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Literature / The Age of Madness

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The Age of Madness is the second trilogy by British writer Joe Abercrombie set in the world he originally created in the The First Law trilogy. The three books are:

The trilogy starts 15 years after the end of Red Country. The Union has entered an Industrial Age, with chimneys rising all over Adua, but that doesn't mean that the old powers have gone away, or that things have gotten any better. As society struggles to adapt to new technologies, and new leaders take power, an assortment of characters find themselves, for better or worse, central figures in the conflicts to come:


  • Savine dan Glokta - Daughter of Arch Lector Sand dan Glokta, a shrewd, ruthless and rich business woman.
  • Orso dan Luthar - Son of King Jezal, a pleasant but ineffectual bon vivant.
  • Leonault "Leo" dan Brock - Son of Finree, an idealistic young hero with more bravery than sense.
  • Rikke - Daughter of the Dogman, cursed with the "Long Eye" that brings her visions of the future.
  • Gunnar Broad - A hulking brute who is caught between his loving family and his propensity for violence.
  • Jonas Clover - A jaded old Northman whose experience has turned him into the consummate pragmatist.
  • Victarine "Vick" dan Teufel - A cunning but conflicted secret agent for the Union.

Meanwhile, magic continues to leak from the world, and Bayaz, the First of the Magi, continues to inflict his inscrutable designs upon mankind from the shadows.


This work provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: As the trilogy opens, absolutely everyone considers Prince Orso an absolute waste of space. His reputation does not improve after assuming the throne.
  • Action Girl:
    • Subverted by Savine, who practices fencing regularly and often wears a sword as part of her formal dress, but when she asks the Lightning Bruiser Bremer dan Gorst to really cut loose during a sparring session, she realizes that she's just been playing around.
    • As with previous books, the North includes a number of women who fight alongside the men, including Wonderful and Isern-i-Phail.
  • Adipose Rex: After losing his hand during The Heroes quashed his dreams of being a warrior King, Scale Ironhand has gotten quite pudgy.
  • Ambiguously Bi: In the first book, Leo always takes care to note how handsome other men are, is extremely close to his good-looking circle of male friends, and sometimes worries that he's just not as into women as he's expected to be. That said, he doesn't seem to be entirely uninterested in women either, though it takes a special one to get his attention. It's effectively confirmed in the second book that he has repressed sexual attraction to men.
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Leo's best friend Jurand is heavily implied to be in love with him. In spite of the fact that Leo is Ambiguously Bi himself, he seems oblivious to the possibility. It's confirmed in the second book that not only is Jurand gay, but so is Glaward.
    • In the second book, Antaup's internal monologue reveals that his epic romances are all lies, and he admits that he has no interest at all in seducing women. He also reveals that he was perfectly aware of Jurand and Glaward's sexuality. It's unclear whether Antaup is gay or if he just has some unusual attitudes toward sex.
  • Animal Motif: Rikke's has a vision in A Little Hatred in which a wolf is beaten by a lion, which is then defeated by a lamb, which is in turn eaten by an owl. The wolf and lion are clearly Stour "the Great Wolf" Nightfall and Leo "Young Lion" dan Brock. The Trouble with Peace reveals the lamb to be Orso, foretelling Leo's defeat at the battle of Stoffenbeck. We don't find out who the owl is until the end of The Wisdom of Crowds; Rikke herself, prophecying her betrayal of Orso to get back in Leo's good graces.
  • Anyone Can Die: A great many of the old generation: Jezal, Scale, The Dogman, Calder, Gorst and Sulfur have met their ends by the end of the trilogy, with only Shivers and Glokta still up and active in the story.
  • Apologetic Attacker: After Gorst, on the King's orders, forcibly removes Leo from an Open Council session, he assures him that it was nothing personal and passes on his regards to Leo's mother. Leo is more confused than mollified.
  • Arc Villain: While there are plenty of minor villains (and not-especially-heroic protagonists) running around in each book, each one also has one that's responsible for most of the death and misery taking place.
    • Stour Nightfall in A Little Hatred.
    • Leo and Savine in The Trouble With Peace.
    • Judge in The Wisdom of Crowds.
  • Armored Closet Gay: It's all but confirmed by the second book that Leo is at least bisexual and in love with Jurand, but won't admit it to himself. When he discovers Jurand and Glaward having sex, he banishes them as perverts.
  • Bald Women: Savine's head is shaved to allow her to wear a variety of elaborate wigs.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Black Caulder recruits Stand At the Barrows and his tribe, barbarians from beyond the Krinner mountains, for his attack on Carleon.
  • Betty and Veronica: Gunnar loves his gentle and sensible wife Liddy, but is perversely attracted to the Axe-Crazy Judge.
  • The Big Guy: Glaward is the brawniest of Leo's brothers in arms. Even his teeth look muscular.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Oh, where to begin? Things end better than the last trilogy, but it's hardly happy.
