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The Wisdom of Crowds: Book Three Paperback
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Abercrombie's writing is great, as always, and he has gained in sophistication from his earlier works. He can skillfully write brutal betrayals and political scheming. However, this latest trilogy lacked the frenetic actions scenes he is famous for. There are no scenes equivalent to Logen tearing through a room of Practicals or facing down the King's monstrous champion in the Circle, or perhaps his most famous battle scene from the Heroes told from multiple perspectives and culminating in Gorst single handedly stopping a Northman offensive. I felt that lack of great action scenes in this series.
Some of the characters meet satisfying (or not so satisfying) fates in this conclusion. But many characters are still kicking at the end, and those hoping for a wrapup to the overall series will be disappointed, as it is clear that Abercrombie intends on continuing his saga in the future. When thinking of a rating for this book, and the Age of Madness series overall, I can't help but compare the books to Abercrombie's previous 6 novels in this world, which are all 4-5 star reads for me. I definitely consider these last 3 novels the weakest of the lot, and that's sort of how I end up at a three star rating. Adequate, but not as awesome as I would have hoped for.
Other than a few lame, perfunctory name checks, it has NOTHING to do with that series, and it's clearly just to sell some books to fans of the original series.
But even putting that aside, it's a boring, bad story, and a poorly written book. It's so repetitive that I'm finding myself skimming more than reading, which is something I never do. But there's only so many times you can read "Thing have changed, but for the worse" before you get bored. I really can't believe how much of this book is just different people saying literally the exact same things, again and again and again.
It's a boring slog, badly told, poorly written, and completely pointless. Nobody should read this book, or this series.
The plot architecture of The Age of Madness is probably the best that Abercrombie has ever produced, but despite that, I think the work as a whole is a step below the original First Law trilogy. There's a couple of reasons for this.
The first is that, while Abercrombie's better than ever at getting the pieces where they need to go, the process of seeing them advance across the board is not quite as interesting as it has been. One of the keystones of fantasy is seeing characters reveal their natures through entertaining action. Watching Bayaz's motley crew stumble their way across the Old Empire, bickering and blundering the whole way, was some absolutely first-rate character driven adventure full of wonderfully revelatory dialogue and fascinating displays of incompetence, competence, and growth. _A Little Hatred_ had a lot of the same fascination in its early stages as we met the colorfully-drawn characters of this new world and observed the fascinating mechanics of an industrial revolution swallowing up a fantasy kingdom.
_The Trouble With Peace_ didn't fully sustain the momentum; there was a great deal of scheming in salons and political maneuvering that, while proficiently written, didn't fully fire my imagination. I had thought that this was a middle-chapter problem, but it's back in _The Wisdom of Crowds_, and it's considerably worse. The business involving Rikke and Black Calder in the north moves along at a fair pace, albeit with a couple of twists that are telegraphed a bit too broadly to be fully effective, but I'm afraid that the French Revolution redux in Adua bogs down pretty badly. Part of the problem is that we've already seen much of the same in the previous book's Valbeck chapters; the horror is not fresh, even with the general violence level amped up. Part of it is that the victims of the Burners are, for the most part, people we've never had much opportunity to identify with, and the people we HAVE been taught to care about never seem to be in meaningful jeopardy until the book's final third.
My second criticism is this. In Abercrombie's best work--The First Law, Best Served Cold, and some of the stuff in Sharp Endings--there's a powerful sense that the characters are driving the plot. Here, as never before in my experience, there's a sense that the requirements of the plot are changing the nature of Abercrombie's characters. In some cases this makes sense. Gunnar Broad, for example, is defined by the fact that he allows himself to be the instrument of other people's will, so it is reasonable that events would make him a different man. Rikke's personal transformation has been engineered both in overt ways by Isern and in subtler ways by her own hidden ambitions. Vick and Gorst are true to their own established natures, but also shaped by events in ways that their decisions and ultimate destinies make sense.
