Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.
Prince Orso believes he has secured the throne of the Union against a coup only to find himself held prisoner as the Great Change sweeps across the land, and revolutionaries take control of the nation. Though he never really wanted to be king, he now must plot to save his life and try to keep his country from sliding into anarchy. Both Vick and Brock find themselves joining with the unstoppable tide of the Great Change. Vick, however, has doubts about how many moral compromises she can continue to make as everything in the Union becomes chaotic, and Brock wonders if he’s a bad man for feeling so at home in the bloodshed and confusion.
Savine and Leo also race to adjust to their new circumstances. Pregnant and constantly at risk of being seen as an enemy of the people, Savine uses her cunning and remaining fortune to craft a new public persona that she hopes will protect her and her family. Newly crippled from his failed insurrection, Leo learns to strategize and find the political weaknesses of his enemies, but he also becomes hateful of his own limitations and suspicious of almost everyone around him.
In the North, even though Rikke has nearly unified the region, she still faces dangerous enemies, not the least of whom is Black Calder, who wants to recover his lands and his son from Rikke. Though she has the Long Eye, her visions and the choices she makes start to alienate her supporters, and her hold on the North might come undone just as quickly as she managed to make it.
A constant of this novel is how the fortunes of all the characters change, over and over again. Characters like Orso go from being on top to a prisoner to a renegade noble to captive again. No one is ever safe, especially as the Great Change seems to get out of control and even people who supported it get accused to treachery. These reversals of fortune happen constantly in the novel, and just as it is at the start of the book, when a character thinks they have won a secure moment, events change their circumstances and force them to respond. The battle of Carleon, a particular trail held by Citizeness Judge, and the Loyalist race to stop an execution are all delightful in their tension and excruciating because the outcomes swing so widely between ecstasy and suffering. It is difficult to predict what is going to happen as events unfold.
There is also commentary on the nature of revolutions as Vick and other characters note that early on the Great Change consists mostly of “the same people, doing the same job, but called something else” (63). As much as a variety of Orwellian dystopia that may seem, everything gets worse when the Great Change evolves into show trials and deranged carnage. The dream of the revolution becomes a nightmare from which no one can escape.
One issue that won’t be a problem for some readers is the discovery that many of the events in this latest trilogy were orchestrated by a handful of characters. It can be a hard sell that a small, shadowy cabal was able to engage in such massive social engineering, especially at such great personal risk. For readers who dislike conspiracy theories and think there is enough of that nonsense in real life, it can be a bit wearying to find one here, especially when plenty about the conditions in the novel could have organically led to the revolution and chaos that occurs.
The Wisdom of the Crowds is an excellent fantasy novel that has great characters trying to navigate grim circumstances where sometimes there is only a variety of bad options. Fans of Abercrombie’s other works will find plenty to love in this novel. The whole Age of Madness Trilogy is an excellent addition to his First Law works and should not be missed.
Abercrombie, Joe. The Wisdom of the Crowds. Orbit, 2021.
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© 2021 Seth Tomko