    • Leo has seized the throne of the Union as Lord Regent with Savine, but his failures and the constant pain he's in have left him miserable and isolated from everyone. He will likely never know happiness ever again.
    • Savine is left in a morass of guilt and loathing, aggrieved over Orso's death and vowing to make Leo pay his bill, stripping him of his power and finding comfort with her children, but her victory implicitly renders her hollow as well.
    • Orso, the kindest of all the leads, is vindictively hanged by Leo but meets his fate bravely, jesting all the while and robbing Leo of any satisfaction. This is sure to incite problems with his surviving family and his beloved page Hildi is defying his wishes to seek revenge for him.
    • Broad is sent off to take down the last of the Burners, his family in better straits but his work for Savine and love of violence going nowhere.
    • Vick discovers that almost all her actions and her relationship with Tallow were manipulations by Glokta, refusing his offer to become Arch Lector in the new Union in favor of setting off to the Far Country to start anew.
    • Sand dan Glokta helped to shape The Great Change to burn down the structure of the old Union (leading to countless deaths) and free it from Bayaz's control, allowing glimmers of a new chance for the nation though it's largely implied that conditions for the low and poor won't change by much.
    • Bayaz's power in the Union is broken, but he is patiently putting everything back together, little by having Black Calder's bastard son trained by Jonas Clover to be a king while he trains Hildi to inherit Valint and Balk...
    • Rikke rules a united North, but gave up Orso to do it, much to her shame. In the end, she beholds a horrific vision of Hildi and Clefton grown into nightmarish figures...and Bayaz giving rise to a figure who walks with burning steps and declares "I have returned." Dark days are ahead.
  • Black Comedy: Peppered throughout the trilogy. For example, there's a scene in The Wisdom of Crowds, where a man swears at Clover, so Downside chops his head open. The guy's nephew starts to swear that he'll see Clover punished for this if it takes all of his days—and is interrupted by Downside chopping his head open. At the conclusion of the scene, a third guy takes issue with the first two being murdered and fails to see it coming when Downside chops his head open too, to Clover's mounting annoyance.
  • Blessed with Suck: Rikke's opinion of having the Long Eye. The visions of the future vary between literal and highly symbolic flashes of the future. However, they usually don't come on command and are extremely unpleasant, accompanied with a burning eyeball at best and grand mal seizures at worst.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Broad is nearsighted and wears spectacles. He has to take his glasses off before fights, so we frequently hear about how everything is a blur beyond a short distance.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Leo dan Brock has a somewhat naive fixation on the glory of battle. In spite of coming face-to-face with the horrors of war, he doesn't learn his lesson.
    • Stour Nightfall is absolutely obsessed with battle, and unlike Leo, he's seen his fair share to know exactly how much he likes it. He's particularly proud of his victories in the circle, and takes special care to draw out his fight with Leo dan Brock himself because he's enjoying himself so much.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Gunpowder has only just come around, but the Burners otherwise fit this trope to a T.
  • Break Them by Talking: Orso organises a parlay with Leo partly to stall for time, but also so he can shatter each one of Leo's high-minded motivations for rebellion into a thousand pieces. Leo ends up confused, angry, and in a very poor state to lead a battle the next day.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Unknowingly, but Orso and Savine are lovers, with Savine being the bastard daughter of King Jezal and Ardee West. Savine is horrified when she finds out.
  • The Brute: Gunnar Broad's story arc largely revolves around accepting himself to be this.
    • Clover's man Downside is this, unrepentantly.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • A lot of the younger generation characters are highly dismissive of Bayaz, and make no secret of the fact that they could not care less about crossing him and don’t feel obligated to keep their parents' deals with him; despite their parents warnings that they have very good reasons to regard Bayaz as The Dreaded.
    • Yoru Sulfur turns Savinne's guards to a fine red paste before confronting her, still soaked in their blood and certain that she poses no danger. And he's right! But the three Eaters in her employ are another case entirely.
  • Bus Crash:
    • Harod dan Brock died some years before the trilogy begins.
    • Stour Nightfall killed Stranger-Come-Knocking in the circle before the series begins.
  • The Bus Came Back: Leo catches Jurand and Gloward having gay sex and sends them away during The Trouble with Peace. This means that they are absent for the Battle of Stoffenbeck at the novel's climax, and are thus alive to return for The Wisdom of Crowds.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: In the second book, Jurand is about to finally admit his feelings for Leo dan Brock, but their conversation gets interrupted and both are too bashful to pick it back up again.
  • Cassandra Truth: The older generation's warnings about why crossing Bayaz is a bad idea almost always fall on deaf ears with the younger generation.
  • Central Theme: Can people and societies change for the better, or are they doomed to forever repeat their mistakes? If change is possible, what is its cost?
