The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “An Offer and a Gift”

This week’s post is one of Captain Jezal dan Luthar’s chapters. As I considered the chapter I made a realization on par with eating apples and Ritz crackers together (try it). Logen and Glokta have world views. Their points of view offer insight into both the working of Abercrombie’s world and themselves. They’re self aware. Deluded, but in a way that makes hearing about events from their perspective interesting and engaging. Jezal not so much.

To be frank, there is very little interesting and engaging about Jezal at all. He’s a twit. His chapters are filled with whining about how the world isn’t fair. Except, he’s been given everything. From his tobacco to his steels, Jezal hasn’t had to struggle for anything in his life. Where Logen and Glokta have things to actually lament, and often excel in spite of their misfortunes, Jezal’s laments are invented. It makes his chapters annoying, a little boring, and at times a struggle.

I also think Abercrombie does this intentionally. He does it to say to his reader, you know that guy you read about for the last twenty years? The guy with a sword who cuts a dashing figure and seeks glory and wants to be recognized? He’s a jerk. Or at least, he would be if an author didn’t have license to cherry pick. I find the whole notion a little brave and a little insane. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of his work. Abercrombie is often fearless when it comes to pushing at convention.

Something to think about anyway, on to. . .

“An Offer and a Gift”

Pigsticker: Scolded by both Varuz and West for his fencing, Jezal leaves the practice field to stand guard at the Open Council. Chamberlain Hoff continues to make an ass of himself as the Northern delegation arrives and asks that Angland be given to the North. Or else. Their offer is rejected and or else begins to look like a foregone conclusion.

William Wallace’s Claymore: Lord Marshall Varuz continues to challenge Jezal’s commitment to winning the contest. Being vain, Jezal realizes that without the contest he won’t get “a big chair on the Closed Council, and to make big decisions.” With an assignment for more exercise, Varuz stalks away with a very distracted, and put out, Major West right behind him.

On the way back to his quarters the Captain runs into Lieutenant Kaspa and his cousin, Lady Ariss dan Kaspa. Lady Ariss has something of a reputation as one of the Union’s richest heiresses from an excellent family. Jezal finds her “a pale, skinny, sickly-looking thing.” He is completely disinterested and dismisses the pair rudely.

Later, Jezal stands guard duty in the Open Council. Once the unctuous Lord Hoff arrives the Council comes to order. Representatives from the City of Dagoska call for more troops and money to be sent to the Gurkhish border where Dagoska’s walls are the only thing standing between the Union and savage Empire. The request is met with disagreement from Angland’s representatives, who have an infestation of Northmen on their hands.

Hoff disregards both with promises that the situation in the North may resolve itself. With that, King Gustav arrives in something less than glory. As the King settles himself, befuddled by the whole mess, two Northmen are announced—White-Eye Hansul and Fenris the Feared. Hansul brings tidings from Bethod, King of the Northmen, offering peace in exchange for the city of Angland. As the room erupts, Fenris removes his cloak, revealing his massive frame and the tattoos covering half his body. He stabs himself in the arm with a dagger and challenges anyone in the Union to fight him for Angland.

Jezal mouths off, but Hoff orders the matter closed. Hansul says three signs will herald their message from Bethod and the pair leave. The Union may soon be at war.

Important Characters Introduced: None

Minor Characters Introduced: Lady Ariss dan Kaspa, Rush dan Theul Sand dan Vurms of Dagoska, Hersel dan Meed and Fedor dan Meed of Angland, Guslav the Fifth of the Union

Quotes to Remember:

“He could have said more, but he was damned if he was going to make all the effort. He gave a thin smile. So did she. The conversation hovered over the abyss.”

I just love this quote. How many conversations have gone this way in your life? I seem to encounter them rather often. Through not fault of my own… er… clearly.

“He had great low jowls and a roll of fat around his neck, in fact his whole face gave the appearance of having slightly melted and started to run down off his skull. Such was the High King of the Union, but Jezal bowed his head a little lower as the palanquin approached, just the same.”

Ladies and Gentleman, your King!! *Crowd goes wild*

Breakin’ it down: “An Offer and a Gift” is a chapter of three sections where all three offer a tremendous amount of foreshadowing. The first section is Major West reacting with something less than grace. It’s really the first time we see West react in a way other than “The Good Man.” Abercrombie seems to be using him as the EVERYMAN archetype. Mr. Likable, if you will. Between his reactions in this chapter and his constant fretting over Ardee, I’m beginning to question whether that’ll hold up.

In the second section, Lady Ariss is exactly the kind of woman Jezal’s personality would lead us to believe he would find irresistible—rich, noble, and insipid. Yet, he dismisses her as irrelevant. He never compares her directly to Ardee, but it seems implied. Is Jezal is infatuated with a commoner?

Finally, the last section. Bear with Abercrombie in the coming chapters because this isn’t the last Council meeting we’ll be watching, Not by a long shot! Unfortunately, many of these scenes are told from the perspective of an observer (Jezal, West, Logen later) and not a participant. It makes them overly dry and rather repetitive. I have to think Abercrombie may have rethought the pacing of these scenes if he had to do it over again.

The primary takeaways are the foreshadowing of the Dagoska situation and Fenris going nuts. While everyone’s attention is on Bethod and Angland, the Dagoska representative makes mention of the poor condition of the city’s walls. The taxes dedicated to their maintenance seem to be in arrears. Abercrombie doesn’t do a lot of extraneous world building for its own sake. Pay attention to these sorts of seemingly throwaway lines. They aren’t throwaways.

As for Fenris, he seems to feel no pain and possesses some preternatural capacity to instill fear. All of that combined with half of his body covered in blue runic tattoos would indicate there might be some magic at play. I’ll leave it that, but once we get a look at some other characters in more detail I want to revisit Fenris as a comparison point.

Next Week: Logen gets a sword!! And says some really bad things about himself, most of which appear to be deserved. And Glokta plays dentist. Yeah, it’s about as pretty as that sounds.


Justin Landon runs Staffer’s Book Review where his posts are less on-color. Find him onTwitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.

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