The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “The House of the Maker”

This week’s chapter features one of the absolute silliest moments in the series. Abercrombie, in the middle of what should be one of the tensest scenes in The Blade Itself, makes an absolutely obvious Lord of the Rings joke. And yet, it works in large part because of the audience and the scene.

‘…none…shall…pass.’ Bayaz reads from the entrance to the House of the Maker, sitting atop a bridge with Logen, Jezal, and Glokta behind him. Where the same phrase uttered by Gandalf is followed by the moment where the Gray Wizard becomes fallible, in Abercrombie’s version it is followed by a confirmation of Bayaz’s infallibility. Hardly the cleverest trick employed in The Blade Itself, but one that’s perfectly timed…

Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself…

“The House of the Maker”

Tagline: Bayaz takes the three stooges into the House of the Maker. It’s pretty creepy. Bayaz regales them with tales of the past. They come out with a really heavy black box.

Blurb: Glokta, skeptical that Bayaz is anyone important, prepares to arrest the imposter as soon as he fails to open the Maker’s House. His plans begin to unravel as they arrive at the University and Bayaz demonstrates intimate knowledge of the layout. Near the Maker’s door an old man sits, waiting for his wife to finish breakfast. As Chief Warden, the man is tasked to guard the door, a somewhat downsized force from Bayaz’s past lives where the duty was considered a high honor.

Disappointed that no one wants to join him for breakfast, the Chief Warden sends them out onto a fly bridge that connects the University to the House of the Maker. As the four men step onto the bridge all but Bayaz are crippled by an overwhelming nausea and sense of dread. The Chief Warden calls it the Maker’s Breath and apparently it’s stanky.

Struggling through the emotion, Glokta watches Bayaz insert the key and release the mechanism that unlocks the House like so much clockwork. A perfect piece of machinery the door opens to little fanfare, but reveals a massive space that dwarfs anything they’ve before encountered. On the ground is a map of the Circle of the World and above a series of rings that move in some coordinated motion.

Bayaz recounts the history of the Kanedias’ death. First the assault of the eleven Magi, sans Khalul, Zacharus, and Cawneil. Two died, but Bayaz made him pay. In the process, Kanedias throws his own daughter from the tower, before Bayaz does the same to Kanedias.

Before they leave, Bayaz’s job of convincing Glokta of his identity complete, Logen is tasked with carrying out a disconcertingly heavy black box. The contents of which remain a mystery.

Important Characters Introduced: Tolomei (by name)

Minor Characters Introduced: Jaremias (Kanedias’ assistant), Cawneil (one of the Magi), Anselmi (Magus, confirmed dead), Brokentooth (Magus, confirmed dead)

Quotes to Remember:

The only thing he could imagine worse than his present company was no company at all.

This quote is in parallel with one of the techniques Abercrombie uses to make all these dudes likeable. He makes something (or someone) feel good because the alternative feels so bad. In other words, the only people worse than Glokta, Logen, and Jezal is each other, making them endearing in comparison to the other.

‘I like you, Inquisitor, I really do. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were the only honest man left in this whole damn country. We should have a talk at some point, you and I. A talk about what I want, and about what you want.’

Well, when Bayaz thinks you’re a good dude that’s a real referendum, am I right?

Subtext: Whoa Nellie! There’s enough Circle of the World history in this chapter to shake a stick at. Not the least of which is the actual concept of the Circle of the World as posited by Kanedias himself and recreated on the floor of his House (and what appears to be some kind of solar system above it?).

Before we get into the history Bayaz reveals, I find the reactions to the magic of the House of the Maker intriguing. Glokta, Jezal, and Logen all have a strong reaction to entering the House, but Logen seems to bear it the best. Does that imply some resistance/sensitivity to it as I posited in previous chapters? Or does the fact that all three react to it to some measure impeach that theory? I don’t know.

We also see here that the Maker’s ’magic’ has the ability to warp time and space. Is the Maker a glorified Magi? A god? Was there a difference before magic bled out of the world? All good questions.

On to history:

  • Kanedias killed Juvens with a weapon called ‘the Divider’ which looks something like a twisted axe.
  • Seeking vengeance for Juvens’ death, eleven magi assaulted the House of the Maker. Two died. Three did not fight. My math says that means there fourteen Magi and twelve of them could be alive.
  • Bayaz and his allies fought Kanedias’ servants in the University.
  • Those servants might have been Shanka, who the Maker created from clay, metal, and left-over flesh.
  • The House was home to three people—Kanedias (dead), Tolomei (implied dead), and Jaremias (no idea).
  • It is implied that Bayaz himself lived in the House at some point.
  • Bayaz killed Kanedias by throwing him from the parapet of the House.
  • Kanedias did the same to his daughter, Tolomei, whom Bayaz seems to have some measure of affection for.

What does it all mean? Well, there’s a few things we can definitely extrapolate. The relationship between Tolomei and Bayaz is undoubtedly a sore spot with Kanedias. Was Tolomei a traitor to Kanedias? Was throwing her from the platform an accident or murder or is Bayaz manipulating the truth as we’ve seen him do already (and will see him do many times in the future)?

There are far more Magi alive than I thought. Khalul did not fight and we know he’s running the Eaters in the Empire to the south. Zacharus helped trained Quai, which implies his relationship with Bayaz remains strong despite his absence at the House of the Maker. Cawneil is a mystery. Why were these three missing? If only two Magi died in the assault, where are the rest? (Yulwei is one of course.)

Lastly, the Magi are often referred to as ELEVEN, but in this chapter that number seems off. Here’s the passage in question.

‘Eleven of us. All the Magi, together for the last time. All but Khalul, Zacharus, and Cawneil, they fought with the Maker here, and each was bested.’

I read that as implying eleven attacked and three refused to come. What do you think?

Next Week: A couple of tempers collide—West and Ferro!

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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