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Clover does this so often that the people he's switching sides to and from discuss it with him openly.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: In-Universe, it is revealed that Monza Murcatto is thoroughly enjoying the chaos and suffering that the Great Change is causing in the Union, to the point of actually giggling every morning upon hearing the news updates.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Savine mentions the firm of Temple and Kahdia, whose origins were seen in Red Country.
    • Last we saw, Curnsbick was building a manufactory in the Far Country. Now Adua is awash in them, and Curnsbick is quite wealthy.
    • The Union has just finished a Great Offscreen War against Styria, led by Monza and the son she was pregnant with at the end of Best Served Cold.
    • During The Wisdom of Crowds, Curnsbick tells Savine about the incredible tenacity of a man called Lamb that he met in the Far Country several years ago.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Savine takes ruthlessness in business to a whole new level, routinely engaging in blackmail, extortion, corporate espionage and influence peddling to get ahead. It's made her one of the richest women in the Union.
    • Readers of the original trilogy will know that Bayaz does this on a far grander scale via the banking houses of Valint and Balk.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: A dozen Burners with swords and axes run afoul of an Eater. The fight is just as unevenly matched as you could expect.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Discussed Trope. After Leo defeats Stour, he makes a conscious effort to befriend the defeated warlord, invoking the advice of an ancient general.
  • Defector from Decadence: Isern was the favorite of her father, Crummock-i-Phail, and might have possibly taken over as leader of the Treeman clan, but instead she left and took up life as a healer under Dogman's leadership. While she won't hesitate to kill to defend herself, she speaks dismissively of her father's bloodthirsty ways and blames him for all the violence she was exposed to as a young girl.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Due to a lack of medical knowledge, pregnant women see nothing wrong with drinking wine and snorting "pearl dust."
  • Depraved Homosexual: King Jappo deliberately cultivates this image in order to set other nobles ill at ease. While he's very, very homosexual, the depravity is an act; he's quite measured and canny when the situation calls for it.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Despite being Crown Prince and heir to the throne of the Union, Prince Orso's internal monologue shows that he desperately craves to do something, anything, useful. When the war with the North erupts, he is eager to get involved.
  • Devil in Plain Sight:
    • Clover warns everyone he meets that he looks out for himself, first and foremost, always. Yet they're somehow still shocked when he turns on them. Just ask Wonderful. Or Stour.
    • Those who were involved in the original trilogy have a very different reaction to Bayaz's presence than those who weren't.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The revolution in Valbeck, with its bloody uprising against the ruling class, kangaroo courts and mass executions, clearly draws significant inspiration from the French Revolution. The Great Change that features in The Wisdom of Crowds takes this Up to Eleven.
  • Dramatic Irony: It's already been revealed in the previous books that Prince Orso and Savine dan Glokta share a biological father, but they don't know about it. This makes the revelation that they are engaged in a sexual relationship very cringe-worthy for the readers.
  • The Dreaded: Played with, as this is how Bayaz is seen by people on his own side, while those not in the know generally see him as harmless.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: As much as Finree doesn't approve of Leo's Attack! Attack! Attack! tendencies, she admits that he's got a point about how men will be more eager to follow a brave leader than a prudent one.
  • Eccentric Mentor: To call Isern-i-Phail "colorful" would be a spectacular understatement, which makes her attempts to mentor Rikke in the use of the Long Eye a trial for the young woman at the best of times.
  • Enemy Civil War: Emperor Uthman-ul-Dosht of Gurkhul has died, his empire torn apart by his five sons fighting a war of succession. As a result, the Union overflows with refugees from their old enemy.
  • Evil Luddite: There are two Luddite factions in Valbeck, and they are implied to be local cells of larger movements. The Breakers don't necessarily oppose industrialization, but want better conditions for workers both on and off the job. The Burners are this trope, seeking to destroy the machinery and enact petty vengeance on its owners.
  • Fainting Seer: Rikke has "the Long Eye" which gives her visions of the future... which are accompanied by paralyzing fits and loss of control over one's bowels.
  • Fake Defector: The Wisdom of Crowds features three of these (plus one real one) in the North storyline.
  • False Reassurance: When Yoru Sulfur offers Orso a decidedly one-sided business deal with Valint and Balk, Orso complains that that deal would be the first step to the bank taking over the kingdom. Sulfur cheerfully tells him that it would hardly be the first.
  • Famed in Story: Bremer dan Gorst seems to have finally gotten the respect he deserves over the years for being a ridiculous badass. Leo admits that Gorst was a hero of his as a child and still admires the man greatly. He's back to serving as the King's personal bodyguard.
  • Fantastic Drug: In addition to the husk (opium) and chagga (chewing tobacco) introduced in the previous trilogy, this series introduces "pearl dust," a powdered, snorted amphetamine that is essentially cocaine.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: While industrialization is an important plot thread in this series, gunpowder still lags behind the rate of technological advancement. Factories, mass production and the first prototypes of trains would put overall technology in the Victorian age. Warfare, however, still relies on pike formations, crossbows and newfangled artillery, putting it somewhere in the 16th century. Cannons remain very unreliable, and no one has even suggested making them hand-held.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Bayaz usually affects a light and casual demeanor, but it's extreme condescension rather than friendliness.
