The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “The Number of the Dead” and “Leaves on the Water”

So begins the end of the First Law Trilogy, Part II of the Last Argument of Kings. I’m doing the reread on my Kindle Voyage (which by the way is a tremendous reading device light years beyond the early generation stuff) and it still says we’ve got 50% left, which hardly seems possible.

Logen is about to fight the Feared and Ferro is out killing the Gurkish. Surely this book is almost over? It seems my memory of the “conclusion” of the trilogy is actually not at all. This is great news! Many more weeks of rereading! Huzzah!

 

“The Numbers of the Dead”

Summary: In a quiet, deserted village, Ferro watches the approach of a dozen men from the Gurkish army. Her own squad is hidden on rooftops and in darkened corners. Major Vallimir, her commander, reminds her that two claps is the signal. He also orders her to keep one alive, something she finds distasteful.

Two claps sound out and Ferro fires an arrow into the the Gurkish scout by the water trough. Flatbows ring out, as Ferro sites down another. Moments later they all lay dead, except one. The leader of the Gurkish party is putting his spurs to his horse. Ferro takes aim and her arrow tears the soldier from his horse. She pulls her sword and marches out to where he fell. The man begs for his life, but Ferro shows no mercy.

Back in the village, Major Vallimir questions their hostage. Unfortunately, he doesn’t speak Kantic. Ferro assists, asking a series of questions about the Gurkish movements. He knows little. Vallimir wants to take him prisoner. Ferro stabs him in the heart instead. Although the Union officer finds Ferro’s methods in conflict with his own moral compass, he realizes the rightness of her advice. They agree to continue to roam the region, picking off scouting parties.

Ferro doesn’t care. She just wants to kill.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Major Vallimir.

Quotes to Remember:

With [Logen], Ferro had known what she would get. Solid experience or, on occasion, murderous fury. Either one would have been useful.

Ferro’s such a softy, right? It isn’t Logen’s warm embrace she misses. Nope. Our Ferro just misses the fact that he kicks ass. Love. Who knew?

‘The only difference between war and murder is the number of the dead.’

I’m not entirely sure this sentiment makes a ton of sense, but it is powerful.

Analysis: These Ferro chapters are flummoxing me right now. What to even say about them? Ferro walks around killing stuff, being angry and such. What purpose are they serving? What role will she play? It’s very unclear at this point and trying to use something from the text to postulate where it’s headed is almost impossible.

Also, oddly, we jump from Bayaz offering to place her with the army, to her in the field with a scouting unit. How did she get there? Who’s in command of the army? We have no idea! Looking ahead a bit, some of those questions will be answered in next week’s chapters, but this chapter seems a bit odd and useless. As close as we’re getting to the denouement, there has to be some reason why we’re seeing this… is it only to see Ferro be ruthless? To see her kill a man she pities and shows empathy for? Or is it to demonstrate that a Union officer is listening to her expertise?

Got me. I will say though I feel like increasingly Ferro has become the stand-in for the commoner. We never see anyone “regular” in the series. Ardee is an actual commoner, but she’s tied up in the big doings of Adua politics through her brother, Jezal, and Glokta. Ferro is actually someone common who is being shifted around by the vagaries of those possessing more power. Where Logen bullies through these barriers, she allows herself to be carried along on them. We are given a view of the brutality of the Circle of the World toward “average citizens” through Ferro. In that way, she is very much the Brienne of Tarth of Abercrombie’s series. I can’t help but observe some uncomfortable underlying gender issues in all that.

 

“Leaves on the Water”

Summary: Logen and the Dogman stand in front of Carleon and remember the last time they were there. It was not so impressive then, minus the walls and infrastructure. Dogman observes there wasn’t a Union army around it either. Bethod has no where to go, and as long as the Union army surrounds the city, he will give up eventually. It seems to easy to two men as experienced as these.

A rider streaks by them, heading to the Marshal’s tent. Dogman walks up and asks for news. West tells them of the Gurkish invasion. The Union army is being ordered home. They leave immediately. Knowing the change of plan will leave Bethod in control and the deaths of Threetrees and Tul Duru and Forley the Weakest pointless, Logen agrees to a radical plan. If West will keep his army in Carleon for one more day, Logen will challenge Bethod to single combat. West agrees. One day will make no difference.

