The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “The King of the Northmen” and “A Road Between Two Dentists”

Welcome back to the Circle of the World! When last we left our friends, Logen had just recently arrived at Bayaz’s library, Glokta was on the prowl for the killer of the Mercers, and Jezal had discovered that things aren’t going terribly well for the Union politically. This week we’ll focus on Logen and Glokta, each of whom take a huge step toward some minor resolution of the building tension

On a reread management note, I’m finally back to being able to do two chapters in a single post! I’m relieved. I was starting to worry that Abercrombie was going to start cramming so much into every chapter that it would require a book to discuss each one. Thankfully the first chapter is filet mignon and the second is more like cube steak. I’ll eat either one, but the former is a heck of a lot more satisfying.

Without further prattling…

“The King of the Northmen”

Short Summary: Logen reminisces about being a bastard, gets a sword from Bayaz, and ends up in a staring contest with Bethod and his brood. Bayaz sends the “King of the Northmen” scurrying after rejecting Bethod’s overtures of friendship.

Long Summary: His first night in Bayaz’s library, unable to find peace on a soft mattress, Logen sleeps on the hard balcony beneath the stars. The next morning he’s woken by Malacus Quai to thank Logen for saving his life. Logen is entirely uncomfortable with the praise and recounts some his bloodier deeds from the previous decades.

Bayaz turns up amid Logen’s introspective pity party. He pointedly sends Quai back to his studies. As Quai leaves, Bayaz mutters under his breath that Bethod is coming. The announcement makes Logen recall his last encounter with Bethod. They left him beaten and bloodied, with orders to never, ever return. Remembering leaves Logen a little unnerved. Bayaz, perhaps sensing it, declares the Northman needs a weapon.

In the weapons room, Logen peruses the choices and discards them in turn—armor, spears, and axes. He finally settles his gaze on a simple sword, which, despite its plain trappings, was made by Kanedias, the Master Maker himself. Bayaz offers something of a metaphor of the sword.

Back upstairs, awaiting Bethod’s appearance, they discuss Juvens’ Principles of Art, the cornerstone of the Magi. Bayaz underscores its importance, but sets another book aside that catches Logen’s notice. This book, written by Juvens’ brother, contains a different sort of knowledge best left alone.

Bethod soon arrives with two companions, his son (Scale) and a self-proclaimed sorceress named, Caurib. Bayaz mocks her power. Bethod demands to know where Bayaz stands. After some verbal foreplay, Bayaz reveals his hand. He is not.

Scale and Caurib rattle their swords and Bayaz silences them with a word, buckling their knees with a ForceChoke©. The trio leave, but not before making threats. Bayaz has made an enemy this day and Logen has reminded his enemies that he lives.

Important Characters Introduced: Kanedias

Minor Characters Introduced: Caurib

Quotes to Remember:

“There are few men with more blood on their hands than me. None, that I know of. The Bloody-Nine they call me, my enemies, and there’s a lot of ‘em. Always more enemies, and fewer friends. Blood gets you nothing but more blood. It follows me now, always, like my shadow, and like my shadow I can never be free of it. I should never be free of it. I’ve earned it. I’ve deserved it. I’ve sought it out. Such is my punishment.”

Yeah, so, Logen is kind of freaking me out now. He’s wicked self aware, but also seems convinced he’s trying to be swell guy now after helping Quai. I remain… unconvinced.

But some things have to be done. It’s better to do them, than to live with the fear of them.

Preach, Logen. Preach.

Shorter than the Summary: If the previous chapters were all about getting inside Glokta and Jezal’s heads, then “King of the Northmen” is a Logen Ninefingers deep dive of crazy. First, he can’t sleep anywhere but outside. Notions of comfort are completely foreign to him and the only thing he can say for them is that he smells better. When Quai arrives to thank him for his selfless act Logen is unable to bask in the affection. Instead he deflects by relating to Quai what a miserable human being he really is.

It seems like Logen is having a dialogue with himself. He is both simultaneously good and demonstrably evil, and he’s equally unsure which will take precedence at any given moment. I can’t help but wonder whether he’s got two personalities, the thing he calls the Bloody-Nine and just Logen. The Logen we’ve seen so far seems reasonably decent even when he’s killing bandits and fleeing from the Shanka. Some of the moments Logen describes in this chapter, if true, would have to fundamentally alter that perception.

A little later, in the weapons room, Bayaz goes on something of a rant about swords. He talks about their subtlety in relation to an axe or maces. He argues that the sword has a voice. It very clearly calls to mind the title of the book and the quote that opens Part I, “The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.” I quite enjoy the extending of this metaphor and hope it continues.

Two things to pay special attention to… (a) the book Bayaz hides and (b) Caurib. There is perhaps a force of magic at work in the world that isn’t under Bayaz’s thumb.

 

“A Road Between Two Dentists”

Shortest Summary: Glokta tortures the man connected who killed the Mercers in order to discover the mole inside the Inquisition.

Shortest Long Summary: Practical Severard leads Glokta through a new property they’ve acquired for the purposes of their investigation. Wedged between two warehouses in an unsavory neighborhood finds a dilapidated mansion formerly owned by a rich man who wanted to live near his warehouses and his wharves.

They descend into the cellars through a secret passage where Practical Frost awaits. Salem Rews is there, locked away, but still alive. Several chambers down is the man who killed the Mercers. Glokta gets to work, starting with the man’s teeth.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

“This is the Master Maker Kanedias.” He turned and pointed to the dying man on the opposite wall. “And this is the great Juvens, whom he has killed.”

I love getting my world building this way, tossed into dialogue. The Juvens, Kanedias, Bayaz, and the Magi are in the middle of a tangled web right now. I wonder what it’ll look like when it’s all unraveled?

Tough. A tough man. But it’s easy to act tough before the work begins.

Yeah, buddy. There’s a certain unpleasant inevitability to this quote.

Longer than the Summary: This is a pretty boring chapter except for the continued comedy between Glokta and his Practicals. Abercrombie has a really keen eye for gallows humor. It seems like this is a chapter designed solely to bridge the gap between Glokta being ordered to get the killer and them revealing the mole. It all seems slightly redundant as a result because we already know an awful lot about Glokta as a character. Does this chapter serve a larger purpose? Why doesn’t Abercrombie just tell us about this before the reveal of the traitor?

Perhaps because Abercrombie starts tossing in All the Clues with the mural painted on the wall of the torture room. I’m going to quote a big passage of here because it seems very relevant.

The body of a man lay on the grass, bleeding from many wounds, with a forest behind him. Eleven other figures walked away, six on one side, five on the other, painted in profile, awkwardly posed, dressed in white but their features indistinct. They faced another man, arms stretched out, all in black and with a sea of colourfully daubed fire behind him.

Glokta reveals this is a scene depicting the death of Juvens. Juvens, who is Bayaz’s master. If we take Bayaz at face value, doesn’t he probably have to be in this mural? Which one is he? What role might he have played?

The more I dig into The Blade Itself, the more intrigued I become by the world building beneath it all. I’m going to have to start one of those crazy corkboards with strings connecting related ideas. That wouldn’t be weird, would it?

Also, pulling people’s teeth scares the crap out of me.

Next Week: Who let the dogs out? The Dogman shows up! And, Jezal is confronted by Sand dan Glokta!


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.

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