  • Foreshadowing: In one of the most memorable moments of A Little Hatred, Clover kills his longtime friend Wonderful without hesitation when Stour demands they fight to the death. This sets the stage for him crippling Stour for life at the end of The Trouble with Peace.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: The Great Change turns out to lead to pretty much the same crappy government as before, only with different names for the same institutions. The Burners overthrowing the Breakers also keeps things much the same, only with more people getting executed on a daily basis. Leo defeating the Burners and installing himself as Regent also results in more of the same furious purges of supposedly subversive elements as the Burners presided over.
  • Generation Xerox: The younger generation shares many similarities with their parents at the start of the story. However, many of the offspring's decisions have set them apart by the end of The Trouble with Peace.
    • Prince Orso is as much of a useless manchild as Jezal was, although at least Orso is fully aware of his shortcomings. Father and son are also talented fencers, for all their other shortcomings. Orso handles being king considerably better than being Crown Prince, showing initiative, judgment, and a strong grasp of diplomatic negotiation his hapless father so obviously lacked.
    • Savine dan Glokta has grown up to be more like her ruthless step-father than her biological father. This ruthlessness sees her spearhead a disastrous rebellion that ruins her and forces her father to step down as Archlector.
    • Leo dan Brock has the reputation to match his father's for bravery, combat prowess, and derring-do. He's also got a bad case of Honor Before Reason that sees him start a rebellion against the crown without his closest advisors. While his father earned a hero's death, Leo winds up crippled for life in a fruitless act of treason.
      • Leo ultimately winds up looking less like his father than his father-in-law: A bitter, ruthless cripple who rules the Union behind a puppet king.
    • Stour Nightfall is cast in his father's image (well, his father circa The Heroes moreso than now) as the bold Northern king who rules by his fearsome reputation. It's a title he hasn't earned, naming himself in defiance of tradition and his chief victory being over Stranger Come Knocking, who would have been a Retired Badass at best by that time. His behavior motivates the seasoned warriors under his command to stage a coup, eventually slicing tendons in his ankles so he'll never walk again.
  • Gilligan Cut: Orso promises his mother he'll have nothing to do with Savine dan Glokta. The scene immediately cuts to him and Savine having sex.
  • The Glasses Come Off: Unusually for the setting, Broad wears a pair of tiny eyeglasses to help with his nearsightedness. They're terribly expensive and a gift of an officer whose life he saved. Every time he takes them off, it's a sign that someone is about to get their ass kicked in a painfully spectacular fashion.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Bayaz is still the dominant a force in the world, and his influence often hinted at. However, the events of the series seem to have caught him off-guard, and he does not play more than a passive role in them.
  • Great Offscreen War:
    • The Union's latest disastrous campaign in Styria against King Jappo and his mother Monza. It is already over by the time the first novel begins, but it profoundly affected several characters and the strain on the Treasury and the economy of financing it has a domino effect that triggers one of the mayor plot-lines.
    • At some point before the start of the first novel, emperor Uthman-ul-Dosht was assassinated and the Gurkish Empire collapsed into a massive civil war that has Kantic refugees fleeing to the Union.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Savine notes that, even though her father loves her, he enjoys when she occasionally fails to surpass him in some way.
    • Defied by Jurand when Rikke accuses him of being jealous of Leo's affections for her. In spite of being heavily implied to be in love with Leo, Jurand states that, in fact, he holds no animosity toward Rikke and believes that she's good for him.
    • This is implied to be the main reason why Leo banishes Jurand and Glaward as "perverts." Though he won't admit it, he was actually enraged that Jurand was cheating on him.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Leo is a boisterous Blood Knight but has a far more contemplative and humanist side than he lets on.
    • Orso is a silly, foppish lech of a prince, but even he isn't above bravery and heroism. He's also an incredible negotiator and desperately hates seeing anyone harmed needlessly.
    • Savine dan Glokta is ruthless and dangerous in her investments, but she can be more caring than her adopted father ever was. She's also head over heels in love with Orso, much to her shock to realize.
    • Pike is usually characterized by his ruthlessness and utter stoicism, but when he encounters a young deserter, he shocks Vick by gently prodding the boy back to his unit rather than hanging him. Pike admits that he grants mercy as often as his responsibilities allow. At the end of The Trouble With Peace, he reveals that he is, in fact, the Weaver. Until Wisdom of Crowds reveals he's just the proxy for Sand dan Glokta.
  • Homage: Gunnar Broad's spectacles were inspired by Dave Bautista's character in Blade Runner 2049.
  • Hookers and Blow: Prince Orso spends most of his time ingesting every intoxicant substance known in the setting and cavorting with prostitutes.
