Jan 29 2014 2:00pm

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

First Law Trilogy Joe Abercrombie reread The Blade Itself 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.

1. Juanito

Oooh, I can't wait for the Gorst/Jezal fight. What a great chapter, bouncing back and forth between POVs, seeing Gorst kick ass...

Jezal and Ardee are an interesting pair. Because, like, Jezal is obviously a vacuous worm of a man. But he's just that: vacuous. If Ardee was, perhaps, a little more like Finree dan Brock, she could fill that empty head and mold him into whatever she wanted. The fact that she's toying with him is a little cruel in its pointlessness. But then, we see later that she's totally alone, having been abused by her father and later her brother. The fact that Jezal totally ignores this and decides to, uh, make a beeline to the Agriont, is also a little cruel (well... pig-headed more like). I'm definitely a bigger fan of Ardee (strength under adversity and whatnot), but this whole relationship is a big mess. Perhaps it was Abercrombie playing off a trope. The streetwise commoner girl wooing the affections of the jaded noble-born douchenozzle and teaching him the joys of being a Free Spirit. But then, that never actually works out, and the most you can expect is a bastard child that would cause a clusterfuck as far as heirs to the realm are concerned.

I think the first time I read the next chapter (and by read I mean "listenend to") I totally missed the introduction to Superior Crabbe Goyle. That's one of the unique things about audiobooks. You can, quite literally, miss out on important character introductions. Anyways, yeah, I totally don't get why Goyle and Malfoy Sult don't let poor Glokta into their inner circle. A sudden brainwave leads me to believe they might be intimidated by him, but that doesn't hold up. Even when Sult was locked up at the end of the novel, the only emotion he leveled at Glokta was contempt. Kept calling him a stupid cripple. Limited POVs are great and all, but I would have liked a little bit of a glimpse as to what Goyle really wanted by halting inquiries into the body. Was it all just a ruse to get Glokta out of the University? Was this done under Sult's orders?

It's obvious after the fact that the chewed up corpse is Malacus Quai. It either speaks to the great disdain that Bayaz had for, well, pretty much everyone that he didn't notice a material change in his behavior. Same with Logen who was singularly touched by his extension of friendship towards the beginning of their time together. Maybe he's just not all that sensitive to people's personality. Or maybe I'm nitpicking. Either way, great post!
2. Juanito
Well... I thought I'd whited them out. Nevermind.
3. Brian Malbon
Oh my. That's let a few cats out of the bag, hasn't it? Luckily for the bulk of this reread we've mostly not worried about spoilers too much in the comments, and the one person upset enough by it to say something promptly announced that they'd be back after they'd read the series. You might be safe.

Anyway, Ardee and Jezal: you know, I never really saw her as cruel during my earlier reads. Sad, cynical and dysfunctional yes, but cruel didn't cross my mind until Justin first brought it up. Mostly what I was aware of in their romance was the way that Jezal, for maybe the first time in his life, began making tiny steps to being a better person. That's also a well-worn trope, the one where a big jerk learns to love with the help of an apparently impossible pairing. Usually they find some way to make their love possible, and of course in my first read-through I wished them luck and looked toward to it. obviously I know better now.

"the Seed" is one of my favorite chapters so far, simply because it's so damn creepy. Not to much more to say here, except that I also never figured out that the mystery woman might be the Maker''s daughter until later. So, thanks Justin, for making me feel stupid!
Dustin Freshly
4. Fresh0130
Even now I still just look at the loneliness we see from Ardee and find it hard to think of her as being outright cruel towards Jezeal, selfish, manipulative, and wilfully self delusional about, well, pretty much everything about the situation, but I don't think she ever set out to hurt him.

As for "The Seed", obviously there's the big set up for later in the Trilogy with Tolomei and the introduction of Goyle (who I think is in on Sult's activities at the University even from this point just juding by his behaviour in this chapter) and one of the more popular characters in all of the First Law world in Practical Vitari.

I'm trying to remember, have we ever gotten an outright POV chapter from Vitari? I thought there was at least a brief one but I looked it up and it's not hers, hrrmmm, that's rather surprising to me.

@1: Why is Goyle in and Glokta out of Sult's inner circle? Goyle's a toadie, a dangerous one, but he does what he's told, bullies others into doing the same, and doesn't ask very many questions. Glokta on the other hand won't stop asking questions just because he's told to, he'll keep going until he's satisfied, consequences be damned. That part of his nature, of course, gets him assigned to his upcoming adventure.

I'm not certain we're treading water just yet when it comes to Glokta, we still get allot of information in his chapters even if we could have gotten it from other characters that are in the same place, but Glokta's pragmatic POV sets allot of the tone for what we the readers see.

Enough from me for now I suppose, although I reserve the right to jump in with walls of text as the mood takes me, lol.

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