“Death is a bored employee with too many orders to fill. There is no calculation, no deep moment. He sneaks up on us from behind and snatches us while we shit.
~ Bremer dan Gorst, from Heroes
The wisdom of crowds completes Joe Abercrombie’s Age of Madness trilogy and I just have six words for you before I pick up this book (and you should) on September 14: Make your heart a stone.
This, of course, is the wise advice that the mountain girl, Isern-i-Phail, gives to Rikke of the Long Eye, the Dogman’s daughter, who traded her omen powers into The problem with peace to stop his descent into madness.
That’s good advice, especially for fans of the show who know all too well how deadly these stories can be. Like all Abercrombie First Law novels, The wisdom of crowds fires very few shots. These are not happy stories with happy endings, although they are not without triumphs.
I really want to spoil everything, discuss it at length with other readers who are passionate about Abercrombie’s work, but I will not do it here. This review will be spoiler-free (although I will obviously be addressing past events from previous books). Maybe later I’ll write a second spoiler-filled thread so we can talk about the details. For now, we’ll talk in broader terms.
The Age Of Madness Trilogy Begins With A little hate, continues with twists and turns ever more surprising and exasperating The problem with peace, and reached its hoarse and bloody conclusion in The wisdom of crowds. (For those of you who could use a “previously over” recap of the last two books before diving into this one, Joe has you covered on his blog).
Oddly enough, the novel shares the title with James Surowiecki’s non-fiction book of the same name. The blurb for this book reads as follows:
“In this fascinating book, New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea: Large groups of people are smarter than an elite, no matter how brilliant they are, they are better at solving problems. problems, fostering innovation, making sound decisions and even predicting the future. “
I haven’t read it, but I wonder if Abercrombie’s choice of title is intentional and deliberately ironic.
Recall that at the end of The problem with peace the events were started with the revolutionary Breakers and Burners and the great “revelation” of the real Weaver? Well, it’s not a spoiler to say that it plays a very largely in The wisdom of the crowds, and the wisdom of crowds is used here with more than a little sardonicism. Crowds – or crowds, if you will – often lack wisdom and barbarism and savagery.
Then again, it’s not like the elites are doing a much better job. Abercrombie’s exploration of human nature is wonderfully cynical. Its revolutionaries are corrupt, stupid and bloodthirsty, but so are its nobles, wizards and business tycoons. They are not all alone, but those who are not will likely suffer.
Princes and Chiefs
Once again, we follow the misadventures of a handful of complex characters, most of whom are the “next generation” of the First Law trilogy – the sons and daughters of characters from the First Trilogy and its subsequent standalone novels.
Viewpoint chapters include:
Savine dan Glokta, the daughter of torturer and tyrant Sand dan Glokta and Ardee West, although in The problem with peace we learn that she is in fact the bastard daughter of the now dead king Jezal dan Luthar, an embarrassing revelation given that she was the lover of Jezal’s natural son, Orso. When this relationship is suddenly broken, Savine finds herself pushed into an unlikely union with Leo dan Brock, the young Lord Governor of Angland.
Orso of Luther, the compassionate and intelligent prince-turned-king who hid his entire life behind a whimsical mask, pretending not to care or only care about beautiful women, drugs and other creature comforts. Like Savine, Orso isn’t fooled, but unlike the shrewd businesswoman, Orso is also a generous leader who doesn’t really have a thirst for power. At the end of The problem with peace he has barely quelled the rebellion of the young lion with a little help from. . .
Rikke, daughter of the Dogman whose alliance with Orso against his old friend and lover, Leo dan Brock, results in the overthrow of Stour Nightfall, King of the North and son of Black Calder. Rikke no longer needs to trust his long eye; she is as intelligent as her father and has surrounded herself with reliable advisers like Isern-i-Phail and Caul Shivers. She even used Stour’s own lieutenant (and POV character) Jonas Clover against him, though no one ever accuses Clover of being reliable, let alone loyal.
Leo Dan Brock is left stranded thanks to Rikke’s betrayal, and his misguided rebellion goes awry, leaving him as crippled as his wife Savine’s foster father – well, not as crippled, but then he’s not quite the man that Sand dan Glokta is neither. Leo is stubborn, arrogant, stupid and conceited. He’s also a bigot and a boor and deeply, deeply locked up. It is interesting to support the corrupt Aduan government against the young lion; again, Orso is much nicer than the Anglander, let alone the madman.
The other POV characters in these books are ex-soldier turned revolutionary turned bodyguard / strongman Gunnar wide, a massive bully of a man with a soft heart and a penchant for violence.
Then there is Vick dan teufel, daughter of Sepp dan Teufel whom Glokta convicted of false charges in The blade itself. Vick now works for Glokta and his replacement, Pike, who is discovered at the end of The problem with peace is the weaver himself, the man pulling all the strings of the revolution.
The fates of many other characters are at stake as the revolution shakes the very foundations of Adua. Jurand, Leo’s best friend and secret admirer; the bloodthirsty revolutionary, Judge (and her surprising origin story); the brilliant swordsman Bremer dan Gorst and his miserable voice; Bayaz’s assistant, Yoru Sulfur and his mismatched eyes; Nicomo Cosca’s writer and former biographer Spillion Sworbreck, whose office has been so useful to young lovers over the years.
Where will they each land when the chips have all fallen?
The blade itself on your back
There are so many twists and turns, dear readers, that you don’t yet know, that will bend the fates of each of these characters in surprising, sometimes shocking ways, before you turn the last page.
The fate of these and others, of Bayaz and her machinations, of the great bank Valint and Balk, of Adua herself and of her lords and ladies and little people, not to mention the North. It is a book about revolution and political upheaval, terrible betrayal and daring adventure. You will not see the knife until it is properly seated behind your back.
So make your heart a stone, for once again Abercrombie lives up to his game, a blacksmith and storyteller of such absurd talent that every choppy wrinkle you meet will surprise you and you both. will make you realize that you probably should have seen it coming for miles. It takes a certain subtlety and skill that very few fantasy writers have.
Abercrombie is also economical. Every chapter counts. Each POV character has their role to play. Nothing superfluous bogs down their stories. The characters all act in perfectly logical ways, even if they do things that surprise or horrify us.
The wisdom of crowds is the perfect, albeit slightly depressing, conclusion to a great trilogy that pushes this series into daring new territory, into an era of machines and innovation, decadent industrialism and exasperating class divisions and inequalities. Sometimes that seems shockingly relevant for the present moment, although Abercrombie largely wrote this story before the protests and chaos of last year.
In Abercrombie’s fiction, the brilliant hero on horseback is perhaps the most miserable jerk of all, while a prince’s dandy, despised by his own people, is the only person with true courage and decency. In Abercrombie’s fiction, the most masterful spy can miss what’s right in front of his nose, and the most cunning warchief can be outmaneuvered by a thin hunk of a girl. Honor is found in the most unlikely places, but greed and self-interest always wins the day.
There are no good and wise Gandalfs here, and the hero is just as likely to be a lazy and playful corporal as a knight in shining armor.
And the bad guy?
Well you will see.
You can pick up The wisdom of crowds on Amazon.
If you are new to these books, don’t start there. Go back and read The blade itself, the first volume of The First Law trilogy. A little hate is the first book in this trilogy, however, it is the third trilogy in the larger series. Each is excellent.
It’s hands down one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read and if Abercrombie isn’t planning another entry, or trilogy, to follow the events of The wisdom of the crowds, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself. Read them all over, I guess.
You have to be realistic about these things.
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