Joe Abercrombie, The Wisdom of Crowds (2021)

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Wisdom of Crowds

Format: paperback

Pages: 520

Series: The Age of Madness #3

I know that times are tough. Pandemic, a looming economic crisis, people do what they can to make ends meet, churning out books like there’s no tomorrow, with less than usual regard for logic or excellence. It’s hard, and I understand, and Abercrombie is certainly not the first one to fall into this trap. But that knowledge doesn’t lessen the disappointment much. For this is the first First Law World book that unequivocally sucked for me. 

My disappointment is twofold, and I’ll try my best to separate the technical, rather more objective one from the bitterly personal ;). 

Firstly, the padding on The Wisdom of Crowds is bigger and fluffier than Savine’s most extravagant wig. This book could have easily been cut in half and this surgery would have only improved it. That’s the first Abercrombie book that made me itch to read a Wikipedia synopsis instead of slogging through the unending quagmire of words. I resisted, but barely. Now I’m not sure if this was the right choice. This book was boring, as simple as that.

Secondly, Abercrombie seems to revel in his description of the people’s revolution. Good on him, I guess, at least someone had some fun with these chapters. The problem here, however, is that he writes nothing new. He did his research, fell in love with his research, understandably, I might add, revolutions are a heady stuff, and put in all the juicy pieces from the French and the American and the Russian revolutions into his book. But then he decided it’s not enough, that this whole thing can be further improved. Well, apparently it couldn’t. All his fake Robespierres and Dantons and Marxes and Marats and Louises XVI can’t hold a candle to the real ones. His pale, crippled shades possess neither depth nor emotion nor tragedy of the originals. If I wanted to read a  book on revolutions, I’d choose a better one, and non-fiction at that. If I wanted to read a parody on revolutions, I’d choose something else, too, because for some reason Abercrombie’s acerbic wit just doesn’t seem to work here. Bigger is not necessarily better, whatever people tell you. And to top it all off with a conspiracy theory seems just so… I’d say juvenile but there’s too much bitterness in Abercrombie’s writing for that epithet; so I’ll settle for cynically lazy. 

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat

Thirdly, and most sadly, this time around the book was almost entirely predictable. No amount of waffling or emotional blubbering or second thoughts seem to change anything in Abercrombie’s tightly ruled little world of base impulses, so why even put up the smoke screen? It would work if for once an honest appeal to the better nature succeeded – but it doesn’t. It makes for a very exhausting read, to be honest. Nothing I wouldn’t expect from Abercrombie, but I still had hopes. Now I don’t. I’m rather left with a sense of fatigue, with no closure in sight – especially because The Wisdom of Crowds wasn’t the ending I was waiting for; no, it rather seems to be a ham-fisted intro to another lengthy set of books.

That is not to say that Abercrombie forgot how to write – not at all, there are some powerful scenes here, some spiffy dialogues, cinematic action scenes. When the plot finally gets going, it goes very quickly indeed. What I’m missing the most, however, is character development – in abundance in the earlier book, here somehow regressing for nearly all characters to the state from A Little Hatred, as if somehow Abercrombie believed deep down that people don’t change, that personality is set in stone. As for the couple that does change, due to bodily transformations, no less, it’s never a change for the better. More bitter, angry cripples, seriously? Pain never makes you more noble, I get it, but does Abercrombie really feel the need to drive it home again and again and again? 

As for the personal disappointment, well – killing off the only character I even remotely cared for in the whole trilogy was the last straw ;). My liking for the rest of the crew had been steadily lessening, so that at the end of The Wisdom of Crowds I really have nobody left to root for. Suddenly, even Bayaz doesn’t look that bad (I know, Aaron, now you’re having a hearty laugh at my expense ;)). 

All in all, it really pains me to say that here, at the end of The Wisdom of Crowds, Abercrombie and I are parting ways. A very personal and totally subjective feeling of a waste of time accompanied me through most of this journey – and that’s for me is a sure sign that a termination of the existing relationship is in order. I had fun with the world of First Law, and maybe one day I’ll have fun with it again – just not with The Wisdom of Crowds, and not with the current set of characters. 

Score: 5/10

51 thoughts on “Joe Abercrombie, The Wisdom of Crowds (2021)

  1. I feel your pain. And I’m glad you’re quitting now, with the possibility of letting Abercrombie “redeem” himself (in your eyes) in the future instead of just cutting him off. Even if you never do come back to him, that possibility of hope is a good thing.

    Which makes me laugh my head off. Because here you are getting “all this” about a grimdark author and grimdark characters. A small part of me is dancing in glee that you are as miserable as the stories told by grimdark authors. Because misery should not be written for the enjoyment of people.

    Then the more empathetic part of me comes to the fore and I really do empathize with you in this author breakup. It is hard and not fun and I am sorry. I do hope you can find another author to replace him. Might I suggest the Twilight Saga? 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Loved your comment, Booky :D.

