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The Wisdom of Crowds


The Wisdom of Crowds

In the world of grimdark fantasy, there are few who actually compete with the talent of Joe Abercrombie. He is pretty solid in his position as the preeminent master of the subgenre. Yes, there are other very capable and enjoyable authors, but there is a certain something about the way that Abercrombie unfolds a story --- one peopled with morally gray but ultimately likable characters that leaves readers satisfied and convinced that they were taken on a fantastic, if harrowing, journey from someone who continues to improve his craft.

The Age of Madness trilogy rolls on with THE WISDOM OF CROWDS. As one would expect from the resume that Abercrombie has built up thus far, it is a bloody, brutal, barbaric revolution of a tale. Fear not, however. As he often does, there is humor to be found in the horror --- just enough to lighten the tone and give a lift to your spirits right before he dashes them against the sharp rocks again.

"[I]t is a bloody, brutal, barbaric revolution of a tale.... As [Abercrombie] often does, there is humor to be found in the horror --- just enough to lighten the tone and give a lift to your spirits right before he dashes them against the sharp rocks again."

The story unfolds with a number of characters given chapters told from their perspectives, most notably Savine dan Glokta, Orso dan Luther, Rikke and Leo dan Brock. Orso, the King, is returning home after putting down a rebellion by the Open Council. He is unsure and self-conscious, and is left to wonder just how important his role as a monarch is now that the world has been turned upside down by the darkness of destructive war and betrayal. Savine has been laid bare and will need to forge a new identity on her path to finding redemption for her own deeds. Rikke has laid claim to the Skarling’s Chair, which in and of itself is no small feat, but now a larger challenge presents itself. Can she keep her seat as the list of allies wanes and the Black Calder gains strength and plots revenge? Leo, the young lion imprisoned for life as a traitor, must seek a way to free himself and become the hero he believes the new world deserves.

These are just a few of the storylines that weave together to form the tapestry of THE WISDOM OF CROWDS. The twists and turns, the betrayals and allegiances formed and broken, all fit together beautifully in the telling. Yes, it can be utterly depressing. The treachery of revolution is not the playground of pleasantries. Numerous additional characters maneuver within and without, making their own marks upon the tale, and none of them are the least bit unworthy or extraneous. Every action is important. Sometimes you won’t even realize it for several chapters.

Abercrombie explores the darkness of mankind in dark times, how the revolutionary masses pull down civil discourse and break free from societal chains in the name of freedom. The wrinkle is that they are no less corrupt than those they seek to usurp, and from within their own ranks rise new leaders who are often more brutal than where they started. Such is the tongue-in-cheek notion of this book. And this is not to imply that the actions and ideals of some are not heroic. They are. There just are no white knights on glorious stallions riding in to save the day. If there are, well, they are not to be trusted.

With THE WISDOM OF CROWDS, Abercrombie brings his three-volume saga to a close. To be fair to readers new to the author, this would not be the best place to start. In fact, beginning with this series would not even be the ideal jumping-in point. Start in the wading pool, get your feet used to the coldness of the water and dip into the First Law trilogy, then work your way into this glorious and frightful deep end. Though you’ll feel beaten, broken and aching as if you endured the savagery yourself, the journey is more than rewarding and worth the while.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on November 5, 2021

The Wisdom of Crowds
by Joe Abercrombie