Pieces of Hate by Tim Lebbon
A grandfather is talking with his grandson and says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf, which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.” — Native American Legend
Publisher’s Description: During the Dark Ages, a thing named Temple slaughtered Gabriel’s family. A man with snake eyes charged him to pursue the assassin wherever he may strike next, and destroy him. Gabriel never believed he’d still be following Temple almost a thousand years later.
Because Temple may be a demon, the man with snake eyes cursed Gabriel with a life long enough to hunt him down. Now he has picked up Temple’s scent again. The Caribbean sea is awash with pirate blood, and in such turmoil the outcome of any fight is far from certain.
Free bonus novelette:
Dead Man’s Hand
In the wilderness of the American West, the assassin is set to strike again. Despite his centuries-long curse, Gabriel is still but a man, scarred and bitter. The town of Deadwood has seen many such men… though it’s never seen anything quite like the half-demon known as Temple.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Invested Ivana says…
Guys like me? …Killers you mean? Hired gun fighters? Murderers? Kid, just because I look like a corpse that‘s been ridden by a buffalo doesn’t mean my heart’s the same way. –Tim Lebbon, Dead Man’s Hand
The Tor book titled Pieces of Hate (the one with the awesome Gene Mollica pirate cover) contains the first two novellas in the Assassin series: Dead Man’s Hand and Pieces of Hate. Though the novellas can be read in any order, I suggest you consider reading Pieces of Hate first and then Dead Man’s Hand. It puts them in chronological order, for one, and it gives you some of the main character’s back story right up front.
Pieces of Hate takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy. The title is a play on words; pieces of eight is a denomination of currency used during that time. From his dreams, we learn that the protagonist, Gabriel, has been cursed to hunt the demon-in-man-form, Temple, until Temple is dead. Gabriel won’t die until then, and he is very old. He’s tangled with Temple in the past, and has come away wounded. Though healed, these wounds act as a dowsing rod – hurting again the closer to Temple Gabriel gets. Temple has become a killer for hire, though he does his own recreational killing as well. The more horrific the kill, the more likely Temple is behind it. Gabriel hunts Temple to a pirate colony on Port Royal where he’s been sent to assassinate a famous pirate.
Dead Man’s Hand takes place during the American Old West. Instead of being told in third-person limited from Gabriel’s point of view, Dead Man’s Hand is told from the first-person perspective of Doug, a shopkeeper in Deadwood who gets put in a position to observe the conflict between Gabriel and Temple first-hand.
While reading both stories, I really had to keep in mind that they were each novellas. Lebbon sets his stories in some very famous and familiar places (Deadwood, Port Royal) because the reader already has an idea of what these places are like. Also, the characters, aside from a few exceptions, are fairly stereotypical — again, a shortcut that allows Lebbon to focus on the real point of the stories. There aren’t many women in the stories at all, let alone admirable ones, though Gabriel did seem to love his wife. It’s a bummer for women readers, but it’s not all that historically inaccurate for Lebbon’s purposes.
The real point of these stories is the ongoing conflict between Gabriel and Temple. I’m not sure I really understand the nature or purpose of their relationship, even after reading the stories. Gabriel’s recollection in Hate makes it seem as if he’s been cursed by a medieval (or older) magic practitioner to hunt the demon who murdered his family and village. But we don’t learn WHY. Why did Temple attack the village in the first place? Who was the old magician? Why did the practitioner curse Gabriel? Why must this battle go on throughout time?
Gabriel described the practitioner and Temple as having “snakes” in their eyes. Perhaps a reference to Satan in the Garden of Eden? And yet, several other people describe Gabriel the same way, as having “snakes” in his eyes. So I’m speculating that, should we ever get the full story, the “curse” is about the nature of evil, particularly the way good can too easily turn into evil with the application of a little hate. “Feed your hate,” the practitioner says. Maybe we’ll find that Gabriel turns into Temple over time, and then into the practitioner who starts the cycle again. Maybe they are the evil, male versions of the maiden, mother, and crone from Celtic myth — all the same person.
In any case, I feel like I’m missing something in these stories — this bigger meaning, I think. I can speculate ’til I turn blue, but without a good sense of the intended message, these are just little weird stories that are kind of intriguing and kind of confusing. I see Tor is publishing the third Assassin story, A Whisper of Southern Lights, with another beautiful Gene Mollica cover, in May. This time, Temple and Gabriel are in WWII Singapore. Perhaps this third book will shed some light on the origin and purpose of Gabriel’s and Temple’s conflict.
If you like this book…
Pieces of Hate did make me think of the hate for Jean Valjean by Javier in Les Miserables or the hate for Othello by Iago in Othello, though neither of those are particularly demonic.