Jan 22 2014 2:00pm

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “The Remarkable Talents of Brother Longfoot” and “Her Kind Fight Everything”

Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy The Blade Itself I was a convention this past weekend and had the pleasure of moderating a panel on the subject of horror. Being a big fan of topic creep I steered the conversation toward how horror has changed in the past few decades. Traditional monsters have been appropriate by various agents as non-threatening entities. Be it vampires in Twilight or werewolves in Teen Wolf or yetis in Monster’s Inc. we’ve become inured to the horror of “things that go bump in the night.” That’s not say that these devices can’t still be used, but they’ve become more flavor than horror.

What has become more horrifying is our fellow man. The news cycle has brought to our attention an ever increasing reality that casts our neighbor as Patrick Bateman. This phenomenon is absolutely reflected in horror with an increasing number of productions like Disturbia and Monster. Grimdark and other more modern fantasies are absolutely invested in this paradigm. No longer are we dealing with Dark Ones and ancient evils, but with the much more familiar evil of the most depraved humanity has to offer. Something to consider as we move forward in a series populated with more destructive personalities than a John Carpenter film.


“The Remarkable Talents of Brother Longfoot”

Short Brief is Enough: Logen wakes up to find Brother Longfoot, a renowned Navigator, in their apartments. A bit of a talker, Longfoot regales the Northman with his worldly experience. Bayaz tells them to prepare for a journey to the Old Empire, but not before their last party member arrives. He sends the pair to the docks laden with gold, to find a ship that will carry them.

Along the way Longfoot tells of many other great cities around the world. Stariksa, Westport, Dagoska, Shaffa, Ospria all have something to offer, but none hold a candle to Talins. Discussing Adua, Longfoot reflects on the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The pair take a short cut to the docks, but run into some trouble when the Navigator displays their wealth without thought. Logen reacts and comes away unharmed. His confidence in Longfoot somewhat diminished.

Important Characters Introduced: Brother Longfoot

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘Now commoners can be rich, you see? And a rich commoner has power. Is he a commoner now, or a nobleman? Or is he something else? Very complicated all of the sudden, no?’

This is much plainer than some of the conflicts Arch Lector Sult has been dancing around. Who holds the power in Adua?

But then he’d always been lucky with fights. Lucky at getting out of them alive. Not so lucky with the getting into them.

You make your own luck, Logen. Clichés! I can haz u.

A Brief on the Short Brief: So, what’s “The Remarkable Talents of Brother Longfoot” all about? Good question. I’m not sure it serves any great purpose other than providing some texture to the world that Logen, Bayaz, and the rest will soon explore. We learn that Bayaz wishes to go to the Old Empire, a place we know nothing about to discover something as yet unrevealed.

We also see Logen looking for some companionship, albeit of the paying for it variety. Much like Ferro, and Jezal, and Glokta, and well... everyone... Logen has a void in himself he’s trying to fill. He’s a monster who wants to be something else, and he seems to seek out the kinds of comforts others do, but only seems to be trying to convince himself of their efficacy.

Does anyone else get a sneaking suspicion from this chapter that Brother Longfoot is a little more than meets the eye? There’s nothing stated overtly, but just a general overall tone.


“Her Kind Fight Everything”

Quick summary: Ferro and Yulwei watch Dagoska at night. Unsure whether his art can keep them hidden in such a populace place, Yulwei goes in alone. Ferro takes the chance to flee. She’s found by two Eaters who nearly capture her. Yulwei rescues her and easily dispatches the pair.

Long Summary: Ferro watches Dagoska from a distance, a near island connected by a thin strip of land to the southern continent. Yulwei, sitting beside her, expresses his concern that sneaking them both through the populace city, and several Eaters, is a challenge he may not be up to. Extracting a promise from Ferro to wait, Yulwei scouts ahead.

Ferro, ignoring her commitment to the magus, flees into the night. Using a river to obscure her trail, she stops for the night and falls asleep with vengeance on her mind. She awakes to the sound of voices, a brother and sister searching for Maljinn.

Bolting like a frightened rabbit, Ferro runs to an open space and turns to face the search party. She puts an arrow in three riders, and cuts down a third. The brother and sister look on with interest, but without concern for the welfare of the soldiers in their service. At a word from his sister, the brother moves toward Ferro. His steps chew up the space between them, undaunted by repeated arrows to his torso.