  • Hourglass Plot: Savine starts the trilogy as a ruthless, backstabbing schemer, while Leo starts it as a hot-headed soldier who's brave and honest to a fault. By the end, they've both been reshaped by all the pain and suffering they've endured and brought on themselves: she's wracked with guilt and wants to do the right thing at long last, while he's grown bitter and wants to win at any cost.
  • Hurricane of Excuses: When Orso, Glokta and High Justice Bruckel questions Lord Wetterland (who has murdered a man in front of seventeen witnesses), Wetterland claims, within the space of a conversation that doesn't last five minutes, first that he's innocent of the crime, then that he was coerced, then that it was just a case of "high spirits."
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Subverted with Downside, as it's implied that it's not so much that he's the only one who gets to insult Sholla as that he'd really like an excuse to go after Greenway.
  • I Gave My Word: Orso promises to spare the Breaker rebels who resist in return for laying down their arms. He's horrified to discover them executed with nobody bothering to check with him while he was having sex with Savine the previous evening.
  • Jerkass: If there is one thing every character who meets him can agrees on, its the fact that Stour Nightfall is an absolute prick.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Rikke accuses the Ambiguously Gay Jurand of holding a grudge against her for hogging Leo's affections, Jurand counters that, in fact, he thinks she's good for him.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Vick is from a noble family who were sent to the work camps for treason. She's got one foot in the nobility and one foot in poverty.
  • The Infiltration: Vick dan Teufel is a member of the Inquisition, and she specializes in infiltrating dissident groups. She is so good at it that she often ends up in positions of leadership.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: During her final confrontation with the despicable Leo in the penultimate chapter of The Wisdom of Crowds, Savine readily admits that everything he says in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech he directs at her in entirely true, but it still doesn't make him any less of a evil bastard.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Leo goes from well meaning and dim to leading a rebellion with ostensibly noble intentions to being a ruthless, treacherous scumbag who launches a coup with zero pretense at anything noble but a desire for power.
  • Kangaroo Court: The leader of the Burners, who calls herself "The Judge," sets up a revolutionary court with whores as jurors, herself as judge and a naked, beaten and traumatized lawyer as the defense. By the time Vick and Broad arrive to take her prisoners away from her, she's already hanged almost all of them.
  • Karma Houdini: The only one among the conspirator rebel lords who is not captured after the Battle of Stoffenbeck is Lord Isher, chief architect of the rebellion.
    • Downplayed with Leo who morphed into a treacherous, warmongering scumbag by the end of the series. While he has assumed power as Regent with Savine, she had thoroughly undercut any authority he has, he is isolated from almost everyone and can currently do little more than stew in his own bitterness.
  • Kid Sidekick:
    • Vick spares Tallow, a young Breaker, and forces him to enter her service because he reminds her of her lost brother. Their relationship is complicated. While Vick is a role model for him, she uses his sister as a hostage to ensure his loyalty.
    • Orso keeps the young waif Hildi as his personal servant and treats her as an equal. Hildi is fiercely loyal to him and loves him like a brother.
  • Last-Second Showoff: The reason why Stour Nightfall loses his duel with Leo dan Brock. The former is a far better swordsman and could've killed the latter at five different times during the Curb-Stomp Battle, but decided to toy with him and show off. This provides the necessary time for Rikke to force her Long Eye open and give Leo the advice he needs to defeat Stour.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The synopsis on the back cover contains spoilers for the previous trilogy, such as Jezal being king of The Union, or that Glokta will have children despite his implied mutilations during his imprisonment.
  • Legacy Character: The Inquisition is certain that "The Weaver" who was running things in Valbeck inherited the organization and title from someone far more competent.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Savine is horrified by the speed of her hulking sparring partner, Bremer dan Gorst, when he really cuts loose. It appears that time has yet to slow him down.
  • The Magic Goes Away: As established in previous books, magic is steadily getting weaker. Bayaz and Yoru Sulfur both ruminate on it. Unusually for this trope, the mages don't seen all that concerned by this fact and are embracing science to pick up the slack.
  • Magic Versus Science: As magic continues to lose strength, the Union has entered a full-blown industrial revolution.
  • Manchild: Prince Orso is as trivial and aimless as a teenager, with a complete aversion to responsibility, something that might have been endearing when he was younger, but not any more.
    Queen Terez: People expect a certain amount of indolence in a Crown Prince. It was quite winning when you were seven-teen. At twenty-two, it began to become tiresome. At twenty-seven, it looks positively desperate.
  • Manly Gay: Leo is effectively confirmed to be bisexual (leaning to gay) in the second book. Glaward is revealed to have sex with men in the same book. Both are exceedingly macho and burly warriors. Jurand is a borderline case. He's a young hero, but also repeatedly described as more sensitive, cautious and thoughtful than his macho friends.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Played with. Sholla is angry at Clover putting her at the back of a fight, saying that she can fight as well as any man. Clover retorts that he's got plenty of men who can fight, but she's his only master tracker.
