Fri
Jun 6 2014 12:00pm

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “Small Crimes” and “Rain”

There seems to be some debate in the comments the last few weeks about whether or not Logen is a devil, or half-devil, or whatever. I’m not really convinced either way. However, there’s no question Logen is capable of touching the Other Side. He talks to spirits. This is magical. All magic comes from the Other Side, per Bayaz. Bayaz also demonstrates the First Law is inherently a contradiction as all magic involves touching the Other Side. I don’t believe the spirits are demons, but they’re not benign either. As for whether that makes Logen part-devil, well…

Euz was half-devil. One of his sons received inherited a gift from him to talk to spirits. We aren’t aware of anyone else in the world who can talk to spirits. Thus, it’s at least a reasonable inference that Logen has inherited something from Euz. Can he carry the seed like Ferro? Maybe not. But, he’s something more than human and I don’t really think it’s terribly debatable.

“Small Crimes”

Summary: Colonel West and Crown Prince Ladisla inspect the men of their detachment. Although the Prince finds them fit and ready, West sees a stark contrast between the King’s Own and the levies from the countryside who are ‘too ill or too old for marching, let alone battle.’ The Prince’s delusions seem to know no limits.

The subject turns to West’s own history as a war hero and his association with the surely deceased Sand dan Glokta. West informs the Prince that Glokta is not dead, but rather otherwise disposed in the Inquisitions, and that war is an altogether troublesome business. West manages to make his escape and runs into Jalenhorm, his old buddy from Adua. Jalenhorm informs him of the dire lack of blacksmiths in the camp. West resolves to fix the problem by press ganging a bunch of criminals from a nearby prison.

At the prison, run by the Inquisition, West demands prisoners be put into his care for the benefit of the army. The Inquisitor resists, but eventually caves to West’s demands. He does not, however, allow West to condemn him for the condition of his camp. Prisons serve a purpose, regardless of how cruel imprisonment may be, it is the Inquisition who provides, not West and his lofty ideals.

The first to step forward to volunteer is Pike, a half burned gristle of a man who identifies other capable smiths. He asks that his daughter be taken as well. Her name is Cathil, and she speaks well, with a gaze that reminds the Colonel of his sister and the guilt he carries with him. Unhappy with the girl’s selection, the Inquisitor makes threats that Colonel West may find this situation soon reversed.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Pike, Cathil

Quotes to Remember:

The Crown Prince and the real world, as Lord Marshal Burr had observed, were entire strangers to one another.

We’ve already observed this phenomenon quite a bit, but it’s really stark in this chapter. Ladisla declares Glokta’s death. West corrects him. They discuss it, briefly. And then, before they part ways, Ladisla laments Glokta’s death again. Bizarre and scary for a man leading an army.

‘No one likes to shake hands with the man who empties the latrine pits either, but pits have to be emptied all the same. Otherwise the world fills up with shit. You can have your dozen smiths, but don’t try to take the high ground with me. There is no high ground here.’

Abercrombie loves these little moralistic back and forths. Thrown into this chapter between a nobody character and West, it’s a great example of the axiom that nothing in life is absolutely one thing. It all depends on where you’re sitting.

Analysis: Collem West is one screwed up dude. He sure seems normal at first, doesn’t he? But after all that stuff with Ardee, and watching him get maneuvered into taking Calith with him, it’s pretty clear he’s got some serious issues with women. Hilarious looking back and realizing the first time we’re introduced to West the chapter title was “The Good Man.”

And yet, at the same time, isn’t he still the good man? He’s the voice of reason in an army gone mad. He’s a commoner trying to survive in a world of the aristocracy. He’s a good friend and a reliable soldier. The conflicts! This is why the conversation between him and Inquisitor Lorsen is so cool, right? Because it speaks to the very nature of West’s character. Is Lorsen a horrible human being because he runs a forced labor camp? Or is he a good person because he manages to keep these people alive in a world they’d otherwise have been summarily killed?

It’s really clear that Pike and Calith are going to be important. West’s reaction to the woman is pretty creepy when you read through it and understand where West is coming form as a character. He responds, actually, in a way not dissimilar from Jezal. He recognizes her educated accent. Her figure. Her similarities to Ardee. Her lifeless eyes. He wants to rescue her, to take her away from her horrible life. Sound familiar?

“Rain”

Summary: Jezal doesn’t like the rain. He’s upset that his stylish choice of coat turns out to be useless at keeping him dry. He hates that there are no women scurrying for shelter with clothes clinging to their skin. In other words, Bayaz’s excursion into the Old Empire is miserable. Expressing his concerns to Bayaz results in another lecture about the nature of leadership. Great leaders don’t complain, yadda-yadda.

Meanwhile Logen laughs at the rain. Stripped to his skivvies, he seems to enjoy the cleansing downpour. Jezal insults the Northman under his breath, and Quai lectures him on the Bloody-Nine’s history. Then Quai suggests Jezal is a worthless sack of... well, you know. Rather than continuing to argue, he thinks of Ardee.

Finally the rain stops as the group comes across a smattering of corpses, recent by Ferro’s examination. Jezal’s gorge rises and his puke covers the ground. Logen treats his weakness kindly, which only makes it worse as far as Jezal is concerned.

Bayaz announces that rather than continue on Darmium, they’ll divert and cross the river Aos at another junction. Longfoot is puzzled at the limited options for a crossing. Bayaz declares they’re going to Aulcus. No one is amused.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

If he was told to be realistic one more time he would stab Ninefingers with his short steel.

This is Abercrombie being self aware about how often he uses this phrase. I love it. People use the same phrase constantly in actual dialogue. Mark Lawrence has a character in his books that does this too. In the public speaking biz we call these “comfort phrases.” Big fan of how Abercrombie uses them.