Reaching his target, the man, an Eater to be sure, disables Ferro. His sister mocks her efforts, but stops when a voice commands them to do so. Yulwei.

After offering the Eaters a chance to leave, admonishing them for breaking Euz’s law, Yulwei attacks with his art. The sister’s bones are turned to water and the brother burns from within, leaving Ferro and the magus alone and surrounded by death. Ferro admits she cannot survive without Yulwei and is reminded of the empty space inside her.

Important Characters Introduced: Euz.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘A little splinter of the Union, stuck into Gurkhul like a thorn. A thorn in the Emperor’s pride.’

I love this image. Also, it really gives us a nice idea of what the geography looks like.

‘The word of Euz governs all. There can be no exceptions.’

See below.

Analysis: My first response was, who in God’s name is Euz? This is the first mention of the name, and only one of three mentions in the entire first novel. Yulwei invokes him in reference to the Second Law, which prohibits eating human flesh. I thought these were Juvens’ laws? Moments like these demonstrate the tricky parts of history, attributions are fuzzy at best and change over time. History and the interpretation of it is an absolute key theme in the series.

Also of interest is Yulwei familiarity with Khalul. He seems to hint that Khalul was once a colleague, and remains something more than a mere adversary. Who is Khalul? One of the original Magi perhaps that trained under Juvens? Yulwei dispatches his disciples, the Eaters, with such ease that I would venture a guess that Yulwei be one of the originals as well and not some mere apprentice to Bayaz.

Although the chapter continues to emphasize Ferro as something of an unwilling participant in Yulwei’s schemes, the chapter provides little insight. Abercrombie continues to beat the drum of her emotional disconnects, her lack of direction, and her inability to separate herself from the Magi. Given the direction of their travel, and Bayaz’s comments with regards to the rest of the travel party, I suspect Ferro will be linking up with Logen and crew in Adua very soon.

Next Week: Jezal has some trouble in the Contest. I’m going to guess Ardee makes things difficult.

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.

Iain Cupples
2. NumberNone
"A bit of a talker."

A bit of an understatement...

And yet I do love Brother Longfoot, so much. I could go on for ages about how entertaining he is, but that would not be my way. Oh no. ;)

The Navigators are something I don't think Abercrombie came back to, which is a shame... an idea that he just lost interest in, perhaps?

I *think* Euz is mentioned before this, but I couldn't swear to it. At any rate, no, Juvens didn't create the First Law... and yes, Yulwei is no apprentice. :)
3. worse
Just a word about "The Remarkable Talents of Brother Longfoot", I assume that this chapter was mainly written to show that knowing the shortest way to a target might not always be the best way to take in Abercrombies books. Not to forget it show that despite being one of the (self acclaimed) best Navigators out there, Brother Longfoot is somewhat fairly "innocent" as a character, not realizing in what sort of danger he gets by showing off his wealth although he talks about the haves and have-nots. Some kind of special trait to him.

And, well, the next week preview is somewhat a good preview to every Jezal chapter in the trilogy, Jezal has some trouble in some contest, most likely with Ardees involvement ^^
4. JReynolds
I keep thinking that Brother Longfoot would make a good comic relief character-- if only he were funny! His constant boasting of how many skills he has and how good he is at them gets tiresome quickly.

That being said, his skills really are awesome-- he really is as skilled at what he does as he claims-- and as the other members of the party are. The others don't keep tooting their own horns, though.

This is probably tied to one of Abercrombie's themes, of course.
5. Casejord
I quite like Brother Longfoot and think he "needs more love".

That said, I think he may be a parody of the "plucky comic relief" party member and how someone like that would really annoy/be outright hated by the rest of the group.
8. Juanito
I will say that most of the humor with Brother Longfoot came from Steven Pacey's wonderful performance on the AudioBook. His accent - straight out of Bollywood - and his squeaky realization of how his lack of circumspection (an odd feature in a professional guide, yes, indeed) has led to trouble finding them were both really funny.

One thing that always bugged me about Yulwei was how he seemed to be more adept at using his magic without getting the head pain that Bayaz seems to get. He's obviously using some form of the High Art when he passes by unseen in all these places. It is because melting bones takes less mana than asploding folks' heads? If that's the case, then why doesn't Bayaz use more subtle magic?

