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An Exclusive Extract from Joe Abercrombie's A Little Hatred

Posted on 2nd September 2019 by Mark Skinner

A Little Hatred is the much-anticipated first book in The Age of Madness trilogy from the UK’s king of adventure and fantasy. Written with Joe Abercrombie’s trademark flair and originality, the new series offers a gripping take on the industrial revolution, the power of money and the dangers of politics, especially when being stabbed in the back is a far from metaphorical experience.

A visceral story of bloody revolution combining sharp new characters with some familiar faces from his bestselling First Law trilogy, we have an exclusive first-look at a chapter ahead of publication on 17 September. 

Keeping Score

Sparks showered into the night, the heat a constant pressure on Savine’s smiling face. Beyond the yawning doorway, straining bodies and straining machinery were rendered devilish by the glow of molten metal. Hammers clattered, chains rattled, steam hissed, labourers cursed. The music of money being made.

One-sixth of the Hill Street Foundry, after all, belonged to her.

One of the six great sheds was her property. Two of the twelve looming chimneys. One in every six of the new machines spinning inside, of the coals in the great heaps shovelled in the yard, of the hundreds of twinkling panes of glass that faced the street. Not to mention one-sixth part of the ever-increasing profits. A flood of silver to put His Majesty’s mint to shame.

‘Best not to loiter, my lady,’ murmured Zuri, fires gleaming in her eyes as she glanced about the darkened street.

She was right, as always. Most young ladies of Savine’s acquaintance would have come over faint at the suggestion of visiting this part of Adua without a company of soldiers in attendance. But those who wish to occupy the heights of society must be willing to dredge the depths from time to time, when they see opportunities glitter in the filth.

‘On we go,’ said Savine, boot heels squelching as she followed their link-boy’s bobbing light into the maze of buildings. Narrow houses with whole families wedged into every room leaned together, a spider’s web of flapping washing strung between, laden carts rumbling beneath and showering filth to the rooftops. Where whole blocks had not been cleared to make way for the new mills and manufactories, the crooked lanes reeked of coal smoke and woodsmoke, blocked drains and no drains at all. It was a borough heaving with humanity. Seething with industry. And, most importantly, boiling over with money to be made.

Savine was by no means the only one who saw it. It was payday, and impromptu merchants swarmed about the warehouses and forges, hoping to lighten the labourers’ purses as they spilled out after work, selling small pleasures and meagre necessities. Selling themselves, if they could only find a buyer.

There were others hoping to lighten purses by more direct means. Grubby little cutpurses weaving through the crowds. Footpads lurking in the darkness of the alleys. Thugs slouching on the corners, keen to collect on behalf of the district’s many moneylenders.

Risks, perhaps, and dangers, but Savine had always loved the thrill of a gamble, especially when the game was rigged in her favour. She had long ago learned that at least half of everything is presentation. Seem a victim, soon become one. Seem in charge, people fall over themselves to obey.

So she walked with a swagger, dressed in the dizzy height of fashion, lowering her eyes for no one. She walked painfully erect, although Zuri’s earlier heaving on the laces of her corset gave her little choice. She walked as if it was her street—and indeed she did own five decaying houses further down, packed to their rotten rafters with Gurkish refugees paying twice the going rent.

Zuri was a great reassurance on one side, Savine’s beautifully wrought short steel a great reassurance on the other. Many young ladies had been affecting swords since Finree dan Brock caused a sensation by wearing one to court. Savine found that nothing lent one confidence like a length of sharpened metal close to hand.

The link-boy had stopped at a particularly wretched building, holding his torch up to the peeling sign above its lintel.

‘This really the place?’ he asked.

Savine gathered her skirts so she could squat beside him and look in his dirt-smeared face. She wondered if he sponged the muck on as artfully as her maids did her powder, to arouse just the right amount of sympathy. Clean children need no charity, after all.

‘This is the place. Our heartfelt thanks for your guidance.’ And Zuri slipped a coin into Savine’s gloved hand so she could hold it out.

She was not at all above sentimental displays of generosity. The whole point of squeezing one’s partners in private was so they could do the squeezing in public. Savine, meanwhile, could smile ever so sweetly, and toss coins to an urchin or two, and appear virtuous without the slightest damage to her bottom line. When it comes to virtue, after all, appearances are everything.

The boy stared at the silver as though it was some legendary beast he had heard of but never hoped to see. ‘For me?’

She knew that in her button and buckle manufactory in Holsthorm, smaller and probably dirtier children were paid a fraction as much for a long day’s hard labour. The manager insisted little fingers were best suited to little tasks, and cost only little wages, too. But Holsthorm was far away, and things in the distance seem very small. Even the sufferings of children.

‘For you.’ She did not go as far as ruffling his hair, of course. Who knew what might be living in it?

‘Such a nice boy,’ said Zuri, watching him hurry away into the gloom with the coin in one fist and his sputtering torch in the other.

‘They all are,’ said Savine. ‘When you have something they want.’