  • The Mole:
    • Pretty much Vick's whole hat. In A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace, she infiltrates organizations that the Inquisition determines are threats to the crown, then delivers them to the Inquisition. In The Wisdom of Crowds, she goes the other way, subverting the Inspectorate to the royalists.
    • Superior/Archlector Pike is one as well, in the other direction.
    • Cauleth is one in The Wisdom of Crowds, passing information from Rikke's inner circle to Black Caulder. Thing is, Rikke knows it, and feeds her everything she wants Caulder to think.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: The banking house of Valint and Balk still effectively control the world through loans and debt.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Leo dan Brock has this reaction early in the first novel when his mother makes him realize that his Leeroy Jenkins tendencies just got one of his friends and subordinates killed in useless battle.
    Leo: He has a wife. By the dead... he has a child.
  • Nice Guy: Orso may be a waste of space, indolent, lazy, hedonistic and useless as a ruler, but he's a genuinely kind person and caring to those around him. And when he finds out his lover is in danger, he rides right to save her without pause.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Prince Orso is having a secret relationship with Savine, a fantastically wealthy business magnate who, while a member of the upper class, is still far below Orso's station.
  • Noodle Incident: Clover lost everything but his life in the Circle, including his old name. We know nothing else about the circumstances of that disastrous duel.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • During his negotiations with King Jappo, Orso establishes a common ground by pointing out how similar they are to each other in demeanor, relationship with their respective mothers and approach to ruling. Jappo is forced to admit that Orso is right.
    • In taking apart Bayaz's control of the Union, Glokta helped shape an intricate plan of death and destruction on par with the First of the Magi. A horrified Savine states that he took down Bayaz's control to become him, though by the end of the trilogy her Regency and his aid and power allows hope for a much more capable if exceptionally ruthless age for the country.
  • Nurture over Nature: Orso and Savine share the same biological father. Orso is frivolous and a bit of an intellectual lightweight, much like his father. Savine is brilliant and ruthless, much like her adopted father.
  • Oh, Crap!: Yoru Sulfur gets it from both sides.
    • He demonstrates himself to be a One Many Army during The Trouble With Peace, easily dispatching a dozen Burners trying to assassinate Orso.
    • Savinne assumed that "magus" was a meaningless title until Sulfur showed up caked in blood at a door that had dozens of men guarding. Emphasis on had.
    • Sulfur gets his own taste of this trope when it turns out that Zuri and her brothers are all Eaters, themselves.
  • Old Soldier:
    • Bremer dan Gorst is old enough to be a grandfather yet still serves as a royal bodyguard and is still incredibly lethal.
    • Clover is a grizzled old veteran of no particular importance when Stour makes him his chief advisor.
    • Caul Shivers is past 40 and still one of the hardest names in the North.
  • One-Man Army: Discussed. After witnessing Yoru Sulfur rip a dozen men limb-from-limb, Orso asks if he could help out taking down an attacking army. He also recalls that Bayaz killed thousands in the Agriont. However, Sulfur laments that magic has grown weaker, and his talents are no match for an army.
  • One Steve Limit: Prince Orso is named after a different, Styrian Prince Orso from Best Served Cold.
  • Open Secret: The fact that Queen Terez is a lesbian is common knowledge, to the point that even Leo in Angland has heard the gossip. There's a rather heartwarming scene in The Trouble with Peace where Orso arranges a meeting with an old (female) lover for his mother.
  • Opposed Mentors: Rikke has two: her teacher Isern-i-Phail, who tells her to "make of her heart a stone" in order to be able to get anything done in the world, and her father the Dogman, who wants her to stay a good person so she can get the right things done.
  • Out of Focus: Orso's viewpoint chapters in The Wisdom of Crowds are mostly used to cover what's going on at the seat of government in the Agriont.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Burners’ assassination attempt against King Orso was actually very cleverly (if ruthlessly) planned and probably would’ve succeeded. However, none of them could’ve anticipated the presence of an Eater during the event, who ended up slaughtering them all.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage:
    • Terez is prone to bringing up Orso's sister Carlot's arranged marriage as an example of the need to make sacrifices for one's family. Orso's attempts to point out that Carlot actually seems very happy with her husband fall on deaf ears.
    • Zigzaged with Savine and Leo. They both find their marriage more agreeable than they thought it would be, but at the same time they are also very different in ways that make them get on each other's nerves. They also admit to themselves that they don't actually love the other. Both are still infatuated with people they cannot marry.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Leo is openly homophobic and pretty racist towards anyone who isn't a Midderlander or a Northman, going so far as to mentally refer to Orso as a "half-Styrian mongrel".
