Author: Joe Abercrombie
Title: The Wisdom of Crowds
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.
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.