The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Blade Itself: “Misery”

Today’s a big day. Rocket Talk, the podcast, launched this morning, and I’m hosting it! For you Joe Abercrombie lovers this means there’s going to be a really long and awkward conversation with the man himself at some point in the near future. I’m going to ask him questions about all kinds of arcanum. Do you have questions you’d like me to ask? Put ’em in the comments and I’ll ask it, no matter how weird it is. (Please be weird.)

Despite the additional workload placed on me by the taskmasters, I’m here for this week’s reread, bedraggled but unbroken! We’re three chapters from the end of The Blade Itself and I’m trying to figure out the narrative arc of the novel. Is there one? Are there any plot lines that are internal to the novel? I’m thinking not, except, perhaps, Jezal’s relationship to Ardee, which (completely coincidentally, I swear) is the subject of this week’s chapter.


What happened: Jezal waits for Ardee at the foot of the Agriont. He is, of course, put out by her tardiness, because what kind of woman would keep a man like Jezal dan Luthar waiting? But, he cannot imagine wanting to wait for someone more.

Ardee arrives, bruised and bloodied from her brother’s attentions, on her guard, attempting to distance herself from Jezal who is about to leave for Angland and war. He denies her efforts and asks her to wait for him because he… loves… her. Ardee agrees to wait.

In the harbor, Jezal waits on a ship to depart for war. Where others seem focused on what’s to come, Jezal has thoughts for no one but Ardee, hearing here name on everyone’s lips. Before the ship sets sail a messenger arrives on High Justice Marovia’s orders and sends Jezal to the Agriont.

In the High Justice’s office Jezal is greeted by Marovia, Varuz, and the one man he never wants to see again—Bayaz. The First of the Magi invites Jezal, a world class swordsman, to join his “adventure” to the Edge of the World. Although not one for duty and responsibility, Jezal is miserable that he can’t go North with his and men. He agrees to join Bayaz, as if he had a choice.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

It was ridiculous the power she had over him. The difference between misery and happiness was the right word from her.


‘I and a few brave companions—chosen people, you understand, people of quality—are engaging on a great journey! An epic voyage! A grand adventure! I have little doubt that, should we be successful, there will be stories told of this for years to come. Very many years.’


Why it happened: By far the two most interesting things happening in “Misery” are encapsulated by the quotes above. Hence, why I didn’t write much about them, preferring instead to save them for this space.

The chapter opens with Jezal and Ardee, kind of resolving the narrative arc of their relationship, around which a lot of The Blade Itself is based. Remember, Ardee is the primary motivating force for Jezal throughout the novel, and the central figure in Major West’s ongoing battle with… erm… himself. Even Glokta’s willingness to take her under his wing a few chapters ago is his denouement for the novel, an emotional reconnection for a character whose been exclusively inward focused for a decade.

And how do Ardee and Jezal ‘resolve’ things? Like everything in an Abercrombie novel, it’s complicated. The fact this final chapter is told from Jezal’s point of view and not Ardee’s is fascinating, because we’re left with an extremely inexact view of the nature of the pair’s relationship. Jezal desperately wants her to wait for him, but wait for what? He recognizes that marriage with her impossible and surely she knows the same. Is she in denial? Or is she merely toying with him as I surmised in previous discussions? Her reactions, interpreted through Jezal’s biased point of view, seem to indicate a level of bittersweet affection. She’s resigned to things ending badly, as they always do in her cursed existence, but seems to take a live and let live philosophy of enjoying what little happiness she can carve out.

Also, make note of the chapter title—Misery. Abercrombie seems to be equating love, or at least the version of love Ardee and Jezal are resigned to, not to traditional adjectives, but to one with a negative connotation. It’s reinforced by the quote above. Jezal is defining love by his “lover’s” capacity to inflict pain on him. Abercrombie has taken the worst parts of a thing and made it the predominant facet. Kind of depressing, isn’t it?

The other quote doesn’t require as much discussion, but I really wanted to highlight it. This is the Fellowship of the Ring moment. Or, in terms of the Hero’s Journey as defined by Joseph Campbell, the ‘Call to Adventure’. It’s a trope that’s built into epic fantasy, but often occurs in the first act. Abercrombie saves it ’til the waning moments of the first novel, preparing for it with thousands of words of character development. The reader knows how ill-suited the group is for the role Bayaz places them in, how unheroic they all are. We also know that the things Bayaz promises, “a great journey! An epic voyage! A grand adventure. . .” are probably crap.

More reminders that, while Abercrombie spins a fascinating character driven narrative, The Blade Itself is a brilliant slap in the face cum wake up call to epic fantasy. Some call to adventure indeed.

Next Week: THE BLOODY-NINE!!!!

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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