Overview (No Spoilers):
“Make of your heart a stone” is an oft repeated mantra throughout the Age of Madness trilogy, but I wish I’d realized sooner how much Abercrombie was preparing the reader for the finale he had in store. Rarely have I ever felt so conflicted while reading a trilogy. Abercrombie’s character’s are brilliant, unique, and so well crafted that by book three I feel like I can infer deep meaning in the most minute of shoulder shrugs. Not only is the dimensionality of these characters off the charts but they continue evolving in each subsequent chapter. Just consider how Leo and Savine have changed from A Little Hatred. Really each character has their own personal struggle that defines, breaks, or makes them stronger as they encounter horror after horror, because if anything Abercrombie stays true to his signature storytelling where there are no ‘happy endings’ and while you might be kept guessing right up until the end, best prepare yourself that it won’t be all rainbows and celebrations.
Bear with me on this next tangent. After my third trilogy in a row by Cassandra Claire, I stopped reading her novels despite genuinely enjoying the world she had created and her characters. I found myself rather offput after spending the effort to finish not one, but three trilogies, with each one was left open-ended to set up for the next trilogy in the works. This left the endings never quite feeling final or satisfying, just a placeholder for the world to continue. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed when The Age of Madness concludes with so many loose ends that it couldn’t help but leave a rather sour taste, only amplified by the brutal turn of events at the end. The last chapters of The Wisdom of Crowds establishes all the unfinished business and samples the direction for the next generation of war, while cementing the next installment with a Rikki prophecy that very clearly promised more death and heartbreak. This, while taken in parallel with the painful ending already endured, is more than enough to leave me hesitant to continue reading Abercrombie, even though his writing style, elaborate world building, and character development are everything and more I love in literature. So that said, for now I can’t decide if I am truly done, or ever more enamored of Abercrombie’s novels due to the conflicting emotions and feelings they call forth.
I typically credit George R. R. Martin as being a genius regarding crafting characters you initially loath, but somehow come to love. Abercrombie proves Martin’s equal in this art of manipulation, especially considering the evolution of Leo dan Brock. I don’t want to spoil what happens to Leo as The Wisdom of Crowds begins with the broken captive being only a shadow of his former, noble, naive self. Leo is a bumbling character throughout this trilogy who we have generally been amused by, and after his fall at the end of The Trouble with Peace, his future and growth is essentially a blank slate. In this novel, Abercrombie took Leo in quite an unexpected direction, which I most definitely admire, even though he is quite deplorable. One aspect that I am disappointed wasn’t resolved is Leo’s physical attractions and his complicated feelings that surround this topic that it are never really addressed.
Another unique component of Abercrombie’s storytelling is the jumping narrative that he uses to frame important chaotic scenes, such as a riot or a battle. While initially the revolving perspectives feels disjointed, the deliberate rhythm soon becomes apparent and the reader is then on a wild ride where we are granted snapshots of individuals and their motivations from across a wide range of social classes, as such horrible events tend to make equals of us all.
Overall, my review of The Wisdom of Crowds seems rather contradictory as I’ve raved about the writing and characters, while highlighting my disappointments in the outcome of that actual story and the blatant set up for the next trilogy. In the same breath praise Abercrombie for not writing conforming, predictable arcs. So in summary, I’m confused, hypocritical, and perhaps pouting about the sad brilliance of The Age of Madness.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- I find I delayed writing this review because I am still angry about King Orso’s death. Orso showed Leo mercy but when the roles were reversed Leo had none to spare. Leo never really explored this hypocrisy as he was so caught up in his own anger.
- I felt like I was struck by lightning when I had the epiphany that Leo was turning into San dan Glokta, meaning Savine had essentially married her father.
- I enjoyed Rikki’s maneuvering, but the twists and turns of her story settled a bit thick, making the trickery rather obvious.
- Gunnar Broad’s arc was so unsatisfying, but perhaps relevant to how we had first met him. He had done horrible things in the war before coming back to his family. Here he had done just terrible things during the Great Change, before his about face and return to his family. He essentially completed a loop to end back on square one.
- Did I mention I’m still mad and so very devastated by King Orso’s death?
- Isern-i-Phail and Jonas Clover were two of my favorite characters throughout The Age of Madness.
- I never would have guessed in a million years that San dan Glokta was the ultimate Weaver and Pike a piece in the puzzle. I thought it was strange that he disappeared and kept expecting him to come back but not with that level of mastery. What will Vick do now that she is disappearing? What would have Glokta had done if Savine had been killed? How did he find the Eaters?
- What will Bayaz do next?