She looks like a mean-tempered cat dunked unexpectedly in a pond, its body suddenly seeming a quarter of the size it had been, stripped of all its air of menace.

Just a fun image, right?

Analysis: I’m not sure how many more chapters I need of Jezal complaining before I reach into the page and stab him myself. Maybe one or two more. Seriously. As I was reading “Rain” I kept hoping he would melt like the Wicked Witch and then Logen and Quai and Ferro would prance around his puddle chanting the little punk is dead. I need someone to illustrate this for me. Any takers? I may need to get A.R.R.R. Roberts to write a First Law parody and this can be the cover.

Anyway, there are really only two items to discuss in this chapter. First, Quai acts really different. Up until now Quai has been acting withdrawn and sickly, but we haven’t witnessed a total personality change. Now, I think, we have. Quai confidently tells Jezal off. He threatens him. Add that to the subtle hints at a possible shapechangers on the gameboard and the evidence is mounting that something is rotten in the State of Quai-mark.

Second, it turns out Bayaz never had any intention of crossing the river Aos at any other location the Aulcus. You may recall that Aulcus is the location of the nuclear occult bomb that Glustrod set off in Juvens’ empire. It’s a wasteland, a poisoned landscape that has been left untouched since the war between the sons of Euz. Not only does Bayaz not want to avoid it, he wants to spend some time there!

Ruh-roh.

Next Week: Back on the road again with Black Dow’s smiling face.


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.

7 comments
Guy Kibby
1. Guy Kibby
Logan uses magic, demonstrated by his spirit stuff, but does this necessarily mean he is something other than human. All of the Magi and their apprentices likewise use magic, and there is nothing to suggest that they are something other than human. If Logan is not entirely human then neither are any of the magic practitioners. So the question is, does using magic in and of itself mean you are not entirely human? I don't think that is suggested in this series thusfar.

I am interested to know what other people think about this. Please comment.
Loquin Britton
2. loquinmalie
I spend a lot of time wanting to punch Jezal. It's become sort of a hobby.

I'd like to know how Logan figured out how to call the spirits and deal with them in general. It's not like he woke up one day thinking "hey, I think I'd like to chat with some kodama today." That would answer the nature vs. nurture question regarding his weirdness, I think.
Guy Kibby
3. Guy Kibby
Dude,whilst Jezel probably needs a good punch in the face from time to time he seems pretty slippery with his blades so I wouldn't recommend it if I was you.

As for nurture and nature you make an interesting point. I mean does he just have a huge predisposition towards spirit communication (implying some sort of inherent properties in who he is) or has he learnt over time, or from someone else, how to do this form of magic. I mean Euz TAUGHT this stuff to his third son, and Logan just busts it out like he has just accidentlly made a phone call to mistical beings after smoking joint.
Loquin Britton
4. loquinmalie
*Sigh* a girl can dream...of physical violence towards a fictional character. I don't know, I might get close. The being poked with sharp impliments would normally come after the punching, unless you telegraph that crap.

As for Logen, I'm having a bit of a giggle fit thinking of 12 year old Logen sneaking off with some friends to smoke fungus for the first time and meeting the spirits.

I have read ahead at this point, so *spoilers* but I wish we got to see Logen summon the spirits more often. The first time he doesn't do much of anything to see them, other than get high. But on the rocky island he does a fire-breathing trick, and when talking about the spirits in the city he just seems to know that they're asleep. There isn't a lot of consistency.
John Lobello
5. johntocaelpiano
I imagine if you knew Logen in real life like his crew did, then you might find other things to talk about (all that murder and stuff), but I always thought it was odd that nobody in the North ever mentioned his talking with Spirits. I mean... even if they said it was dumb and useless, them being the fighty-fightiness types, it would have been neat if the Dogman or the Thunderhead had at least mentioned it. Especially given the fact that, according to Bayaz, Logen is just about the only person in the world still able to do it.

I dunno... it always struck me as odd that nobody seemed to care.

Oh, and the Larsen/West scene was one of my favorites from the book. Throughout this re-read I'm reminded of the KJ Parker novella The Sun and I where a group of hucksters decide to create a new religion as a way of fleecing money from people. Eventually, their "god" begins performing miracles and becomes a source of charity and goodness across the land. The ultimate theme being "intentions don't matter, only results." I'm not sure if I agree with that 100% of the time, but if you look at West's rescuing of Calith... well... that's a good thing, no matter his intentions.
Iain Cupples
6. NumberNone
I'm not sure there's any reason to assume Logen's band must have known about his ability to talk to spirits. He kept secrets from them, after all. This might've been one.

I think the main reason it's in the book is to introduce the idea that magic is fading from the world early on - and from a more reliable source than Bayaz. Much as I wish more had been made of it, I think it wasn't intended to be particularly significant. I do think there may be a link to the Bloody-Nine, though.
Guy Kibby
7. mayank123
my favorite quotes:
'Doesn't scare me any,' he said, as loud as he could without Ninefingers actually hearing him.

'Bet it doesn't rain much where you come from, eh?'
'Are you going to shut your fucking hole, or do I have to hurt you?'

What was more he was a nobleman, of a distinguished family. What was still more he was a bold officer of the King's Own, and a winner of the Contest. To vomit at the sight of a little gore would be to disgrace himself before this mixture of fools and primitives, and that could under no circumstances be permitted. The honour of his nation was at stake

Jezal stared at the bodies, still lying where they had found them, their eyes staring accusingly up into the darkening sky. 'Shouldn't we bury them?'
'If you like,' grunted Ferro, springing up into the saddle in one easy motion. 'Maybe you could bury them in puke.'

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