The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “The King’s Justice” and “Means of Escape”

After Ferro’s introduction and some sweet discussions on the Magi, this week might be something of a disappointment. We’re back to CSI: Adua with Glokta. First, through Jezal’s POV, Glokta reveals the Mercers’ plot in Open Council, then Glokta executes the King’s warrant against the guild.

There continues to be a sense that a storm is coalescing in Adua. Logen and Bayaz are nearing, Ferro and the Dogman are on their way (although we don’t really know that yet), and Glokta and Jezal are in the middle of the political disaster that is the Union. I’m ready for it to happen!!

But, not this week.

“The King’s Justice”

Short and Sweet: Jezal observes the Open Council as Glokta presents evidence of the Mercer conspiracy to defraud the Union. The Mercers are dissolved as a result, and their trade rights granted to the Inquisition for the foreseeable future.

Long and Sour: Jezal dan Luthar and his subordinate, Lieutenant Janelhorm, are part of the detachment guarding the Open Council session in the Lord’s Round. More crowded that usual, both recognize that something is afoot. When four of the Union’s most powerful noblemen arrive, followed by three members of the Closed Council, their suspicions are confirmed.

Chamberlain Hoff declares there is one matter before the Open Council, “A matter concerning the royal license for trade in the city of Westport.” The topic turns the stomach of the four nobleman. Hoff gives Arch Lector Sult the floor.

Recognizing the Guild of Mercers’ contribution in the victory over the Gurkhish, and the trade license they received in thanks, Sult accuses them of high treason in conspiring to steals the King’s taxes. The nobles demand proof and Sult is more than happy to provide it, vis-à-vis Sand dan Glokta.

A parade of prisoners enters the Lord’s Round—Salem Rews, Carpi, and Hornlach—and quickly sing their confessions as Glokta conducts. While the nobles are outraged, there’s little that can be done to refute their testimony. High Justice Marovia, clearly displeased by the development, admits that the evidence is quite clear. Sentiment for the Mercers quickly dissipates among the gallery, and the King’s Justice is called upon. Before ordering Lieutenant Janelhorm to execute the Council’s writ against the Mercers, the Westport trade license is given to the Inquisition for safe keeping.

After the King’s Justice is dispensed, Jezal takes to the streets where he runs into Lieutenant Brint and Ardee West. The pair seem entirely too comfortable with one another. Jezal breaks it up in petulant fashion, ordering Brint to get back to work.

In discussing the days events, namely the Mercer’s dissolution, Ardee remarks, “You wouldn’t want to get one the wrong side of [Glokta], crippled or not.” Jezal agrees and ponders on the virtues of the woman on his arm. If only she had better blood and more money.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Lord Brock, Lord Isher, Lord Heugen, Lord Barezin

Quotes to Remember:

He saw Sult smirking across at High Justice Marovia. The old man’s face was stony blank, but his fists were clenched tight on the table before him.

I include this quote because it’s the first real indication we have that there’s an ongoing battle among the Union Elite. Sult has demonstrated ample ill will toward the “working class,” but now we can see all is not right in Camelot. Marovia, seemingly highly respected by all, is not pleased with Sult’s maneuvering.

“Until such a time as suitable candidates are found, the routes will be managed by capable, loyal, hands. The hands of his Majesty’s Inquisition.”

Orly? I’m stunned. Not really.

Stuff I Noticed: I’m always fascinated by chapters where its told from the point of view of completely passive observer. In this case, most of the chapter is Jezal watching other characters do things, mostly Glokta. This is the fourth or fifth chapter of this nature, all involving the Closed or Open Councils. Of course, Abercrombie never gives us the point of view of someone actually on these governing bodies so this is really the only tool left to him.

Interestingly, he never shows the evidence presented by Sult and Glokta in the Closed Council regarding the Mercers’ guilt. It means we have no idea what kind of documented evidence the Inquisition possesses confirming the testimony by the tortured merchants. All we know is what Jezal observes. Two things stood out to be as possessing great significance:

  1. Lord Brock has much to lose by the Mercers being dissolved. He also seems genuinely shocked at the cavalier nature members of the Closed Council seem to be treating torture.
  2. High Justice Marovia is neutered to opposing the Inquisition, but he does not like the taste his impotence leaves in his mouth. What’s unclear is whether that’s out of some sense of right and wrong, or whether he’s just mad that Sult got one up on him in the proverbial Game of Thrones, to steal a term from GRRM.

With the revelation that the Mercers revenue stream will be delivered to the Inquisition I’m left wondering whether that was the whole point. Did all of this machination take place solely to give the Inquisition more revenue? And to what end? Merely for Sult’s enrichment? Or does he have some larger goal in mind?


“Means of Escape”

The Long and Short of It: Lieutenant Jalenhorm and Inquisitor Glokta serve the Mercers Guild with notice of their treasons as ruled by the Council. Glokta finds Magister Kault with a noose around his neck and a determination to die rather than be questioned. Before he takes a leap into the abyss, Kault admits to his treasons against the King, but implicates other culprits—the banks, the University, the Closed Council, and Glokta’s own House of Questions. The ravings of a man with nothing to lose or the true utterances of the condemned? Glokta wonders.

Important Characters Introduced: Valint and Balk (not a character in the classic sense, but… important)

Minor Character Introduced: Glokta’s Gums.

Quotes to Remember:

“We never had any choices! We had to pay the bankers! They loaned us the money, and we had to pay! We’ve been paying them for years! Valint and Balk, the bloodsuckers! We gave them everything, but they always wanted more!”

Joe Abercrombie. Probably not a licensed stock broker I’m guessing.

Cheap clothes and expensive windows. If the cloth had been stronger we would have got him. If the window had more lead, we would have got him. Lives hinge on such chances.

One of Abercrombie’s classic little lines that observe the vagaries of life and the tiny details that make a difference between success and failure.

Between the Lines: Another quick hitting Glokta chapter, “Means of Escape” reveals little new except for introducing a new player into the political landscape—the bank of Valint and Balk. They are the hand behind everything in the Union, a fact that will become clear very soon to those who would replace the Mercers in the mechanism. As we observed in the previous chapter, that’s going to be Sult and Glokta.

In these revelations some of Abercrombie’s other themes are starting to come to light. Although the meat of the series is about subverting epic fantasy, there’s also some very real comments on more traditional literary themes. You know, the human condition, etc. On top of that Abercrombie offers some insights into the nature of wealth and our obsession with it. Kault’s illusion of wealth, gilded crown molding and ornate clothing, is dispelled when he dies. Glokta realizes it was all a show and that the Mercers were perhaps no better off than anyone else. It’s easy to draw some conclusions about what the author might be saying about our own hierarchies of wealth and privilege.


Next week: Major West gets some good bad news (to war!) and Logen (finally) arrives in Adua. Bayaz attempts to put lipstick on a pig.

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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