  • Really Gets Around: Orso sleeps around. A lot. It's a common saying he must have bedded 5,000 prostitutes. Rikke points out how ridiculous this number really is when calculating how much screwing he'd need to do to accomplish it. When propositioning one another, Orso wonders if 4,000 isn't the correct number, just as Rikke joked about previously.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Jonas Clover was supposedly present during the events of The First Law trilogy, holding a shield during the Bloody-Nine's duel with Fenris the Feared when he was 18 years old and having a distinguished life ever since. He knows and is known by all the Northern bigwigs and has presumably been around for all the major events that occurred in the North over the series, just never getting specifically mentioned.
    • In The Wisdom of Crowds, it's revealed that even Bayaz has heard of him (though admittedly by his old name of Steepfield).
  • The Reveal: The Wisdom of Crowds is packed with them, as one would expect from the end of a trilogy.
    • Neither Resinau nor Pike was the Weaver. All along, the architect of the Great Change was Sand dan Glokta, doing it in order to rip the Union from Bayaz' control.
    • Zuri was the Eater called Ishri in The Heroes. This was known when she was hired, specifically because it meant she could protect Savinne if she ran afoul of Yoru Sulfur.
    • The owl in Rikke's vision from A Little Hatred was Rikke herself, prophecying her eventual betrayal of Orso.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Despite starting with very laudable and noble intentions, the uprising in Valbeck quickly dissolves into anarchy, slaughter and wanton destruction, particularly in the areas of the city controlled by the Burners.
    • This becomes the central plot of The Wisdom of Crowds, particularly after Judge comes into power. While mentally acknowledging that the things she is being accused of during her trial are entirely accurate, Savine aptly states that the Burner's aren't bringing freedom, creating or building anything besides more corpses.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: Orso quickly learns that in politics, questions often have demoralising answers.
    Hoff: "Well..."
    (and a moment later)
    Orso: "It seems sometimes that every decision I make in this chamber is between two equally bad outcomes, with the best option to make no decision at all!"
    Hoff: "Well..."
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Written at a time of immigration being a hot-button topic, the series includes the Union dealing with an influx of refugees from the Gurkish Empire, leading to several characters touching on real-world talking points. Leo even expresses a desire to "make the Union great again," riffing on the slogan of Donald Trump.
  • Running Both Sides: Unlike the two previous wars between the North and the Union, where the ruler of the North was either rebelling against Bayaz' influence or unaware of its existence, this time around Black Calder is still very much under Bayaz' thumb. But Bayaz is allowing Calder's invasion to proceed for reasons of his own.
    Yoru Sulfur: My master appreciates that we must sometimes have a little chaos if a better order is to emerge. There can be no progress without pain, no creation without destruction. That is why he has indulged this little war of yours.
  • The Scapegoat: Prince Orso ends up being blamed by the public for the execution of 200 Breakers after they had surrendered without a fight after he promised them amnesty. That decision was made by the Closed Council and carried out without his knowledge.
  • Schizo Tech: The industrial revolution the Union has underwent has been pretty uneven in the technologies have progressed, resulting in Victorian era factories and the beginnings of railroads coexisting with late medieval military technology and gunpowder only being used for artillery but handheld firearms not being even considered.
  • Sequel Hook: The trilogy ends on Rikke having a vision. Much like her other visions, its details are murky, but they strongly imply that Bayaz' plans to regain what he has lost will lead to tumultuous times in the near term.
  • Sex Is Violence: Leo eventually realizes that his new wife slapping the shit out of him actually turns him on.
  • Sigil Spam: After the Breakers and Burnes are defeated, and Leo takes over, Adua becomes positively littered with the Union's sunburst flag and Angland's crossed hammers flag.
  • Social Climber: Savine dan Glokta is determined to get to the top of the Union's society, and will not let anything stand in her way. It's not even about the money for her, as she sees it merely as a way of keeping score.
  • Spin-Offspring: Many of the POV characters are children of characters from the previous novels in the setting:
    • Rikke is the daughter of the Dogman.
    • Leo dan Brock is the son of Harod and Finree dan Brock.
    • Savine dan Glokta is officially the daughter of Ardee and Sand dan Glokta, but her biological father is King Jezal. Her adopted father admits that this came in to play with his plans, to use her parentage to help bring legitimacy for her becoming Regent to a new Union.
    • Prince Orso is the son of King Jezal.
    • Victarine 'Vick' dan Teufel is the daughter of Sepp dan Teufel, the Master of the Mints, whom Sand dan Glokta arrested on trumped-up charges in the second chapter of The Blade Itself.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Gunnar Broad returns from the wars in Styria with a serious case of PTSD and barely holds it together when reunited with his family.
    • Savine likewise can't seem to put her experiences in Valbeck behind her. She tries to keep up appearances, but she's clearly not the composed and self-confident woman she used to be, and by the start of the second book her businesses and social standing are tanking as a result.
  • Shout-Out: A Breaker claims that after the revolution, "every man'll be a king!"