In other cases, the changes are jarring and hard to fully accept. Savine dan Glokta undergoes a pretty radical personality shift in TWoC, and the explanation offered is both a bit of a cliche and (I'll be the first person ever to say these words about an Abercrombie book) a little bit twee. It's great when characters change, but in her case, the change doesn't feel fully driven by her virtues and flaws, nor by the events surrounding her; it feels like something the book needs to happen in order to get her to the place she's supposed to go. These problems manifest in minor characters as well; Tunny's portrayal is so far distant from who he's been throughout the entirety of the First Law saga, and the reasons for the transformation are so obscure, that one has to wonder whether his role wouldn't have been better occupied by an entirely new character.
By far the worst example of this, though, is Leo. It goes without saying that the events that occurred at the climax of TTWP would change a man, but to me, it feels as if half his brain has been amputated. It's as if I'm reading a completely different character, and a far less interesting one. The final chapter in which we see Leo is titled "The Villain", and while Abercrombie is constitutionally incapable of making things _that_ simple, it's hard not to get the impression that Leo has been forced into a plot niche traditionally occupied by somebody else. A fellow with more limbs and less hair.
And while we have all of this astonishing trauma working massive personality shifts in several of the dramatis personae, there's also Orso, sitting in his cage swilling wine and quipping away wittily, his character utterly unchanged. In many respects Orso is one of Abercrombie's most fascinating characters ever, a really interesting spin on the "playboy with hidden depths" archetype, and he's certainly an effective mouthpiece for some terrific one-liners. But to the extent that events changed him at all, it seems to me that those changes were more or less complete at the end of ALH. In TTWP, he's interesting in the sense that we see his hidden strengths revealed and contrasted with Leo's more superficial strengths. In TWoC, he's just a guy who stuff happens to.
The Wisdom of Crowds leaves The First Law universe in an interesting place, and it shows many of the same strengths that have made Joe Abercrombie my favorite fantasy author. But I do feel he's taken me on more interesting rides.
Also, why doesn't Murcatto invade?
Top reviews from other countries
A send off for many characters we have come to love and loathe I suspect this book will be regarded as a love or hate it affair while also setting up the future of the first law series it’s not gentle or kind and that ending woah!
Which is not to say it’s still not bitingly funny and also filled with the well cherographed ultra violence we have come to expect.
I don’t really want to discuss the plot because while in many ways it’s very predictable, at least if your already a Abercrombie fan, there some delightful stings in the tail.
If you didn’t like the previous entries in this series this won’t change your Mind it doubles down on the political manvauring the characters are even more venomous and while there is a lot of violence it does move farther away from its epic fantasy roots in the original series. However if like me you read Abercrombie for his subversion of fantasy tropes, his bleak humour, and above all his continuity and pay off of long held fan theories then this may be his best work to date.
This series is called the Age of Madness and madness does indeed occur throughout these pages, this is evident in the ludicrous differences between where these characters and this world are at the beginning of book one versus the end of book three - MY WORD things change.
One thing that doesn't change is Abercrombie's impeccable way of crafting a narrative. These characters are, for the most part, not what we would deem traditional fantasy heroes, some of them are downright bad - and yet somehow I found myself rooting for all of them to succeed. That's extra impressive given half of the time they're in direct competition with each other.
I love the way that these books have so many different perspectives, yes it can make the story feel a tad chaotic and you have to keep your focus, but it means that you get a real sense of the consequences of character's actions, the impact that petty feuds can have on a larger scale. We see a plan made by one character come to fruition through the eyes of a totally different party. In a story that is so focussed on characters in a time of great change I couldn't imagine it working any other way.
As an end to a series this book may not satisfy everyone, Abercrombie leaves a fair few things open-ended, but again I think that fits with the overall sense of the books marking the events of a particular period of time as opposed to telling a neatly top and tailed story.
Having read both, I think this series overall is more accessible than The First Law for those new to Grimdark - but I do still think it is well worth reading both.
I'll be excited to discover what comes next from Joe Abercrombie - my hopes are indeed high.
I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.