Features | Written by Ed Fortune 03/09/2021

Joe Abercrombie – Wisdom of Crowds Exclusive Excerpt

Fans of grim-dark fantasy know that Joe Abercrombie is the finest writer in the field. His latest novel, The Wisdom of Crowds completes The Age of Madness series and we've been able to bring you an extract of this new exciting novel ahead of release.



You can pre-order the novel: here, and if you're lucky enough to live in Scotland, you catch a live interview courtesy of the Cymera Festival here. If you're not in Scotland, don't worry, the event will be live-streamed, you can find out more details via the link.



You can find out everything about Joe's work on his website,  joeabercrombie.com and follow him on twitter @LordGrimDark, and find out about future books from Gollancz via @gollancz

   

Change

‘You must confess,’ said Pike. ‘It’s impressive.’

‘I must,’ said Vick. And she wasn’t easily impressed.

The People’s Army might have lacked discipline, equipment and supplies, but there was no arguing with its scale. It stretched off, clogging the road in the valley bottom and straggling up the soggy slopes on both sides, until it was lost in the drizzly distance.

There might’ve been ten thousand when they set out from Valbeck. A couple of regiments of ex-soldiers had formed the bright spearhead, gleaming with new-forged gifts from Savine dan Brock’s foundries. But order soon gave way to ragged chaos. Mill workers and foundry workers, dye-women and laundry-women, cobblers and cutlers, butchers and butlers, dancing more than marching to old work songs and drums made from cookpots. A largely good-natured riot.

Vick had half-expected, half-hoped that they’d melt away as they slogged across the muddy country in worsening weather, but their numbers had quickly swelled. In came labourers, smallholders and farmers with scythes and pitchforks – which caused some concern – and with flour and hams – which caused some celebration. In came gangs of beggars and gangs of orphans. In came soldiers, deserted from who knew what lost battalions.

In came dealers, whores and demagogues, dishing up husk, fucks and political theory in tents by roadways trampled into bogs. There was no arguing with its enthusiasm, either. At night, the fires went on for miles, folk drawing dew-dusted blankets tight against the autumn chill, blurting out their smoking dreams and desires, talking bright-eyed of change. The Great Change, come at last. Vick had no idea how far back that sodden column went now. No idea how many Breakers and Burners were part of it. Miles of men, women and children, slogging through the mud towards Adua. Towards a better tomorrow. Vick had her doubts, of course. But all that hope. A flood of the damn stuff. No matter how jaded you were, you couldn’t help but be moved by it. Or maybe she wasn’t quite so jaded as she’d always told herself.

Vick had learned in the camps that you stand with the winners. It had been her golden rule ever since. But in the camps, and in all the years since she left them, she’d never doubted who the winners were. The men in charge. The Inquisition, the Closed Council, the Arch Lector. Looking down on that unruly mass of humanity, fixed on changing the world, she wasn’t so sure who the winners would be. She wasn’t sure what the sides were, even. If Leo dan Brock had beaten Orso, there might have been a new king, new faces in the Closed Council, new arses in the big chairs, but things would’ve stayed much the same. If this lot beat Orso, who knew what came next? All the old certainties were crumbling, and she was left wondering whether they’d ever been certainties at all, or just fools’ assumptions.

In Starikland, during the rebellion, Vick had felt an earthquake. The ground had trembled, books had dropped from shelves, a chimney had fallen into the street outside. Not for long, but for long enough, she’d felt the terror of knowing all she’d counted on as solid could in a moment shake itself apart.

Now she had that feeling again, but she knew the quake had only just begun. How long would the world shiver? What would still be standing when it stopped?

‘I notice you are still with us, Sister Victarine.’ Pike clicked his tongue and nudged his mount down the slope, towards the head of the bedraggled column.

Vick had a strong instinct not to follow. But she did. ‘I’m still with you.’

‘So you are a convert to our cause?’

There was a hopeful piece of her that wanted to believe this could be Sibalt’s dreams of a better world coming true and was desperate to see it happen. There was a nervous piece of her that smelled blood coming and wanted to cut out that night and run for the Far Country. There was a calculating piece that reckoned the only way to control a mad horse is from the saddle, and the danger of keeping your grip might be less than the danger of letting go.

She looked sideways at Pike. In truth, she was still trying to work out what their cause really was. In truth, she reckoned there was a different cause for every one of those little dots in the People’s Army. But this was no time for the truth. When is? ‘I’d be a fool to say I’m not at all convinced.’

‘And if you said you were entirely convinced, I would be a fool to believe you.’

‘Since neither of us is a fool . . . let’s just say maybe.’

‘Oh, we are all fools. But I enjoy a good maybe.’ Pike showed no sign of enjoyment or of anything else. ‘Absolutes are never to be trusted.’ Vick doubted the two leaders of the Great Change riding towards them across the grassy slope would have agreed.

‘Brother Pike!’ called Risinau, with a cheery wave of one plump hand.

‘Sister Victarine!’

Risinau worried Vick. The one-time Superior of Valbeck was considered a deep thinker, but far as she could tell he was an idiot’s notion of a genius, his ideas a maze with nothing at the centre, heavy on the righteous society to come but light as air on the route they’d take to get there. The pockets of his jacket bulged with papers. Scrawled theories, manifestos, proclamations. Speeches he whined out to eager throngs whenever the People’s Army halted. Vick didn’t like the way the crowd greeted his flowery appeals for reason with shaken weapons and howls of approving fury.

