Having absolutely loved A Little Hatred and The Trouble with Peace, my expectations for The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie were absolutely sky high. With this gritty and fun book full of civil unrest, backstabbing, butchery, and even a little bit of love, Joe Abercrombie did not disappoint. A big thanks to Gollancz for shipping an absolutely gorgeous ARC over to me in Sydney, and a warning to readers who’ve not read the first two books: spoilers for the first two books to follow.
To kick off The Wisdom of Crowds King Orso returns to Adua at the head of his army and two prisoners, excited for his victorious reception. At the end of the column in a caged wagon, Leo Dan Brock is a broken man, with more than just metaphorical pieces of him left on the battlefield. Sabine dan Brock stares out at the streets through the bars, wondering where it all went wrong. None of them are ready for what’s become of Adua in their absence. The Breakers are out in force; the great change is here.
Vicktarine dan Teufel rides with the head of the People’s Army, on their way to Adua in their many, many thousands. People from all walks of life march on the capital of the Union to tear down the system and rebuild it into something better. Only, with a philosopher focussed on the ideal and not how to actually get there, and a judge more obsessed in killing everyone than actually trying cases, at the head of the Great Change, Vick is very much worried about where this is all going. But she’s picked the winning side, as she always does, and she’s going to see where this all lands.
Gunnar Broad is facing the hangman’s noose. He swears to live good life for his family if he somehow gets out of this alive. Under the Agriont in Adua, he likely doesn’t have long to live. Unless … something were to happen to the city to set him on a new course—directly into the type of the trouble he’d just promised to avoid.
Rikke sits in on Skarling’s Chair in Carleon, a city and army at her command, and somebody she probably needs to let her men kill in a broken heap in front of her. A decision to be made. Consolidate her winnings, or take on the father of the broken heap before her and unite the whole North?
Black and bloody and with a body count to rival Matthew Ward’s Legacy series, The Wisdom of Crowds delves into what happens when society has the restraints of civility completely removed (no matter how hollow and corrupt the Union’s civility had become). Recognising this book would have been conceptualised and drafted a fair few years ago, it’s seemingly landed at just the right time to align with our society. There is plenty of commentary on the removal of societal structure and norms, of what shackles-completely-removed freedom means for a people so used to corruption and profiteering, the human basic need to follow and what happens when certain new leaders grasp a people by the throat and lead, and the hilariously dark and infuriating bureaucratic machinery of government. Whether intentioned or not (I certainly won’t be the first reviewer to misread an author’s intended social commentary in a book), the prosecution character in the court of the people seems a perfect depiction of social media’s current mob mentality driven by the rise of misinformation and and lack of repercussions for outright lies the mob leaps upon.
Our leading characters and everyone around them are put through the wringer for a final time in this magnificent trilogy, in the brutal, sometimes comical, and often heart wrenching way that only Abercrombie delivers. And I assure you, plenty of those characters you know and love will either be dead or almost unrecognisable by the final pages–and that’s what makes this book and the trilogy it wraps up so damned good.
As always, Abercrombie does a masterful job of working in little nods to past books that delight his long term fans, but would just read like sleek world building for a new reader. There are plenty of nods to The Heroes and Red Country and the books of The First Law. In my eyes he’s a towering genius at doing this, and he has not missed the mark at all.
I also need to give a shout out to the last chapter. A vision of the future (and hopefully another future trilogy). Without spoiling, Abercrombie’s ability to deliver a clear message to the reader, even when he’s being purposefully vague about it, is on show in all its glory. I find that when compared to most other fantasy authors I’ve read who use the same approach that I either end up more confused than when I started, or just get frustrated and ask, “who fucking cares?” In the final chapter of The Wisdom of Crowds, Abercrombie provides me with an intense need to stalk his blog for news of the next book set in this world.
The Wisdom of Crowds is Abercrombie at his best. It’s fun, it’s engrossing, it’s brutal on its characters in all the best ways, and it’s just a damned enjoyable way to spend a few days glued to the pages of a book.