarks that leave Savine confused and Glokta shaken. Bayaz believes the Burners and Breakers will need to be dealt with soon, and perhaps the Union will need a new leader…maybe even a woman of industry. Money, it seems, is the true magic of this world, and Bayaz is a wizard best obeyed.
Savine and her mother Ardee meet with Lady Finree dan Brock, mother of hero of the Union Leo dan Brock, who makes Savine an appealing proposal: marriage to her son. Zuri, out of concern for her friend, has apprised Ardee and Finree of Savine’s pregnancy with Leo’s child, and all involved agree the match makes sense. In celebration, they share a drink.
Chapter Twelve: Gentle Temperaments
Leo dan Brock, standing in the Lords’ rounds and surrounded by its majesty, is struck by the number of stairs in the world. At the bottom of the steps, he’s greeted by Lord Isher who wastes little time in exploiting Leo’s discontent with the crown before sharing Wetterlant’s plight with the young lion, stoking the man’s ego in the process.
After a long walk along the Kingsway, Leo arrives at the quarters where he meets with his mother and Ardee dan Glokta. The two women launch an even more impressive ambush than with Savine as they corner the new Governor of Angland more informing him than asking if he would like to marry Savine…like…tomorrow. Well, the following week actually…turning Lord Isher’s wedding into a double wedding. Leo is understandably rattled as a ring is dropped into his hands, and he is shown to the terrace where Savine awaits his proposal. After discussing the *ahem* benefits of the arrangement, the couple shares a passionate kiss with the Agriont spread out below them.
Chapter Thirteen: Minister of Whispers
Superior Lorsen enters his office to find Inquisitor Vick who asks him how went the vote. Lorsen smiles before informing her of their success: they have voted to remain in the Union. Turning Shudra to their side, it seems, proved to be the very thing they needed to encourage everyone to fall in line. The two share a drink of watered-down wine before Vick exits the office to find Solumeo Shudra waiting for her on the gallery. The two discuss the state of things as politicians argue the finer points of remaining in the Union.
Vick meets with Murdine to pay him for imitating Shenkt. Although the man padded his knee, he can still feel the blow Vick landed on him. The actor laments the state of theatre in Styria, stating that he seeks after truth. “The truth is overrated,” she tells him. “An actor should know that.”
Vick and Tallow wax philosophically as they walk to their ship, more than ready to leave this place behind when they’re suddenly attacked, and Vick is abducted. She removes the bag over her head to find Shylo Vitari, the Minister of Whispers for the Serpent of Talins, and Casamir dan Shenkt staring her down. Vitari reveals they were actually prepared to assassinate Shudra but were interrupted by Vick’s machinations. Vitari offers Vick a job before outlining her history with Sand “Old Sticks” dan Glokta and turning her attention to Bayaz and Valint and Balk. Vick refuses the job, which seems to interest Vitari even more. She leaves a piece of folded paper in Vick’s pocket and gives her instructions to seek someone out when she realizes how things really are. Vitari and Shenkt leave Vick and Tallow tied up, instructing Vick to figure out how to free herself.
Chapter Fourteen: Late
Rikke (rhymes with pricker) is once again caught up in a vision. This time she finds herself surrounded by lights and the face of an old woman held together with golden stitches directly before her. Strong hands pin her down as the old woman approaches her with a needle. She might be too late. She has to choose. “No,” she whispers. “This hasn’t happened yet.”
Rikke awakens to find Shivers holding her down. The two share a sentimental conversation about Shivers caring for a younger Rikke while she was ill. Soon after, Rikke realizes this too hasn’t happened yet.
Scenn, Shivers, Isern, and Rikke travel to two black stones looming against a pink sky. The group realizes as they approach that these stones are actually large Shanka said to be under the witch’s control. Scenn refuses to go further as the other three elect to go on to the misty lake. Once again, Rikke closes her eyes as she says, “No. This hasn’t happened yet.”
Isern and her brother Scenn discuss the journey up to the mountain. Scenn does not want to go. Isern believes Rikke is beloved of the moon and that the long eye is killing her. Scenn asks Rikke to tell his future to which she tells him he is going to get fatter. They share a laugh as Rikke realizes…you guessed it…this hasn’t happened yet.
“What use are straight answers in a crooked world?”
Rikke, Isern, and Shivers travel upwards through the hills, looking for where they can meet Scenn one of Isern’s eleven brothers. Isern conveys some of her family history while they take a brief rest on their trip to the Forbidden Lake. Shivers and Rikke share a bit of banter before Rikke’s vision shifts. This hasn’t happened yet.
Leo dan Brock and Rikke share a game of hide and seek in a barn. There are few kids her age in the area, and most are afraid of her, believing her to be cursed. After locating her, Leo declares it is his turn to hide. Rikke is sad to see him run away. No, she realizes. This happened long ago.
Chapter Fifteen: An Infinite Supply
Clover is interrupted by Greenway, one of King Stour Nightfall’s fantasy frat bros, while trying to teach sword work to Flick and Downside. King Stour has requested Clover’s presence. Packing up the bag of Shanka heads they collected on the king’s behalf, Clover and Flick head to Skarling’s Hall to meet with the king. Clover immediately notices a popular man of the people Gregun Hollowhead in a cage. Stour states this has to do to with the man’s propensity for stirring up trouble in response to their increased taxes. Stour tells Clover that he intends to travel to Uffrith, not to take the place but to secure it if it falls into his lap. He tells Clover he would like him to come along. He then dismisses Clover and Flick so he can look at the Shanka heads…as one does.