She never saw more damage done than by folk acting on high principle. But Judge worried Vick a lot more. She wore a rusty old breastplate rattling with stolen chains over a ball gown crusted with chips of cracked crystal, but she sat her saddle astride not aside so the flounce of tattered petticoats was gathered up around her thighs, her muddy bare feet shoved into battered cavalry stirrups. Her face was like a bag of daggers, lean jaw angrily clenched, black eyes angrily narrowed, her usually flaming crest of hair turned brown by the rain and plastered wetly down one side of her skull. Principles only interested her as an excuse for mayhem. When her Burners had taken the courthouse in Valbeck, her jury had found no one innocent and the one sentence she’d given was death.

If Risinau was forever gazing up, no thought for the wreckage he was stepping through, Judge was glaring down, trying to trample everything she could. And Pike? There were no clues on the ex-Arch Lector’s burned mask of a face. Who could say what Brother Pike was after?

Vick nodded towards grime-streaked Adua, its pall of smoke inching irresistibly closer. ‘What happens when we get there?’ ‘Change,’ said Risinau, smug as a rooster. ‘The Great Change.’

‘From what, to what?’

‘I am not blessed with the Long Eye, Sister Victarine.’ Risinau giggled at the thought. ‘From the pupa alone it is hard to know what kind of butterfly might emerge to greet the dawn. But change.’ He wagged a thick finger at her. ‘Of that you can be sure! A new Union, built from high ideals!’

‘The world doesn’t need changing,’ grunted Judge, black eyes fixed on the capital. ‘It needs burning.’

Vick wouldn’t have trusted either one of them to herd pigs, let alone to herd the dreams of millions into a new future. She kept her face blank, of course, but Pike must have caught some hint of her feelings. ‘You appear to have doubts.’

‘I’ve never seen the world change quickly,’ said Vick. ‘If I’ve seen it change at all.’

‘I begin to think Sibalt liked you so because you were his opposite.’ Risinau laid a playful hand on her shoulder. ‘You are such a cynic, Sister!’

Vick shrugged him off. ‘I think I’ve earned it.’

‘After a childhood stolen in the camps,’ said Pike, ‘and a career of making friends to betray for Arch Lector Glokta, how could you be otherwise? But one can be too cynical. You will see.’

Vick had to admit she’d been expecting the Great Change to collapse long before now. For Judge and Risinau to move past bickering to tearing each other apart, for the fragile coalition of Breakers and Burners, moderates and extremists, to shred into factions, for the resolve of the People’s Army to dissolve in the wet weather. Or, for that matter, for Lord Marshal Rucksted’s cavalry to crest every hill she saw and carve the ragged multitude to pieces.

But Risinau and Judge continued to tolerate each other and the King’s Own made no appearance. Even now, as the rain slacked off and they marched into the ill-planned, ill-drained, ill-smelling maze of shacks outside the walls of the capital, water spattering from the broken gutters and into the muddy lanes below. Maybe Orso’s forces had been fought out against Leo dan Brock. Maybe there were other uprisings to deal with. Maybe these strange times had stretched their loyalties in so many directions they hardly knew who to fight for any more. Vick knew how they felt as the sun showed through, and she caught her first glimpse of the gates of Adua.

For a moment, she wondered whether Tallow was in the city. Fretted that he might be in danger. Then she realised how foolish it was to worry over one person in the midst of all this. What could she do for him, anyway? What could anyone do for anyone?

Risinau nervously eyed the damp-streaked battlements. ‘It might be wise to take a cautious approach. Deploy our cannon and, er—’

Judge gave a great snort of disgust, dug her bare heels into her horse’s flanks and rode forwards.

‘One cannot fault her courage,’ said Pike.

‘Just her sanity.’ Vick was rather hoping for a shower of arrows, but it never came. Judge trotted on towards the walls, chin scornfully raised, in eerie silence.

‘You inside!’ she screamed, reining in before the gate. ‘Soldiers of the Union! Men of Adua!’ She stood in her stirrups, pointing back at the horde crawling up the soggy road towards the capital. ‘This is the People’s Army, and it’s come to set the people free! We only need to know one thing from you lot!’ She held high one clawing finger. ‘Are you with the people . . . or against ’em?’

Her horse shied, and she ripped at the reins and dragged it around in a tight circle, that finger still extended, while the thunder of thousands upon thousands of tramping feet grew steadily louder. Vick flinched at an echoing clatter from behind the gates, then a slit of light showed between the two doors and, with a creaking of hinges in need of oil, they swung slowly open. A soldier leaned from the parapet, grinning madly and waving his hat.

‘We’re with ’em!’ he bellowed. ‘The Great Change!’

Judge tossed her head, and dragged her horse from the road, and with an impatient flick of her arm beckoned the People’s Army forwards.

‘Fuck the king!’ screeched that lone soldier, to a wave of laughter fromthe oncoming Breakers, and he took his life in his hands by shinning up the wet flagpole to tear down the standard above the gatehouse.

The High King’s banner, which had flown over the walls of Adua for centuries. The golden sun of the Union, given to Harod the Great as his emblem by Bayaz himself. The flag folk had knelt to, prayed to, sworn their loyalty to . . . came fluttering down to lie in the puddle-pocked road before the gate.

‘The world can change, Sister Victarine.’ Pike raised one hairless brow at Vick. ‘Just watch.’ And he clicked his tongue and rode on towards the open gates.

So it was with almost over-heavy symbolism that the People’s Army marched into Adua, trampling the flag of the past into the mud.

The Wisdom Of The Crowds is available from 18th September and pre-orders can be made by clicking here.