      I never considered Abercrombie as a writer who wrote about misery for enjoyment; I felt that he was attempting to be a distanced, and caustic, but largely faithful observer of the human folly. Here, though, indeed, he seems to me to have changed his tack; more than ever before in his books I felt the power of the authorial fiat: whatever suited his needs, even against internal logic of the world or characters. He tried to write tragedy, I think, only to end up with farce.

      Fortunately, there are no broken hearts here. Mostly, I was just bored with this book. I can blame my education, at least in part, but mainly I blame Abercrombie 😉

      As for Twilight Saga, I’m sure you’ll know what to do with your suggestion; I don’t need to spell it out for you! 😀

      I’ll need some Asher antidote, though 😉

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Well, I am glad to hear that you were more bored than disappointed, because boredom is easily dealt with…..

        ……by reading Twilight! 😉

        That is right, now you have more time for Asher! Get cracking girl, those books aren’t going to read themselves!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am glad I was not the only one for whom this book didn’t work. But I do feel that we’re the only ones who feel disappointed with it and that the rest of the world loved it. I thought that the book was manipulative. He set up all these characters in The Trouble with Peace, and then just gives them all a bad end in a very predictable way, and then every reader began to cheer over how bad Abercrombie made them feel. I was struggling against that inevitable outcome through the whole book. It’s just drama porn. And what is it all good for in the end?

    I’ve concluded that I simply no longer agree with Abercrombie’s world view in this series and had enough of this endless running in circles with the plots.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’re of one mind here, Jeroen. I agree that it was very manipulative, much more so than the previous books – I guess the stitches showed more because Abercrombie got careless and sloppy. This book was just mediocre and boring, and I’m saying this even without taking into account my feelings. Drama porn is spot on; instead of showing the arbitrary, chaotic nature of upheaval and change of power, he only shows authorial power. And prolongs the whole sorry circus for another set of books, or more. A little Bayaz of his own making, I guess 😉

      Yeah, I’m with you there. There are better authors and wiser books.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah…. Another problem for me was that for long stretches of the book, the main characters just didn’t do anything interesting. They weren’t making decisions. They just held on while the revolution happened to them. That made the book feel long for me. And as you say, they seemed to regress too.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m looking forward to reading your opinions on those books! I’m almost finished with Toll the Hounds. It’s interesting that TtH is also very dramatic but i like it much more than Abercrombie’s book. After that some RA Lafferty and Ada Palmer’s final Terra Ignota book.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I enjoyed Wilhelm’s classic only a few years ago. Glad to hear that you’re moving on to better matches for your reading taste. And sorry to hear your favourite character didn’t survive to tell another tale…I hate it when that happens.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I started reading Wilhelm’s book and I’m enjoying it quite a lot. Glad to hear this was a good reading experience for you!

              Yeah, and it was such a meaningless thing, happening almost as an afterthought. Not cool!

              Liked by 1 person

        1. I gave it 9/10 too. I think this and The Heroes were the best Abercrombie books to date. Such a pity. Btw, I just checked and there’s only a year between no 2 and 3. I don’t think I know any authors who can consistently produce great quality books one after another within such a short time. Looks like Abercrombie got Tchaikovsky syndrome after all.


  3. There is indeed nothing worse than this feeling of huge disappointment from a favorite author, and although I don’t share your considerations on this novel (or the trilogy), I know what it means to have certain expectations and to see them betrayed in such a way. Thankfully you will be able to forget this particular disappointment with other books, so I sincerely hope that your next reads will prove to be a far better experience than this one 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

            1. #2 was good. I was really intrigued because finally Abercrombie had written some growth into these characters. There were bits that felt contrived, as always, but all in all it was pretty solid. That’s at least partly why the disappointment of the 3rd installment was so big, I think 😉 But now you’re prepared! 😁

              Liked by 1 person

              1. See that’s the problem with disappointment—sometimes even when you’re prepared it’s still disappointing 😉

                Thanks Ola! I hope whatever you read next turns out better 😁

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Heh, well, this one is generally disappointing 😉 But #2 is among my favorite Abercrombie books, so there’s that 😉 As I wrote to Jeroen, I feel it might be the case of writing too many books in too short a time: there’s only a year between #2 and #3 – maybe a writing fatigue finally set in.

                  Thanks, Will! My new reads are infinitely better already! 😀

                  Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so sorry to read that this was such a big disappointment!! And I can really see what you are saying, sadly!
    I have yet to start this series, and I hope to do it, sooner or later, but I am sorry that this was such a disappointment!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Don’t hold back, Ola, did you like it or not?! 😁 But, yes, I sense that ennui and disappointment radiating from every word here, and I can well understand it. Anyway, I’m pleased you read it so I don’t have to!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 🤔 hmmm… Now that you ask it seems I can’t make up my mind 😁
      I’m glad to be of service, Chris, as always, though I suspect that the possibility of you reading Abercrombie was always rather distant 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Marianna

    Look like there too much history reference that it weigh everything else down. I don’t think I ever heard of Joe Abercrombie. Does he write alternated history?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s the problem, Marianna – he does not 😉 He’s a fantasy writer, mostly grimdark. This foray into history was clearly not very successful for him ;).

