Previously, in the Age of Madness (2)…
It has occasionally been pointed out that in a long and complex fantasy series with several points of view, dozens of characters and hundreds of pages, after a 12 month wait between instalments, a little recap might prove useful. And so, for those who might be about to pick up The Wisdom of Crowds but could do with a refresher, here’s a précis of the events of The Trouble With Peace. You can find a similar recap for A Little Hatred over here. Needless to say, spoilers for all books in the First Law world up to this point will abound…
Following the defeat of Stour Nightfall in single combat, and the collapse of the workers’ uprising in Valbeck, a period of rare peace has descended upon the Union, its province of Angland, and the North. But in times of peace the seeds of new conflict take root . . .
With the death of King Jezal, a reluctant King Orso takes the throne hoping to impose much needed reform. His Closed Council, led by Bayaz, the formidable First of the Magi, would rather things stayed as they were. The noblemen of the Open Council become more restless by the day, and the Breakers and Burners were not defeated in Valbeck, only embittered and driven underground.
The Young Lion, Leo dan Brock, has finally been granted the Lord Governorship of Angland, but finds himself bored by peacetime bureaucracy. Taunted by wounds that will not heal, he longs to hurl himself into a new conflict. His mother Lady Finree suggests he might refresh himself, and cement his position at court, by visiting Adua to attend the wedding of his friend Lord Isher.
Orso is faced with an immediate dilemma in the form of the loathsome Lord Wetterlant, who is charged with brazen crimes. The common people demand that he be punished, the Open Council demand that he be pardoned, the Closed Council suggest the whole business be put off indefinitely while he rots in prison. Lord Isher appears to offer Orso a winning compromise, but the trial turns into a debacle. Leo dan Brock – already incensed at Angland’s exploitation by the government – is outraged by the perceived injustice, openly defies the king before the gathered Lords, and is humiliated by being dragged bodily from the chamber.
Savine dan Glokta, once the undisputed queen of Adua’s business community, is in turmoil following her brush with death during the uprising in Valbeck. Her romance with Crown Prince Orso collapsed when she discovered he was her half-brother, her instincts for business are failing and, most dangerous of all, she is pregnant following a reckless assignation with the Young Lion. Her mother, Lady Ardee, in cahoots with Lady Finree, makes Savine an offer she cannot refuse: legitimise her unborn child, and reverse her failing fortunes, through a marriage to Leo dan Brock.
She has cunning, ruthlessness, money and connections. He has dash, popularity, fame and title. It’s no love match, yet it could be a winning alliance for both parties. Isher’s wedding becomes a double marriage, the event of the season, but King Orso’s history with Savine further inflames the now stewing animosity between monarch and Lord Governor, and three magnates of the Open Council – Lords Isher, Barezin and Heugen – take advantage by drawing Leo into a plan to rebel against the crown.
In the North, Rikke’s health fails as she is tormented by her ever more uncontrollable visions. Isern-i-Phail takes her into the hills to the witch Caurib, whose head is stitched together with golden wire. Lost in dreams where past and future collide, Rikke must make a choice; she decides to keep the Long Eye, and sacrifice the other.
She returns to Uffrith half blind, her face tattooed with runes, to find her father, the Dogman, dead, and his War Chiefs Oxel and Red Hat feuding over his fragile legacy. Red Hat wants the protectorate of Uffrith to join the Union. Oxel wants to give it to Rikke’s worst enemy, the Great Wolf, Stour Nightfall, now King of the Northmen. She promises to decide between them, then tricks them into fighting a duel against each other. When Oxel wins, she turns the tables and makes him fight her own champion, Caul Shivers, who kills him in turn. Rikke proclaims that Uffrith will stay independent, as her father always wanted, with her in charge. No one disagrees.
In Angland, Savine throws herself into her new role as Lady Governor, and sets out to reform the outdated government of the province. Despite his attempts at secrecy, she soon learns that her husband Leo has been drawn into Lord Isher’s perilous scheme to rebel against the crown. Unwilling to risk her position by informing on him, and still harbouring ambitions to be queen, she commits all her formidable resources to the rebellion.
Lord and Lady Governor undertake a tour of the North seeking allies among old friends and enemies. In Uffrith, Leo finds Rikke worryingly changed from the naïve girl who was once his lover, but she agrees to join their scheme. They travel to Carleon in the hope of winning a decisive ally in Stour Nightfall, who after all owes Leo his life, but appeals to the brotherhood of arms fall on deaf ears. Unknown to her husband, Savine cuts a less sentimental deal with the King of the Northmen, betraying Rikke by offering him Uffrith for his support.
Back in Adua, Orso is struggling with unpopularity and the nation’s crippling debts. Ever bolder attacks by the Breakers culminate in an attempt on his life which is only thwarted by Bayaz’ sinister sidekick, Yoru Sulfur. A letter from an anonymous ‘friend’ informs Orso that members of the Open Council may be plotting against him, and there may even be a traitor on his Closed Council. He does what he can to prepare for war and, suspecting the rebels will seek Styrian help, arranges a trip to Sipani to persuade King Jappo of Styria to remain neutral. Unknown to him, Leo has been sent by Savine to win King Jappo’s support. The two rivals speak to the King of Styria one after the other, but Leo – rash and intolerant – makes a mess of it while Orso – urbane and easy-going – is able to bring Jappo to his side, and learn that the Lord and Lady Governor of Angland are among the rebels.
