The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “Questions”

Pardon last week’s interruption. While I was busy giving random gifts to Joe Abercrombie’s characters, I was also having a conversation on Reddit at /r/fantasy. Someone asked, “Why do people like Joe Abercrombie’s books? During a game of cards, Jezal can look at the way people smile and deduce their entire personalities. It is ridiculous.” I responded. You know I did.

My response was thus: “The scene where Jezal is “deducing” people is a total farce. Jezal is a screw-up, a completely worthless human being. He’s deluded and self centered and all that. The point of view is his. He thinks he’s an amazing card player fully aware of the nature of all the people around him, when really he’s completely devoid of awareness as to how pathetically shallow and vapid he is.” In short, Abercrombie writes points of view with commitment. Nothing in a Jezal chapters reveals anything that isn’t warped by his nobleman’s bias. It’s true of everyone in the book. They’re all so caught up in their own heads that they can’t empathize, even for the reader’s benefit.

Everyone except Glokta…

“Questions”

The Skinny: Severard informs Glokta that there’s been a disturbance with Bayaz and his companions. Glokta investigates, but disbelieves Logen’s account and Bayaz’s power. They part ways with the Inquisitor even more convinced that Bayaz is a fraud.

The Chubby: Practical Severard interrupts Glokta’s breakfast, which he enjoys to the degree that every moment is a struggle to keep his gorge down. Annoyed at the interruption, Glokta forgives Severard when he’s informed that the First of the Magi (Bayaz) and his companions were victims of a break-in. Naturally, because the world conspires to make Glokta’s life difficult, their chambers are in the Tower of Chains.

Severard also updates Glokta on Logen’s wanderings, including his chat with one, Ardee West, who Glokta identifies easily from the Practical’s description. Glokta seems oddly protective of the girl, interested to a degree that’s contradictory to his usual ask-questions-later approach. As the discussion continues Severard mentions his disappointment that they’ve been told to drop the Mercer case. It’s a sentiment Glokta shares. In fact, Glokta doesn’t think they should drop it all. He orders Severard to put his ear to the ground about Valint and Balk, discretely. Very discretely.

On his trek to Bayaz’s room, Glokta pauses on the stairs to ponder his situation. Once a physically superior fencer, he’s now reduced to huddling in an embrasure with only his pride to keep him from shivering on the floor and screaming in pain. Putting on his best I’m-going-to-torture-you face, Glokta makes it the Magi’s rooms.

Greeted by Malacus Quai, Glokta dismisses him as a pretend-magus and restrains himself from further anger at Quai’s Gurkhish lineage. The apprentice directs him to Logen. As the Northman approaches Glokta notices “A thoughtful kind of slowness. As if [Logen] could move quickly but doesn’t see the point.” Logen recounts the night’s events, emphasizing the terrible cold the intruder brought with her. He indicates she did not do the damage to the room. It was Bayaz and his Art. Glokta inquires further into Logen, learning he speaks to spirits (laughable, of course) and was once Bethod’s champion.

The conversation is interrupted by Bayaz’s arrival who barely resembles the statue on the Kingsway. Glokta mocks his legend and requests a demonstration of magic, which Bayaz denies. Glokta accuses Bayaz of falsifying his claim as First of the Magi. Anger then, and a pressing down on Glokta’s emotions “like a great weight, driving the breath from his body, threatening to crush him to his knees, cutting into his skull, and leaving behind a creeping shred of doubt.” The pressure eases a moment later, the old Magi smiling. He shines Glokta on, daring him to prove his theory.

Committed to doing just that, Glokta leaves.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Only one chair, half a table, and a tall ornamental jar, strangely pristine in the middle of the rubble-strewn floor, had escaped destruction.

Another great example of the trick Abercrombie uses to give his reader a sense of connectivity. Logen saved the vase in the previous chapters during his nocturnal encounter to great comedic effect. Now, the vase is still there, serving a purpose. It makes the canvas Abercrombie paints on feel alive. It’s a great and simple technique.

‘I do.’ Ninefingers sighed. ‘I should have killed that bastard long ago, but I was young then, and stupid. Now I doubt I’ll get another chance, but that’s the way of things. You have be…what’s the word for it?’

‘Realistic,’ Quai said.

How cute. They’re finishing each other’s sentences!

The Recipe: As I mention in the opening, many of Abercrombie’s characters possess blinders, both to themselves and the people around them. They are, like most of us, incapable of seeing outside of their own experiences. Glokta is the opposite. Painfully aware of his own shortcomings, he’s incredibly savvy about the people around him. Where Jezal assumes he knows about the men he’s plays cards with, Glokta makes few assumptions until given evidence to work with. He is, in many ways, Abercrombie’s truth teller, the character closest to the author’s own voice that he can use to illuminate what’s really going on without impeaching his tight points of view.

Glokta demonstrates this well in “Questions” when chatting with Logen. Not a brute, Glokta recognizes him for a thoughtful man who is deliberate in his speech and dangerous for it. Where others have been taken in by the garish garb of the trio of visitors, purchased at the costumers shop, Glokta sees pretenders and actors trying to be something they’re not. Put aside for a moment that they actually are what they’re pretending to be, Glokta is quick to recognize they’re playacting something. This is directly juxtaposed by Jezal who is taken aback by Bayaz’s fine wizarding garb some chapters back.

It’s not like Glokta doesn’t have his own foibles. In “Questions” he’s too cynical, ignoring the signs that Bayaz might be who he claims, insisting on his own interpretation of the events. He also willfully ignores Arch Lector Sult’s rather clear order to stay away from Valint and Balk. But, he does these things with a rationale behind them, not tainted by bias. He’s also by far the character with the most empathy, able to put himself into another’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from. It’s an odd descriptor to put on a torturer, but it fits rather nicely into the paradigm of shifting expectations that Abercrombie creates.

Overall, “Questions” kicks off a few new angles and dribbles out some information.

  1. Glokta isn’t satisfied with Arch Lector Sult’s decision about the Mercers. I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to end well for anyone.
  2. Logen speaks to spirits, which we knew, but the spirits in Adua are gone, sleeping. Interesting. Why? I want to explore this later.
  3. Bayaz uses his power to try to overcome Glokta’s skepticism, but the Inquisitor resists. Does he really resist or is Bayaz toying with him? Or did Bayaz really use power at all?

Next Time: The Contest begins!!


Justin Landon runs Staffer’s Book Review where his posts are less on-color. Find him on Twitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.

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