Chapter Sixteen: The Demon That Breaks All Chains
Finally in the moment, Rikke awakes in a cave she recognizes from her visions. At the opening of the cave stands a silhouetted woman overlooking a misty lake. This is Caurib, the deformed witch held together with golden stitches.
“But then it is the fate of hope to end in disappointment, as it is the fate of light to end in darkness and life in death. They are still worth something while they last.”
Caurib gives Rikke a rundown of the different types of magic and why the Magi, Eaters, and assorted fools all suck in their approach to Magic, which breaks all rules. Rikke learns that she will need to have runes tattooed on her face to chain the long eye shut, which seems a better alternative to eventual madness. Quoting her father, she reckons she’ll have to do it but wishes for more straightforward answers. Caurib states that if she had the answers, she wouldn’t be standing in a nearly frozen lake with her head stitched together.
Chapter Seventeen: The King’s Justice
Leo dan Brock sits with other members of the Open Council as they prepare to hear the charges and judgment leveled against Lord Fedor dan Wetterlant. The dissenting voices surrounding him suggest the crown is doing all of this in order to strip the Wetterlant’s land away from them as Fedor has yet to produce an heir.
King Orso enters the Lord’s Round, uncomfortable in his stiff regal clothing. His whispered swear seems to bounce all around the cavernous room as he takes his seat before the meeting of the Open Council is brought to order. He notices Lord Isher not seated in his proper place. Instead, the man is seated beside Leo dan Brock. As the meeting commences, Lord Isher immediately asks to speak. He uses this opportunity to congratulate Leo on his engagement to Lady Savine dan Glokta, which leaves Orso stunned and feeling betrayed.
Savine revels in the moment but still momentarily laments that she had not been able to let Orso know sooner. As she basks in the attention, she wonders what Lord Isher is planning.
Orso manages to pull his attention away from Savine and decides to follow the plan for the day despite the sudden news. Wetterlant is brought in, looking like absolute shit and completely unlike the spoiled fop Orso had spoken with. Through gritted teeth, Orso swears.
Isher whispers poison into Leo’s ear. Glokta comments that Wetterlant looks far too pleased with himself to have been tortured by the cripple.
Orso looks to Isher who feigns surprise as Wetterlant proclaims his innocence. He now realizes why his father hated this place so much.
Leo stands and declares this trial a disgrace as the Open Council is not privy to the Closed Councils information.
A manipulated Leo calls Orso a puppet of the Closed Council much to Savine’s horror.
Orso, discovering he does have a temper, orders Gorst to remove Brock from the chamber.
Leo is swept away by Bremer dan Gorst and carefully deposited by the statue of Casamir the Steadfast.
In a rage, Orso sentences Fedor dan Wetterlant to death by hanging before ending the meeting abruptly. Lady Wetterlant screams threats at the king as her son is dragged away. When asked how things could have possibly gone worse, the Arch Lector states that nothing is on fire.
Savine catches up with her new fiancé and assists him in walking as he rages impotently. The conversation quickly turns as Savine points out how foolish his anger was and how deep of shit he is in. Brock realizes how his temper got the best of him, and Savine assuages his guilt by stating that she will arrange a way for him to apologize to the king. He feels like he’s the luckiest man in the Union. Savine corrects him by stating he is the luckiest man in the world.
Chapter Eighteen: The Choice
Clip, clip. Rikke is getting a haircut. Shivers is there. He tells her the North will need her when he’s gone. Caurib foresees a great destiny for Rikke if she keeps the long eye or a regular life if she doesn’t. But she has to choose. She sees a battle. A crack in the sky. Broken pillars. A night battle lit by firelight. A lion torn by wind, ragged and stained. And a sun on a broken tower. Leo, she sees…or maybe it is Orso. She misses both. Caurib asks her if she has known a thing completely. An arrow. A sword. A crack in the sky. A series of memories, of visions, of things to come and things long past. A wolf ate the sun and a lion ate the wolf and a lamb ate the lion and an owl ate the lamb. The moment is finally upon her, the tattoo on her face – eleven wards, and eleven wards reversed, and eleven times eleven. As the two fight one another, Rikke must finally choose…which eye.
“I can’t tell what’s real and what’s a vision,” Rikke heard herself say. “I can’t tell what’s then and what’s to come. It all runs together like paints in the water.”
I know I shouldn’t be mad at myself, gentle reader, for not reading this sooner, but man is it hard. The Trouble With Peace has been Abercrombie at his absolute best. The mystery, the mayhem, and the madness are all perfectly balanced. The chapters clip along, making the reader feel every bit as swept up as Leo dan Brock in the grip of Bremer dan Gorst. Every POV is equally compelling, and I found myself excited to discover more about every storyline. Where this is heading, I have no idea, but I am here for it. The Wisdom of Crowds can’t get here fast enough. I had already pre-ordered my copy, but I am sorely tempted to do so again…harder this time. Maybe with an autograph? I don’t know. The autographed section of my library is sadly lacking Joe’s signature.
Thus ends Booknest.eu’s portion of the Age of Madness Read-a-long, and what a trip it has been. If you’re reading this, I can only assume you’re hoping to refresh before The Wisdom of Crowds comes out next month, but if you’ve stumbled along this article without reading any of Abercrombie’s previous work, allow me to direct you to the The Blade Itself. Also, if you’d like to know what we thought of all of The Trouble with Peace, why don’t you check out Gary’s review here.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for the recommendation, Will O’Mullane for the invitation, Gollancz for hosting the Age of Madness read-a-long, and the grimly majestic Joe Abercrombie for continuing to include us in his incredible world.
If you have yet to dive into the First Law, you’re missing out. Why don’t you head to your nearest independent bookstore and pick up one or all of his books?