Savine has one more gamble to make – sending Gunnar Broad back to Valbeck to try and find common cause with the Breakers. Broad hopes to make contact with Risinau, but is led instead to Judge, the chaos-loving leader of the Burners. In return for a shipment of arms, she promises uprisings in the Union’s key cities, pinning down royalist reinforcements and leaving the rebels’ path to the capital unopposed.
With his son-in-law exposed as a traitor, Sand dan Glokta is forced to resign, his ruthless right hand man Pike taking his place as Arch Lector. Vick dan Teufel mounts a sting which unmasks the traitor on the Closed Council and reveals the rebels’ plans for an invasion of Midderland. Orso gathers every man and marches to intercept them at the town of Stoffenbeck.
Stour Nightfall, fixed on glory, raises every warrior he can find for the expedition. His cunning father Black Calder fears the worst, and sends Jonas Clover with him to make sure he does not come to grief. In the event, the rebel invasion faces problems from the moment it begins – hit by storms which apparently delay Rikke’s arrival and turn the roads to quagmire. The Open Council prove to be poor soldiers and the Northmen commit outrages against the local populace which stretch relations between Great Wolf and Young Lion to breaking point. But as their vanguard arrives at Stoffenbeck where the king’s forces are digging in, they still enjoy a huge advantage in numbers.
Hoping reinforcements might arrive at any moment Orso plays for time, inviting Leo dan Brock to dinner to discuss his grievances. The Lord Governor might be the better man with a sword but he is no match for the king with a fork, and Orso succeeds in filling Leo’s head with doubts about his cause, his allies, and even his wife’s loyalty. Tricked by Vick dan Teufel into believing the king expects no help, isolated and unused to command, the Young Lion hesitates, and delays his attack until morning.
Across the Circle Sea, Rikke now makes her move. She never intended to join Leo’s rebellion and, indeed, was the author of the mysterious letter to Orso. While Stour has drained the North of warriors, she attacks his ill-protected capital at Carleon. Stabbing Leo and Savine in the back before they can stab her, she seizes the symbolic Skarling’s Chair, taking more than half the North in one throw. Only Black Calder eludes her.
Leo wakes to find the king’s positions have been reinforced overnight. Furious, he orders an all-out attack, only for things go from bad to worse. The Open Council’s ill-disciplined forces are straight away pinned down by cannon, while on the other wing Stour Nightfall loses patience and attacks too soon. Leo’s faithful Anglanders begin to push the royalists back, but just as victory is in his grasp Lord Marshal Rucksted arrives – it appears the Breakers did not follow through on their promised uprisings. Rucksted’s cavalry shatter the Open Council’s lines and the rebel army begins to unravel.
Seeing a final opportunity to seize victory, The Young Lion leads a glorious charge, but he has been out-maneuvered by King Orso, his men are cut to pieces in the town square of Stoffenbeck and he is badly wounded and taken prisoner. Jonas Clover persuades a disgruntled Stour Nightfall to abandon the lost cause and return to the North on his ship, which he has brought upriver for the purpose. Instead of bringing Stour to safety, however, Clover picks his moment to betray him, and hands him over to Rikke, whose grip on the North now looks powerful indeed.
The rebellion is over. Wounded, terrified and racked with useless remorse, Savine sees her only chance to save her husband, and surrenders herself to Orso. She tells him why she could not marry him – because they are brother and sister. Summary hanging of the rebels begins, and Leo – having lost one leg and with a useless arm – is brought to the scaffold, but at the last moment King Orso takes pity on Savine, and commutes his sentence to life imprisonment.
Concerned that a Breaker revolt might still occur, Arch Lector Pike heads to Valbeck with Vick dan Teufel. There she is surprised by both Risinau and Judge, who have already taken the city with a body of well-armed men. Risinau never was the Weaver – he only borrowed the name from another man – none other than Pike himself, now revealed as the mastermind behind the Breakers. They have risen up across the Union, only not on the rebels’ timetable, but their own. Several key cities are already in their hands, and they are prepared to march on Adua itself, with little left to stop them. Pike offers Vick the chance to put the past aside, and join the coming revolution.
The day of the Great Change is at hand . . .
Wisdom of Crowd Extracts
With the Wisdom of Crowds coming in less than three weeks, it’s time to get some extracts out there, so we’ll be posting the first three chapters around the internet over the coming days (the third in two chunks, cos it’s a big one). The first you can find right now on the relevant book page […]
Wisdom of Crowds Tour
The Wisdom of Crowds is coming in less than a month and I am very pleased to announce we’ll be doing not only some online events, but a few IN-PERSON ones too. Here’s the schedule: And a link to my publisher with further info and ticketing options. We’d obviously love to do a more comprehensive tour […]