Review: The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie

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Starting two years ago, my son (now 16-years-old) and I started reading together through the First Law book with me reading each page out loud. This culminated one year ago with an advanced copy of The Trouble with Peace, which was our third highest rated book of 2020 with a 4.79 out of 5. In fact, of the first nine First Law books, we gave at least a 4.7 to all but three, making Joe Abercrombie and this world easily among our all-time favorites.

That brings us to The Wisdom of Crowds which concludes the current trilogy and may possibly bring to an end 5,000 pages of pure enjoyment (since the author has no confirmed plans on more books to come in this world). It may be obvious that our expectation and enthusiasm for this book were of the highest levels.

But there is an inherent problem with extremely high expectations … there is often no where to go but down.

Wait, does that mean we hated this book? Heavens no! Far from it.

What it does mean is that we felt this was a VERY GOOD book, but it wasn’t QUITE the finale we would have hoped for.

So what DIDN’T we like about it. Honestly, there is no big complaints. Maybe it’s that we didn’t like Savine, Leo, Rikke, Orso and Judge QUITE as much as Glokta, Logen, Dogman, Ardee, West and Frost. Maybe it’s the way it ended, where the outcome was not QUITE as we would have wanted. Maybe it was something intangible that made it not QUITE hit the expectation we had.

Of course, this book brings back the same batch of complex characters that are both compelling and frustrating, who rise to the highest heights and will at times go from bad to worse to dead. The author is a master at creating 3-D people with all their flaws and charms, giving them each a unique “voice” and personality.

Likewise, Abercrombie excels at the sensory elements. You can almost see your breath on the cold mornings, you can practically feel the sweat building from the intensity of the fires or the fighting, and you can nearly hear the screams and rioting masses. When the action calls for it, scenes are as intense as any on the written page, and this book again shines.

The story also takes several unexpected turns that make it intriguing and satisfying for those of us that are long term readers allowing us to see how actions taken years before (in earlier books) come out into the light of the truth. Certain people are not who we thought they were as their true plans and motives are revealed.

One of our favorite things about Abercrombie’s work is his ability to make genuinely deep and philosophical concepts about humanity through the lens of well-crafted grimdark fantasy, all without being overt or ham-fisted. This book seems to specifically delve into the highs and lows of politics, contrasting the conflicts of the prior installments with the stale discontentment of society. As per his usual, this culmination of the series managed to make us look inside ourselves to see our own morality, all while reading about plots and public executions.

Additionally, my son personally really liked the way the plot headed towards the end, with him claiming that, “It brought a fair amount of closure to so many plot lines and resolved quite a few character arcs. It feels like the ending wrapped up the series about as well as it feasibly could be, but with enough uncertainty that it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly clean-cut.”

All told this was a VERY GOOD book, but it JUST fell short of the lofty atmospheric expectation we placed on it. We still gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars and would instantly recommend that everyone should read all the First Law books. We are glad we did!!!

My thanks to the Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing an early copy for review.

Review: The Last Lies of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

The third and final book in this series, The Last Lies of Ardor Benn, concludes a series that my son and I have truly enjoyed.  As I said in the review for the previous book, The Shattered Realms of Ardor Benn, if you loved the first two books you’ve love this one.

By far the stakes are at their highest in this one, which is impressive because the first two books were quite severe.  In this book, the very foundation of history and humanity is questioned, not to mention the future.  This was head-spinning at numerous places and finished strong.

As always Ardor is the focal point, but he is by no means the only important character.  Interestingly enough, the infamous ruse artist has decided to come clean and live a pious life … but is even that a ruse?!?!  Given the chaotic nature of the world around him, Ardor gets pulled into the middle of the situation and must pull in all his clever tricks, must pull in all his favors, and must do it all to avoid catastrophe on a global scale.

I might even go as far as to say that all the supporting characters (some new, many old) shine even brighter than dear ol’ Ardor.  Such a great cast! Honestly, this is a thrill ride and a fitting end to a wonderful series.  Josh and I loved them all and recommend each of the books!  4.6 stars out of 5.  (Thanks to the publisher for a review copy.  Our opinion was not influenced by this.)

Review: The Shattered Realms of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

Picking up where the previous book left off, The Shattered Realms of Ardor Benn largely once again centers on Ardor and his friend Raek.  In fact, much of what worked well in The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn worked well here again: a clever primary character, a unique magic system, and high stakes.  It’s safe to say that if you loved the first book (which we did) you will probably love this one as well.

The main story takes a very different direction here, and as a result focused much more on other supporting characters.  (Sadly, Elbrig and Cinza were far less involved.)  In fact, there is a mysterious element to this book regarding the characters as both Ardor and Quarrah sneak into a secret organization, albeit unaware of the other’s involvement.

An aspect of this book that I appreciated was the nature of Raek’s new addiction (as a result of the circumstances that happened in the previous book).  As is the nature of many addictions, the path toward recovery is often filled with healing and progress as well as relapse and setback.  I felt this was portrayed in a realistic way, adding to the complexity of the story. My son and I read this together and plan to jump right into the third book next.  Again, this was a great book and we definitely recommend it.  4.6 stars out of 5.  (Thanks to the publisher for a review copy.  Our opinion was not influenced by this.)