‘None more blessed, my scripture-teacher once declared, than those who light the way for others.’

‘Was that the one who fathered a child on one of his other pupils?’

‘That’s him.’ Zuri’s black brows thoughtfully rose. ‘So much for spiritual instruction.’

The grimy ale-hall fell silent as Savine swept in, as if some exotic jungle beast had wandered off the street.

Zuri whipped out a cloth and wiped down a vacant section of the counter, then, as Savine sat, she slipped out the pin and whisked away her hat without disturbing a hair. She kept it close to her chest, which was prudent. Savine’s hat was probably worth more than this entire building, including the clientele. At a brief assay, they only reduced its value.

‘Well, well.’ The man behind the counter was easing forwards, wiping his hands on his stained apron and giving Savine a lingering look up and down. ‘I’m tempted to say this is no place for a lady like you.’

‘We’ve only just met. You really have no idea what kind of lady I am. Why, you could be taking your life in your hands just talking to me.’

‘Reckon I’m brave enough if you are.’ By his squinty grin, he had somehow convinced himself he held some appeal to the fairer sex. ‘What’s your name?’

She planted one elbow on the stretch of counter Zuri had wiped so she could lean closer and draw out both syllables. ‘Savine.’

‘That’s a lovely name.’

‘Oh, if you enjoy the tip, you’ll go mad for the whole thing.’

‘That so?’ he purred at her. ‘How does it go?’

‘Savine… dan…’ And she leaned even closer to deliver the punchline. ‘Glokta.’

If a name had been a knife and she had cut his throat with hers, the blood could not have drained more quickly from his face. He gave a strangled cough, took a step back and nearly fell over one of his own barrels.

‘Lady Savine.’ Majir was coming from an upstairs office, wooden steps creaking under her considerable weight. ‘What an honour.’

‘Isn’t it, though? Your man and I were just getting acquainted.’

Majir glanced towards the ghost-faced barman. ‘Would you like him to apologise?’

‘For what? Not being as brave as he claimed? If we executed men for that, I swear there wouldn’t be a dozen left alive in the Union, eh, Zuri?’

Zuri clasped Savine’s hat sadly to her breast. ‘Heroes are in lamentably short supply.’

Majir cleared her throat. ‘If I’d known you were coming all the way down here yourself—’

‘If I spent all my time shut up with Mother, we would kill each other,’ said Savine. ‘And I feel that business should be conducted, whenever possible, in person. Otherwise one’s partners can convince themselves that one’s eyes are not on the details. My eyes are always on the details, Majir.’

In low company, Savine could be low. These were bullies, so they needed to be bullied. It was the language they understood. Majir’s thick neck shifted as she swallowed. ‘Who would dare doubt it?’ And she laid a flat leather pouch on the counter.

‘It’s all there?’

‘A promissory note from the banking house of Valint and Balk.’

‘Really?’ Valint and Balk had a dark reputation, even for a bank. Savine’s father had often warned her never to deal with them, because once you owe Valint and Balk, the debt is never done. But a promissory note was just money, and money can never be a bad thing. She tossed the pouch to Zuri, who peered inside and gave the smallest nod. ‘It’s coming to something when even the bandits are using the bank.’

Majir mildly raised one brow. ‘Honest women have the law to protect them. Bandits must take more care with their earnings.’

‘You’re a darling.’ Savine reached across the counter to pinch her fat cheek and give it an affectionate tug. ‘Thank you, Zuri. You’re a darling, too.’ Her companion was already sliding the hatpin back into position.

‘If you don’t mind,’ said Majir, ‘I’ll have a few boys follow you out of the neighbourhood. I could never forgive myself if something were to happen to you.’

‘Oh, come now. If something happened to me, your own forgiveness would be the least of your problems.’

‘True.’ Majir watched her turn away, big fists pressed into the counter. ‘Do pass my regards to your father.’

Savine laughed. ‘Let’s not demean ourselves by pretending my father gives a dry fuck for your regards.’ And she blew a kiss at the terrified barman on her way out.

Dietam dan Kort, famed architect, was a man who gave every appearance of being in control. His desk, scattered with maps, surveys and draughtsman’s drawings, was certainly a wonder of engineering. Savine had moved among the most powerful men in the realm and still doubted she had ever seen a larger. It filled his office so completely, there was only the narrowest of passages around the edges to reach his chair. He must have needed help to squeeze himself through every morning. She wondered if she should recommend her corset-maker.

‘Lady Savine,’ he intoned. ‘What an honour.’

‘Isn’t it, though?’ She made him lean dangerously far across the desk in order to kiss her hand. Savine studied his, meanwhile, big and broad with fingers scarred from hard work. A self-made man. His greying hair was painstakingly scraped across a pate quite obviously bald. A proud and a vain man. She noticed a slight fraying of the cuffs on his once-splendid coat. A man in straitened circumstances, intent on appearing otherwise.

‘To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?’ he asked.

She settled herself opposite while Zuri whisked off her hat. A lady of taste should appear to make no effort. The right things simply happen around her. ‘The opportunity for investment you mentioned at our last meeting,’ she said.