  • Skeletons in the Coat Closet: Stand at the Barrows and his Barbarian Tribe have a fascination with collecting bones and adorning themselves in them. This includes their horses.
  • The Starscream: Stour Nightfall ends the first book assassinating his uncle Scale to become the new king of the North, ending Calder's time as The Man Behind the Man in one fell swoop. In the very next book, he's betrayed the very same way by Clover.
  • Surprise Incest: Savine and Orso are secret lovers, little realizing that Savine's biological father is Jezal, making them half-siblings.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Given that the series is at the hard cynical end of the scale, this happens plenty of times throughout the trilogy. Some highlights:
    • Despite Orso's grand gestures and eloquent diplomacy, the Closed Council would far prefer to execute Valbek's ringleaders over negotiating with them.
    • The battle of Stoffenbeck is largely decided by whose reinforcements arrived first.
    • Every battle scene is portrayed as a chaotic clusterfuck.
    • Once the revolution gets started, it quickly spirals out of anyone's control.
    • The assembly must vote on who will be king of the Union. Exactly one of the choices has the room filled with his most loyal soldiers. Guess who wins?
  • Time Skip: The novels starts 28 years after the events of The First Law trilogy and 15 after Red Country, the previous novel in the setting.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Contrary to the everyone’s expectations (except Savine’s), King Orso spends the entire second novel rising to the occasion as High King of the Union, proving to be a skilled negotiator and talented politician.
    • Rikka experiences extended side effects of forcing the Long Eye open at the climax of A Little Hatred. She undergoes a physical transformation that leaves her with extensive facial tattoos and a mismatched pair of eyes. She also goes on to become one of the canniest leaders in the north, eventually outwitting Savine and Stour to conquer Carleon while Stour is away.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Orso's lover is captured by the Breakers, so he rides out to save her, negotiates a peace like a true ruler. then they get hanged without his knowledge or consent while he's having happy rescue sex with Savine. Then Savine learns she's his half-sister and breaks up with him, giving him no explanation and leaving him miserable. Then his father dies, leaving him stuck with the crown he doesn't want.
  • Uncertain Doom: The Prophet of Gurkha, Khalul, Second of the Magi, has vanished after the empire collapsed into infighting and chaos. Nobody knows if he's alive or dead.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Savine regularly practices fencing with the Lightning Bruiser Master Swordsman Bremer dan Gorst and fancies herself quite the swordswoman, but when she asks Gorst to not hold anything back during one sparring session, she realizes just how much she's been fooling herself.
  • Undignified Death: Jezal is found dead of unknown causes, mostly naked and vacantly staring with no glory of dignity to him whatsoever.
  • Unpleasant Parent Reveal: Savine finds out King Jezal is her real father instead of Sand dan Glokta at the worst time, which also means her lover Orso is her brother. As she puts it?
    Savine: My father isn't my father and I've been sucking my brother's cock!?
  • Unreliable Narrator: Rikke's point of view chapters in the first half of The Wisdom of Crowds omit quite a lot of what's going on, specifically so The Mole can pass inaccurate information to the enemy.
  • The Unreveal: The Inquisition is in pursuit of an insurgent organizer known as the Weaver. They figure out someone who's taken their place, but haven't figured out who the original Weaver was before the end of the first novel. At the end of the second it turns out that it's Superior Pike. Except Pike only borrows the name. The true Weaver is and always has been Sand dan Glokta.
  • Undying Loyalty: Despite Orso releasing Gorst from his service, Gorst chooses to stay and die for him.
  • Upper-Class Twit:
    • Prince Orso, a feckless man who does nothing but disappoint his mother, get high and avoid his responsibilities.
    • Resinau makes grand speeches about freedom and authority, but is shockingly inept at actually ruling. Perhaps best exemplified by his decision to take money raised to purchase boots for the army and spending it instead of collections of essays for the soldiers.
  • We Can Rule Together: The (real) Weaver tries to recruit Vick to his side at the end of The Trouble With Peace.
  • The Worf Effect:
    • Leo proves that he's a great fighter by wrestling with his ridiculously muscular friend Glaward and beating him. He states that he's outfought all of his friends in their respective best talent.
    • The fact that Stour has already killed Stranger-Come-Knocking in the circle before the book begins says a lot about his fighting skills, though it's noted that Stranger was a little past his prime.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Gorst goes out holding the line to the end and takes many of Leo's men with him even amidst many wounds until Jurand finally puts a bolt in his face.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Clover's attitude toward Stour calling him "my kind of bastard." Probably also has something to do with having killed his old friend Wonderful only moments before.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Breakers are a group that opposes the use of the new machines to replace workers, and also seek representation for the people in the Union's government. As the story starts, their prosecution by the government has led them to plan to blow up factories with explosives. Some of them are even aware of this trope being in play.
    Vick: If we do this, people get hurt. People get killed.
    Grise: Only those that deserve it.
    Vick: Once the killing starts, it rarely sticks to those who deserve it.

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