The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “She Loves Me…Not” and “The Seed”

As we start to approach the end of The Blade Itself (well, sort of), I’m starting to notice an increased pace in the chapters. They feel shorter and possess a deeper bite than their earlier brethren. Where all three of our primary characters were given some measure of success or stability, Abercrombie is now removing it and sending them scrambling.

Logen is wrestling with violence again, having to defend Brother Longfoot in the streets. Jezal’s success in the Contest is easily forgotten as he tortures himself over Ardee West. And Glokta, despite destroying the Mercers, is being undermined by his own organization.

Check Wendig once wrote,

A storyteller must possess a savage cruelty, a compunction to do great harm to both character and the audience who loves that character. Look over your story. Are you pulling punches? Does the story operate at maximum malice? Stop glad-handing it. It’s not your job to be kind. Show your teeth. Sharpen your claws. Let the audience gaze upon the terror of your <redacted> YOU IMMA EAT YOUR CHILDREN face.

Joe Abercrombie is on board with that.


“She Loves Me… Not”

Summary: Challenged for the first time in the Contest, Jezal narrowly defeats the Westport champion, Filio, three touches to two. After, drinking and gambling with his officers, he reacts aggressively when the topic turns to Ardee West’s proclivities for romantic liaisons. Taking his leave, Jezal rests against a wall outside to gather himself. He realizes not only does he have more of a temper than he ever imagined, but he’s in love with Ardee West. And worse, she doesn’t love him. Hell, she doesn’t even like him.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Filio (I mean, really minor.)

Quotes to Remember:

The deciding touch. The decider.

I just got a kick out of this line. I was watching the State of the Union while writing this and, well, we all remember the classic quote from President Bush.

Beautiful from a distance, no doubt, but he imagined that her face would feel like glass to the touch: cold, hard and brittle.

Written in reference to Terez, Princess of Talins. Let’s just say this isn’t the last time Jezal and Terez will be mentioned in conjunction with one another. Hint. Hint.

Analysis: Jezal’s chapters have been having this shape to them of late—fencing, carousing, self loathing. Typically, in that order. The fencing has been largely uninteresting. Even here Abercrombie glosses over the final bits of the action in favor of the card game, only providing the results of the match in the subsequent dialogue. The showdown with Gorst is coming, but somehow I suspect Abercrombie will rob its tension as well. It’s starting to feel like another key component in the undermining of expected tropes. The great swordsman is more concerned with his eroding masculinity in the face of a woman’s lack of genuine interest.

Jezal’s realization at the chapter’s end rocks the very foundations of his character. For the first time ever, he is not an object of desire, but of convenience. He believes Ardee is using him to elevate her own position irrespective of his looks or charm. Abercrombie seems to be attempting to level the male gaze on a male. I’m not sure it’s a consistently successful attempt, but I’m impressed by its mere existence.

On that subject, I’m looking forward to the Ardee points of view I know are coming. The nature of her character bothers me, but I’m going to reserve going into any detail on the subject until I we get deeper into this thing.


“The Seed”

Summary: Glokta wakes up, unsure of his surroundings. First his mother, then Arch Lector Sult, and then a woman’s voice he does not recognize all demand to know about the Seed. The figure, claiming not to be a woman at all, knows all about the fall of the Maker. She demands the Seed, but Glokta cannot give it. She disappears then, a threat pregnant on the icy air left in her wake.

Later, Glokta meets Severard over a mauled body. They discuss Valint and Balk, but get nowhere beyond the fact they’re not to be messed with. Unsure of the body’s origin they bring it to the University, where the Adeptus Physical, Kandelau, decrees the cause of death to be human bites. At least partially eaten, the body is mauled beyond hope of identifying the victim.

Before Glokta can reason an explanation, Superior Goyle and his three Practicals arrive. Immediately they throw their weight around like petulant children. The evidence, or corpse, is disposed of and the cause of death listed as dogs.

Important Characters Introduced: Superior Goyle, Practical Vitari(!)

Minor Characters Introduced: Practical Halim, Practical Byre (Stone-Splitter)

Quotes to Remember:

‘Well, I say he’s a genius,’ said Glokta. ‘In a couple of years they’ll all be fencing like him, if you can call it fencing. You mark my words.’

Said in reference to Gorst. I feel like the comparison between Jezal and Gorst is very similar to the comparison between magic and technology. Jezal is the old world, a wealthy noble trained in the fine art of fencing, with its beautiful ripostes and thrusts. Gorst is the opposite. Ill mannered and brutish, he’s efficient and relentless. He’s the logical next step in the evolution of hand to hand combat much in the way the cannon replaces the fireball.

‘A person, unidentified, perhaps a man, perhaps a woman, either young or old, was attacked in the park by an unknown assailant, bitten to death within two hundred steps of the King’s palace and partially…eaten?’

Ha, this cracks me up. Totally black humor that only works in Glokta’s voice. I really would have loved to have seen him continue this line of attack. But, Goyle’s stupid butt showed up.

Analysis: Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Glokta’s visitor is almost certainly the same visitor who paid Logen a visit several chapters ago. Given the knowledge she displays in this chapter, regarding the Seed and the happenings on the night Kanedias died, it seems likely we’re talking about the Master Maker’s daughter. She is, as of this moment, unnamed (chapter “House of the Maker” is coming soon!).

The morning after the woman’s appearance, Glokta and Severard find a body that’s be partially eaten. Our mystery women displays three abilities, one of which must be magical: coming and going as she pleases, temperature control, and shape shifting. Is it a coincidence that magic is used in Glokta’s rooms and an eaten body is found nearby? Or is Kanedias’ daughter an Eater?

As “The Seed” concludes, Goyle says to Glokta, ‘We don’t… need you… any more!’ On the heels of bullying the Adeptus Physical into agreeing dogs were the cause of death, it makes Goyle seem decidedly juvenile. His goals do not seem to be anything but making life more difficult for Glokta. In fact, this seems generally to be the goal of the entire Inquisition post-Mercer conspiracy. I can’t help but wonder if Abercrombie needed to “park” Glokta for a bit while the Bayaz story line played out and ended up with a convenient tool for some world building info dumping.

What do you think?


Next Week: One of the most important chapters in the entire novel, “Never Bet Against a Magus”

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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