Kort brightened considerably. ‘You have come to discuss it?’

‘I have come to do it.’

Zuri placed Majir’s pouch on the desk as delicately as if it had been deposited by a summer breeze. It looked very small on that immense expanse of green leather. But that was the magic of banks. They could render the priceless tiny, the immense worthless.

The slightest sheen of sweat had sprung from Kort’s forehead. ‘It’s all there?’

‘A promissory note from Valint and Balk. I hope that will suffice?’

‘Of course!’ He was unable to disguise a note of eager greed as he reached across the desk. ‘I believe we agreed a twentieth share—’

Savine placed one fingertip on the corner of the pouch. ‘You mentioned a twentieth. I remained silent.’

His hand froze. ‘Then…?’

‘A fifth.’

There was a pause. While he decided how outraged he could afford to be, and Savine decided how little to appear to care.

‘A fifth?’ His already ruddy face turned positively volcanic. ‘My first investors received half as much for twice the money! I only own a fifth myself, and I near as damn it dug the thing with my own hands! A fifth? Have you lost all reason?’

To Savine, there was no more enticing invitation than a door slammed in her face. ‘One man’s mad is another’s perceptive,’ she said, her smile not even dented. ‘Your canal takes a clever route and your bridge is a wonder. Truly, I congratulate you on it. In a few years, they’ll be building everything from iron. But it isn’t finished and you’ve run out of money.’

‘I have two months’ reserves!’

‘You have two weeks’ at best.’

‘Then I have two weeks to find a more reasonable investor!’

‘You have two hours.’ Savine sent her brows up very high. ‘I am visiting with Tilde dan Rucksted tonight.’

‘Who?’

‘Tilde, the young wife of Lord Marshal Rucksted. A wonderfully sweet-tempered girl, but phew, what a gossip!’ And she glanced up for confirmation.

‘It pains me to speak ill of one of God’s creatures,’ admitted Zuri, with a pious fluttering of her long lashes, ‘but she is an abysmal blabbermouth.’

‘When I confide, in strictest confidence, that you are short of investment, lacking the necessary permissions and troubled by restless workmen, it will be all over town before sunup.’

‘Sure as printing it in a pamphlet,’ said Zuri, sadly.

‘Good luck finding an investor then, reasonable or otherwise.’

It had only taken a moment for Kort to go from bright red to deathly pale, and Savine burst out laughing. ‘Don’t be silly, I won’t do that!’ She stopped laughing. ‘Because you are going to sign one-fifth of your enterprise over to me. Now. Then I can confide in Tilde that I just made the investment of a lifetime, and she won’t be able to resist investing herself. She’s not only loose-lipped, you see, but tight-fisted, too.’

‘Greed is a quality the priests abhor.’ Zuri sighed. ‘Especially the rich ones.’

‘But so widespread these days,’ lamented Savine. ‘If Lady Rucksted sees some gain in it, I daresay she can persuade her husband to make a breach in Casamir’s Wall so you can extend your canal into the Three Farms.’ And Savine could sell the worthless slum buildings she had bought on the canal’s likely route back to herself at an immense profit. ‘The marshal’s notoriously stubborn for most of us but to his wife he’s a pussycat. You know how it is with old men and their young brides.’

Kort was trapped halfway between anger and ambition. Savine rather liked him there. Most animals, after all, look better in a cage. ‘Extend my canal… into the Three Farms?’

‘The first to do so.’ Where it could service Savine’s three textile mills and the Hill Street Foundry, incidentally, and sharply raise their productivity. ‘I daresay—for a friend—I could even arrange a visit of His Majesty’s Inquisitors to a labour meeting. I imagine your troublesome workers will be far more pliable after a few stern examples are made.’

‘Stern examples,’ threw in Zuri, ‘are something the priests are always in favour of.’

Kort was almost drooling. Savine thought they had better stop before he needed a change of trousers.

‘A tenth part,’ he offered, in a voice rather hoarse.

‘Pffft.’ Savine stood and Zuri eased forward with her hat, spinning the pin in her long fingers with the delicacy of a magician. ‘You’re an architect to rival Kanedias himself, but you’re entirely lost in the maze of Aduan society. You need a guide, and I’m the best there is. Be a darling and give the fifth before I take a quarter. You know I’d be a bargain at a third.’

Kort sagged, his chin settling into the roll of fat beneath it, his eyes fixed resentfully upon her. Clearly, he was not a man who liked to lose. But where would be the fun in beating men who did?

‘Very well. One-fifth.’

‘A notary from the firm of Temple and Kahdia is already drawing up the papers. He will be in touch.’ She turned towards the door.

‘They warned me,’ Kort grunted as he slid Valint and Balk’s note from the pouch. ‘That you care about nothing but money.’

‘Why, what a pompous crowd they are. Beyond a point I passed long ago, I don’t even care about money.’ Savine flicked the brim of her hat in farewell. ‘But how else is one to keep score?’

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