At the gates of Carleon, Logen makes his challenge. Bethod laughs, wondering at how Ninefingers has not changed a bit. What is left to fight over? Logen says if he wins he gets Bethod’s head. If Bethod wins, he Union packs up and leaves for home. Bethod knows this is a deal he cannot ignore. He asks if Logen is happy to see all Bethod has fought for put to dust? Bethod tells him that none of it would have been without Logen. It was his urgings, his desire for blood, that drove the King of the North to put on the crown. Logen tries to deny it, but knows he can’t.

He asks why Bethod didn’t kill him then when he had the chance. Bethod frowns, then laughs. It was Bayaz. The old wizard was owed a favor from the King of the North, and that favor was to let Logen and his companions live. Bethod doesn’t know why. He suggests Logen find out for himself if he survives long enough. He accepts Logen’s challenge, but says he has a new champion these days.

Back at camp, Dogman and Grim worry for Logen. The Feared is fearsome. Crummock thinks Logen can win, but not as long as Bethod’s witch lives. She won’t let a fair fight happen. He declares someone needs to kill her. Someone small and sneaky and ruthless. Who else but the Dogman?

Alone, gathering himself for the fight tomorrow, Logen summons the spirits. Only one answers the call. Logen asks about the Feared, who is and how he might be beaten. The spirit answers that the Feared was made by Glustrod himself. The word tattooed on his body are pulled directly from the other side. Wherever there is script, the Feared cannot be hurt. As the spirit leaves he tells Logen that magic leaks from the world, and the spirits sleep. They will not visit Logen again.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

But you can’t truly hate a man without loving him first, and there’s always a trace of that love left over.

*nodding*

‘Who was it always had to push a step further? Who was it would never let me stop? Who has it had to taste blood, and once he’d tasted it got drunk on it, went mad with it, could never get enough?’ … ‘Who else but the Bloody Nine?’

Oh shit. There goes the neighborhood. Perspective is a real pain in the ass, ain’t it?

Analysis: OMG! All of Logen’s chapters are huge right now! It’s hard to believe that until Last Argument of Kings we don’t get to see a bunch of Logen kicking ass. Now? It’s non-stop. He’s shifting into the Bloody-Nine, throwing around challenges, ripping out friend’s throats. It’s like smorgasbord of death. Having read the series many times I never could figure out why some people called the first book boring. This is probably why. So much of the ACTION is packed into this last book.

That said, no one dies here! We’re in the aftermath between the battle and the challenge to come. Logen is going to fight the Feared and it’s going to amazing. But, before we get there we get slapped with a big ass bummer. Not only is Logen not as nice a guy as we might have hoped (I mean, we knew this), he might actually be the guy who pushed Bethod to be the monster he’s become. Or, at the more extreme end, it calls into question whether Bethod is a monster at all.

As Logen rides to the gates of Carleon to make his challenge, he goes over bridges—bridges that didn’t exist before Bethod. The city has walls. It has infrastructure. Bethod has brought order. He brought order at the point of a sword, but, from what we’ve seen, he’s not blood thirsty with average citizens so much as with those who oppose him. Then, we hear Bethod’s rant about Logen never changing. We learn that many of the blackest deeds ascribed to Bethod are, in fact, Logen’s choices. Shama Heartless, Shivers’ brother, and all the challenges against Dow, and Threetrees, and the like, were Logen’s actions, not Bethod’s. Abercrombie shows us Logen seeing the truth in this. Maybe.

We know Logen is an unreliable narrator. He sees himself as a better man than he is, except for the times he sees himself as far worse. Is Bethod any different? Do we have two evil men trying to justify which of them caused the other to be evil? Like so many things in the First Law Trilogy there is no easy answer. None. Our only proof that Logen is, perhaps, something more than evil, is that the men who follow him—Threetrees and Tul and Dogman—do so willingly, not out of compulsion, while many of Bethod’s best men have shown us the opposite. I don’t know what it all means, except that it is exceptional how little Abercrombie is willing to absolve anyone. He indicts everyone.

Some other good information spills out here. The biggest is the Feared’s status as a relic of Glustrod. Presumably, the Feared has been alive for thousands of years, waiting around for someone else to point him at a target. Where was he stored? How was he awoken? Why can Bethod’s witch make him follow instructions? Who is his true master? Is Khalul involved? Or, perhaps, given the association between Bethod and Bayaz, is Bayaz involved? Intriguing! I guess we’ll find out more next week when the Feared and Logen get inside the circle. I can’t wait.

 

Next Week: The Closed Council discuss the war and Jezal continues to wage a war in the bedroom. At Carleon, the Circle is formed.

Justin Landon used to run Staffer’s Book Review. Now he kinda blogs at justlandon.com. 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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