1,474 pages later and Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Age of Madness’ trilogy has come to a close in The Wisdom of Crowds. Together they are a masterpiece in epic storytelling taking a slice of the Circle of the World from unhappy but with relative stability, through the madness of war and rebellion, to a new society tentatively hopeful that the change wrought has been worth the destruction and bloodshed.
At the start of the The Wisdom of Crowds, the Union and North have already been through the quite the wringer from the actions of A Little Hatred and The Trouble with Peace. An abortive attempt at a Great Change seems to have been squashed but the seeds of discontent are widely sown and there are many who feel that to bring about the change they want, everything must be burned (quite literally) down to be able to create something new.
There was a hopeful piece of her that wanted to believe this could be Sibalt’s dream of a better world coming true and was desperate to see it happen. There was a nervous piece of her that smelled blood coming and wanted to cut out that night and run for the Far Country. There was a calculating piece that reckoned the only way to control a mad horse is from the saddle, and the danger of keeping your grip might be less than the danger of letting go. … In truth, she was still trying to work out what their cause really was. In truth, she reckoned there was a different cause for every one of those little dots in the People’s Army. But this was no time for the truth. When is?”
Once the government of the Union has been torn apart it is left to the masses to form a new one with the goal of equality for all, but the task proves to be far more difficult than the people anticipated. When the People’s Court fails to provide, and a hard winter sets in, the cost of everything sky rockets and people begin to live in abject poverty. The problems can’t be a result of the good citizens of Adua and therefore must be due to foreigners, profiteers and usurers, then the executions and bloodbath begin as neighbors begin turning on each other to save their own skin.
As the crowds descend into madness and society collapses, I kept trying to figure out how this would all be resolved. When a major resolution occurs there were still about 80 pages left and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the pieces to fall into their final places. The revelation of the architect of it all was shocking, but also amazing as it all crystalized before me and suddenly the whole picture snapped into place. While reading, I wondered if this series could be read standalone from the ‘First Law’ trilogy and I’ve come to the conclusion that no, it can’t. Without knowledge of certain characters from the first trilogy, the ending of this one might not ring true or feel a bit like a deus ex machina.
Abercrombie’s world faces struggles that have become ever more pressing in our current society. The disenfranchisement of workers and corporate greed. The ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. The use of war to claim lands by forcing them together under the guise of wanting unity and what is best for the people. Abercrombie doesn’t propose to have all the answers but he does offer that there is a better chance for equality when the seats at the table are filled more inclusively, a sentiment I strongly share.