Also, while we're on the subject of Bayaz and Yulwei, how has Yulwei been fooled all this time? Does not he know that Bayaz is a megalomaniac who butchers and tortures people and provokes wars just to stay alive? (I mean, I know a certain crippled torturer I'd like to hang out with, but he hasn't butchered or tortured anyone that I know personally) Maybe Kalhul would kill Yulwei too if given half a chance, and Yulwei's just as self-centered as Bayaz is. Yulwei's participation doesn't factor in too greatly in Bayaz's victory (though he is responsible for bringing Ferro to him)... why is he still hanging out with this jerk?
Justin Landon
9. jdiddyesquire

Good questions! That's why the reread is so great, because I really don't remember those tiny details near enough to actually make a theory here. I'm hoping once Yulwei and Bayaz spend some time in the same space, even if for just a few pages, it'll jar some things loose. Coming soon!
Dustin Freshly
10. Fresh0130

If I recall correctly Yulwei is very much aware of who and what Bayaz is along with having some suspicions about his actions during the Fall, he just disagrees with Kalhul's complete disregard for the Second Law more.

For the most part it seems like the Magi and their minions fall into two factions, Team Bayaz and Team Kalhul, understandably given what we learn by the end of the Trilogy. Where things get more than a little blurry is the fact that if they're not confronting one of those two directly they don't really don't seem to care about who is doing what.

I think that has allot to do with how long lived they all are and how they regard the every day life of the general First Law world populace. I'm pretty sure Bayaz says at some point that no one really seems to understand just how insignificant everyone is to the Magi and or the Eaters in the grand scheme of things, which is why you'll see Eater X run across Apprentice D running some scheme and they'll toss a couple of rocks at each other on principle and then wander off in opposite directions with little to no harm done to each other, that's not saying they didn't burn a city to the ground with said hypothetical rocks, but they just kind of shrug and say "Well, I'll get them on the next go around," which might be a ten years or a century from now.
Iain Cupples
11. NumberNone
For the most part it seems like the Magi and their minions fall into two factions, Team Bayaz and Team Kalhul

Not so much. Team Kahlul consists only of Kahlul and his own Eater minions. None of the magi are on it that I can recall. Meanwhile, other magi are independent or non-aligned (Zacharus, Cawneil, Leru). Of the original 11 magi, only Yulwei involves himself in Bayaz and Kahlul's dispute, on Bayaz' side. And (spoiler) we see not only that he suspects Bayaz killed Juvens, but that he has asked him about it on multiple occasions previously. He's very much with Bayaz because he sees him as the 'lesser of two evils'.
As for the differences in using the Art, Bayaz himself says he specialised in fire, force and power. Yulwei's specialisation lies in different, more subtle areas. Maybe that in itself explains the difference in the cost - though of course Yulwei's actions in taking out the Eaters here aren't all that subtle. ;)

12. Brian Malbon
Something with this site hasn't been allowing me to comment for two days. I'm glad its fixed.
I haven't been joining the discussion for a while - December and January have been incredibly busy - but I've been following along. I knew I had to come back and chime in on thus one, because seriously, fuck Brother Longfoot. In a world filled with the-dimensional characters full of flaws and merits I'm equal measure, he stands out like a site thumb as the only one-note character in the entire series. He's an obnoxious asshole, a failure as comic relief and the thing if it is, he could have been written out of the entire series with a single line of dialogue.

"its been a long time," said Bayaz, "but I remember the way." And Logen breathed a silent sigh of relief, certain that a terrible tragedy had somehow been averted.

My hatred of Brother Longfoot probably goes a while lotfarther than he actually merits, but fuck him.
Justin Landon
13. jdiddyesquire
@Brian -- this comment gives me immense pleasure. I would have saved this rant for later in the reread, but yes...
Bridget McGovern
14. BMcGovern
Brian@12: Sorry about the comment problem--we did get a flurry of complaints at the webmaster address the other night, including yours, and immediately notified our developers. Turns out it was reCAPTCHA outage keeping non-registered users from leaving comments, which Google was apparently able to fix within an hour or two. Apologies for the inconvenience, and let us know if you have any further problems!

Everybody else, sorry for the interruption--back to hating on Brother Longfoot and stuff...
Justin Landon
15. jdiddyesquire

This explains why there are so many numbers missing in this post. I was scared I was being verbally attacked and someone was protecting me! ;)
Bridget McGovern
16. BMcGovern
@Justin: Not this week, but you know...we remain ever vigilant in defense of your honor. LIKE THE BATMAN.*

(*Not literally like the Batman, but kind of. In theory. If you don't overthink it :)
Iain Cupples
17. NumberNone
@Brian: nah, you're just wrong on this, I'm afraid.

