The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “Among the Stones” and “The Fruits of Boldness”

Reading the First Law Trilogy has been a different experience this time around. The pulse pounding excitement and visceral action has been far scarcer than I remember, replaced with thoughtful trope inversion and deeply fascinating characters. In fact, before this week there had been less than five scenes where serious ass-kicking (or blood letting) took place. This trend is changing in a major way at this point in Before They Are Hanged as Logen’s crew takes on their pursuers and Colonel West’s army is destroyed by Bethod. I’m pretty excited about it!

Get your athletic tape out and reinforce those joints, we’re about to get grimdark up in here.

“Among the Stones”

Summary: Jezal watches the sun rise as Logen prepares him for what’s coming. Jezal admits his fear, but the Northman reminds him that everyone is scared before battle except those too damaged to feel. Think of your family, Logen suggests. Jezal doesn’t have one he loves and Logen lost his long ago. Logen’s family now is Jezal, Ferro, Quai, and Bayaz. You don’t pick your family, Jezal realizes, you make the best of it. He accepts Logen’s request to guard the camp.

Forward from Jezal’s position, Ferro and Logen observe the arrival of the thirteen men who have been hunting them. Led by Finnius, the men spread out and head up the hill where the crew will make their stand. Ferro picks off three with arrows, before moving closer. Logen wastes even less time, wading in among the enemy brandishing the Maker’s sword. After an arrow through the shoulder for Ferro and a concussion for Logen, the enemy is dead, but with several missing.

The missing members of Finnius’s crew aren’t lost, they’re flanking. Jezal faces them alone. As two men approach he draws his steels and prepares for what’s coming. Both men are dead seconds later, cut down by Jezal’s superior skill. Elated at his victory Jezal loses track of what’s behind him, and a third man knocks him unconscious.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Jezal’s talent.

Quotes to Remember:

‘Sometimes, when someone lives in danger for too long, the only time they feel alive is when death’s breathing on their shoulder.’

I love the recognition by Logen about Ferro. Many fantasy novels portray people as battle hardened and fearless. Lan from the Wheel of Time would fit this model. Logen is on that level of bad ass, but is constantly fearful, to the degree that he reminds himself he’s still alive after tussle. He gets over it, but to lack that fear is, frankly, nuts. Ferro isn’t all there and the people around her know it.

Where was the Bloody-Nine when you needed him? Logen spat on the ground. This fight he’d have to win alone.

EVEN LOGEN THINKS OF B9 AS A SEPARATE THING. Told you I’m not crazy. (I enjoy thinking of the Bloody-Nine as a Battleship coordinate! B9! You sunk my battleship!)

Thoughts: Logen is cute, isn’t he? I mean he’s an ugly mofo, who kills a lot of people, but his deep desire to have connect with people is just adorable. He calls this murdering band of whats-its his family. Ferro and Jezal, Bayaz and Quai. He tells Jezal, don’t die today because he doesn’t want to lose a brother. Man, that’s some legit emotion there.

Did anyone else find Ferro’s use of arrows a little strange? I get wanting to have a confirmed kill, but putting arrows into people’s chests seems like a pretty good place to move on to the next target. She only a handful of arrows left. It just seemed a little wasteful to me.

And then, we get maybe the biggest surprise of all! Jezal can actually fight! Say what? I mean up until now we’ve seen him dance around a little bit, but when he was really challenged by Gorst he needed Bayaz’s magic to win the day. Not to mention when West really pushed him, Jezal often folded. This time around Jezal dispatches two hardened (?) fighters in the blink of an eye. Did anyone else find this a little odd? This is the same Jezal who shit himself the last time he had to fight someone. This time he does it with no problems. No fumbling. Just ass kicking. It felt a little out of character and a little to easy. It’s all redeemed somewhat once he gets his brains bashed by the third guy.

The thing about this chapter is that it’s a long one. And it doesn’t do much other than get the blood pumping. So many of Abercrombie’s chapters, even the short ones, say a lot because he wastes so little time on describing what’s happening in favor of what those actions mean. When he’s writing action it’s quite the opposite. For this entire chapter’s length there are only a few passages worth paying attention to in any detail. Not a criticism, because I love the action, just a recognition of the limitations of battle sequence.

“The Fruits of Boldness”

Summary: Deployed for battle, Ladisla’s army sits and watches the Northmen form up. A ragtag bunch at best, the Prince feels confident sending his troops into battle. West is horrified, recognizing that the army before him isn’t Bethod’s best, but a trap to lure them into making a mistake. Ladisla will hear none of it, fashioning himself a bold Colonel Glokta. He orders the calvary to charge.

Once the calvary disappears over the hill, pursuing the retreating rabble, West realizes his fears were well founded. Heavy mist begins to rise around the Union forces, and emerging from it is Bethod’s true army unleashing hell. Ladisla, stunned and unable to react, asks for direction from West. West orders the retreat. Chaos ensues as the mist thickens.

Unable to see what’s happening, West is surprised when the Northmen reach him and the Prince. Before he knows it, he’s on the ground waiting for a thrall to end his life. Cathil saves him, the smithing hammer clutched in hand and wet with Northern blood. Along with Pike, Cathil’s father, they round up the Prince and escape into the trees, only to be found by Dogman who does them the favor of killing their pursuit.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Would someone please kill Smund?

Quotes to Remember:

‘Colonel Glokta was captured by the Gurkish, and caused the deaths of every man under his command.’

*Hops around excitedly* Every time we get a detail about Glokta’s last stand I get giddy. Wasn’t West under Glokta’s command? Was West the only survivor? I get a kick out of imagining Glokta as Jezal. I’ve commented on this many times. But, as shown with this quote, Glokta’s younger ego makes Jezal’s look like Bilbo Baggins, not Smog.

‘Threetrees… is going… to shit.’

I laughed. I’m such an easy mark.

Thoughts: Ladisla is really dumb. I mean, really Dumb. Capital D. He’s so dumb it’s absurd. This chapter requires some real suspension of disbelief I think. Sure, West is the only one with experience in the group. Yes, Ladisla is the Prince and rules supreme. I get it. But, you mean to tell me that no one else in the army has scouts? There are no Union men out there coming back and reporting that we need to GTFO? It seems like a house of cards built on an incompetence that isn’t terribly believable. Unless, we also believe that Collem West is pretty damn incompentent too and doesn’t even try to send out scouts other than the Northmen who have since deserted him.

Putting that aside, the mist is the real problem and clearly the work of Bethod’s eater we encountered back in the early part of The Blade Itself--Caurib. It’s not a kind of power we’ve scene displayed before. What are the limits of the Art? What are the limits of an Eater? Are the powers the same, just one easier than the other? Like the Light and Dark side of the Force in Star Wars?

You know, there’s another thing that seems weird to me here. I get that the mist is obscuring the battle, but it doesn’t feel right that West and crew can just disappear into the trees and escape a battle this size. They were pursued, but then Dogman materializes out of nowhere and picks them off. How are they not visible to the Northmen swarming about? And how were Dogman and crew able to stay out of it? I’m having a hard time picturing it. It feels like a plot contrivance. Am I being unreasonable?

Next Week: Things heat up in Dagoska! Less than two weeks to Loncon! I promise a picture of Abercrombie and me occupying the same space. I wonder if he’ll look me in the eye.


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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