      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂


  7. piotrek

    It saddens me to read that, especially when it’s not the first unenthusiastic review of this one – although the harshest I’ve yet read. I reserve the right to find out how bad it is myself, as the volume is already standing on my shelf 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had high expectations after The Trouble with Peace, which was a really good book. This one shattered them very thoroughly, so I’m quite curious what you’ll think of it! I’ll be looking forward to your reaction 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Paul Connelly

    Have only read The Age of Madness and Best Served Cold, but the common aspect of both is that every significant character has a downward moral arc that leaves them a worse person in the end than they were at the start. The exceptions being characters who don’t survive. I guess this is what grimdark is supposed to feature, but it could get tiresome rather quickly.

    I also wonder if Abercrombie’s revolution owed anything to the one in Django Wexler’s earlier The Shadow Throne. Related is a much earlier work by Paula Volsky whose title I forget. Maybe there are only so many ways that one can reprise the French Revolution?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, you’re right, it is tiresome! Though I’d say I feel that Abercrombie’s characters are not becoming worse, as they have this capacity from the very beginning – I think Abercrombie likes to show that becoming better is impossible and that our nature is immutable – we never improve because what we are weighs us down. Either way, even taking into account authorial license, he goes pretty far beyond what’s considered psychological norm – nearly all his characters turn out to be either sociopaths or psychopaths, or at least having severe psychological problems.

      Haven’t read Wexler, would you recommend it?

      I think if an author is trying to reprise the French Revolution then they’ve already lost 😉 It was so unbelievable and totally crazy that in this case life will always trump any fiction.


      1. Paul Connelly

        Yes, the characters have the capacity, but in some cases they are actively trying to resist it. To no avail, however, as the plot forces them into the more evil course of action. I don’t regret having read the four Abercrombie books I read, but I may not want to spend much more time with his characters if this is how things always proceed. Besides killing off the character that you (and I) liked in The Age of Madness, he also let one of the characters that I absolutely detested survive (Clover), which compounded the punishment for this reader.

        Unsure whether to recommend the Wexler Shadow Campaigns series. I just finished the fourth book and have the fifth (and final one) on reserve at the library, but I’m not sure I like the direction the story seems to be moving in. It’s very readable, like the Abercrombie books, but like them it feels like it’s forcing certain outcomes on the characters to satisfy the plot he has designed. But we’ll see, maybe I’m wrong about that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think for Abercrombie Clover was the illustration of the saying that shit always floats (pardon my French); I kinda expected him to survive and thrive.
          I feel that his previous trilogy, First Law, was on the whole less nihilistic. This time around I have the feeling that even Abercrombie himself, or maybe particularly Abercrombie himself, doesn’t like his own characters. It was not so obvious before, at least for me.

          I’ve only read Wexler’s novella, and while it was reasonably well written, it was also completely irrelevant; a popcorn stuff for riding a bus or waiting in line type of thing. Ah, the dreaded mechanistic plot outcomes. I personally detest them as I have a feeling they showcase the author’s inability to arrive at conclusions in a natural, inherently logical way. I’ll be curious to know what you think about the fifth part – I’ll make my mind up then! 😉


  9. This is why we need more people like you dishing out honest reviews like these. I haven’t gotten past the first book but by the sound of it, I might not be missing out on too much by the end of the trilogy too. It’s unfortunate considering how much love the author gets for his past work. I might as well just try his First Law trilogy and see how I feel about the author afterward. Thanks for sharing the excellent review, Ola!

    P.S. I wanted to let you know that (for various and maybe obvious reasons) I’m transitioning to a new blog that would be mine alone as of today (later today actually, when I post my monthly wrap-up) and I wanted to let you know beforehand. Since I cherished our interactions for the past years, I’d love it if you’d follow me there going forward (blog isn’t up yet though). You can decide on remaining a follower of Bookidote but, on my end, for a couple of weeks, I might only cross-post my stuff until I’m ready to drop Bookidote completely. 😀

    P.S.S. Since I haven’t noticed any posts from Pio lately, I hope the message will be read/heard from him as well!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the support, Lashaan! Writing scathing reviews of works of authors whose previous books I really enjoyed is not that fun – unless I’m filled with righteous anger, that is 😉

      Wow, congrats!!! Your own blog, that’s so great! 🎉🥳 I’ll absolutely follow it as soon as it’s available online, Lashaan! How did you come up with the name? Pretty cool!

      Liked by 1 person

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