For one thing, Brother Longfoot is totally necessary for at least three plot-related reasons I can think of off-hand. But more importantly, whether or not you find him amusing - and unlike you, I do, but everyone has the right to be wrong - he's necessary to make the dynamic of the group work. Grimdark is fine, but it needs some lighter tones: a palette of unrelenting grey, which is what much of book 2 would be without Longfoot, is tedious.

Maybe, as a more mature writer, Abercrombie could now do that in a manner more to your liking - but he was not wrong about including a light relief character.
18. Brian Malbon
@Bridget: thanks for fixing that! You guys sure are fast!

@NumberNone: I'm always happy to engage in debate. Where's the fun if everyone agrees? In fact, in reading all of the above comments, I've come to the conclusion that Brother Longfoot is the Tom Bombadil of this series - for everyone who thinks he's an unnecessary twit who shatters the tone of every scene he's in, there's someone else who thinks his capering is just what the story needs.

That said, I don't hate him because he's obnoxious (well, not JUST because he's obnoxious) - Jezal's obnoxious for two thirds of the trilogy, and Ferro takes a while to grow on you, too. I hate him because he's obnoxious and so damn flat. His characterization is so thin he could be a cardboard cutout, and he fits the group dynamic about as well as Chris Tucker would. And I happen to think that Logen, Jezal and Glokta each brings both humor and gravitas enough to eliminate the need for a strictly comic figure.

Lastly, I'm fairly sure that in each future situation where he proves himself important I could still write a single line of dialogue to get rid of him again.
19. JReynolds

There's something to think about:

The Blade Itself
A Major Motion Picture
Starring ....
and Chris Tucker as Brother Longfoot!

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You!
20. Brian Malbon
Dear good, you just made my day and ruined it at the same time.
21. Pouria
Been enjoying this reread alot, my favorite newer fantasy series, which I rank higher than GRRM's aSoIF. Makes me want to read it myself again, but you're doing such a good job, I'll just leave the books on the self for now :)

Anyway, re: Longfoot. I really liked the character, and would've love to get more of him actually, he wasn't really obnoxious, just very talkative. I could see a "wordly traveller type" (hmm, or an extrovert perhaps?), getting stuck in a group of scowling madmen/woman, trying to strike up conversation whenever he can, and failing to do so. I could see him actually getting along with Malacus on their trek, if not for "reasons".
I also got the feeling there was more to Longfoot than we get to see, but IIRC there never was a PoV for him, so we don't really know whats going on in his mind right?

In a way he also reminds me of Morveer from Best Served Cold, in the way he is, talkative, selfagrandizing etc. But he feels different cause we get to see how he thinks from his PoV.
Iain Cupples
22. NumberNone
@Brian: well, that's the thing. You can always write minor characters out of the plot if you really want to - that's what makes them minor. You could do the same to a range of others in the story: heck, you could simply drop every appearance of Ardee from all three books, and although it would do some minor damage to the characterisation of Collem West, Jezal and Glokta, it would actually require very little amendment to the remaining text at all (which is a whole 'nother can of worms).

So that's not really an argument I have any truck with. What matters is what the minor character brings to the text. I don't agree that Brother Longfoot is 'flat': I think of moments like his awed appreciation of the fallen majesty of Aulcus, for example.

But even if you only think of him as comic relief, there's undoubtedly an element to him that simply doesn't exist in any of the other characters. When I say he adds lighter tones, I'm not just referring to chuckles. I mean he has a guileless quality, illustrated by the incident mentioned above, which is absolutely a relief from the cynicism that pervades otherwise.

Yes, Logen and Glokta provide humour - but it's a bitter, black humour. Jezal, meanwhile, is mostly the butt of the joke, and one way or the other, again the laughs have that derisive edge. Brother Longfoot provides a note that is otherwise mostly absent, and that's a good enough reason to include him, for me.
23. insomniac
Like a year late to the party on this one, but I'm surprised that nobody's commented on the big aversion of a cliche.

There are so many stories where the total badass protagonist walks down an alley and gets jumped by goons looking to rob or rape or whatever, and the badass immediately wipes the floor with them to demonstrate their prowess.

Logen, in this chapter, could almost certainly take them, but he also realizes that getting into a swordfight you can avoid is stupid. Better idea to give them some money rather than risk getting killed.

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