The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “The Condition of the Defences” and “The Thing About Trust”

Does anyone else find it weird that in last week’s chapter, where we saw Logen and Longfoot and Bayaz and Jezal walking around town in Calcis, there’s zero mention of what Ferro and Quai are up to? Are they taking a nap? Are they staring at each other? What are the odds those two spent time together and Ferro didn’t plant a dagger in his guts and take off? This is odd, particularly in light of this week’s chapters, which we’ll get to momentarily!

Also, two chapters this week! Can you believe it? It’s like I’m Han Solo and I just hit Stubby’s hyperdrive baby! Look at those grimdarky stars streaking by our cockpit! Hope you can keep up with us, because Chewie is kind of pissed off at Stubby’s lack of maintainence.


“The Condition of the Defences”

Summary: Glokta stands on the walls of Dagoska with General Vissbruck to examine the defenses. They’re deplorable. Vissbruck argues that he has not been given the proper resources to maintain the wall dividing the inner-city from the native population and the outer wall. From their vantage point, the pair can see the Gurkish lines, which have blocked the city from supply by land. With an estimate of 5,000 Gurkish and only 600 defenders, Glokta asks after other forces and Vissbruck informs him of a mercenary company led by Nicomo Cosca. Vitari seems less than impressed by the name.

Realizing that Cosca’s mercenaries could mean the difference between surviving and not, Glokta finds the man in a run down tavern. Seemingly drunk, Cosca regales the Inquisitor with his breadth of experience in siege warfare. Vitari reminds Cosca that the vast majority of his experience is in betraying his employer. Regardless, Glokta finds Cosca far more capable than Vissbruck. 

Glokta ends the day with the Governor’s son. Attempting to identify potential allies, Glokta asks after Superior Davoust and the store of supplies for the months ahead. He’s disappointed on both counts as the nobleman has nothing to share about the former and only bad news on the latter. While the city has six months of stores, it only has six months for the Union transplants and nothing for the native population in the lower city. Glokta orders the situation resolved, but fears he’s made another enemy.

Important Characters Introduced: Nicomo Cosca.

Minor Characters Introduced: Mercatto (minor for now!!)

Quotes to Remember: 

The sun pressed down on the crumbling battlements like a great weight. It pressed through Glokta’s hat and onto his stooped head. It pressed through Glokta’s black coat and onto his twisted shoulders. It threatened to squeeze the water right out of him, squash the life right out of him, crush him to his knees. A cool autumn morning in charming Dagoska.

So…. It’s hot. What a great passage.

‘And I besieged Visserine myself for a few months and nearly had it, except that she-devil Mercatto caught me unawares.’

I had absolutely no memory that Monza was mentioned in the First Law Trilogy. I could not be more excited by this. For those who’ve not read Best Served Cold, Monza Mercatto is the main character.

Analysis: Not a whole lot going on this chapter except we learn more about what Glokta is really up against.

The walls of Dagoska are crumbling. The inner wall, separating the natives from the Union elite are in great shape. In other news, Glokta’s general is incompetent. The biggest army inside the walls of Dagoska is a mercenary one in the pay of Carlot dan Eider, head of the Spicers Guild. He’s a drunk named Nicomo Cosca who has a past relationship with Vitari based on betrayal. The only person more incompetent than the general is the Governor’s son who hasn’t kept enough food to feed the population. Glokta still has no clue who disappeared Superior Davoust.

The summary of the summary! My main observations here deal with the nature of Glokta’s story arcs in the trilogy thus far. In The Blade Itself he’s rooting out corruption. Except actually he’s investigating a murder of witnesses. He asks questions, finds answers, and punishes the wicked. He’s doing the same thing again. He’s assigned to clean up the Dagoska government, but to do so he needs to know who killed Davoust. So he’s poking around, asking questions, and trying to punish the wicked.

Except, it seems to me in both cases the Arch Lector’s mission has more to do with the business of Valint and Balk than it does with the tasks he sets to Sand dan Glokta. Sound about right?


“The Thing About Trust”

Summary: Bayaz’s crew leaves Calcis en route toward Darmium. The gate guard suggests they consider otherwise, taking into account the danger and all. Although the man’s comments bother Ferro not at all, she finds herself sharing his opinion if for not other reason than she loathes the company she’s keeping.

Out on the plain Ferro becomes increasingly agitated by the nature of their mission and presses Bayaz for information. Namely, where are they going? Bayaz refuses to give specifics, so Ferro pushes elsewhere, asking about the First Law, Khalul, and the Seed. Barely hiding his annoyance, Bayaz responds and Ferro learns to trust the First of the Magi even less.

As night falls, Ferro begins her escape. She’s surprised when Logen sneaks up behind her and argues for her to stay. She considers killing him, but remembers his moments as the Bloody-Nine and thinks better of it. Logen’s convinces her that they can get each others’ backs. 

‘That’s the thing about trust, sooner or later you just got to do it, without good reasons.’


‘Otherwise you end up like us, and who wants that?’


Ferro sees some wisdom in it, at least until she can escape unnoticed.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Rely on a horse and when you need to run you find you can’t any more.

I’m not entirely sure what this sentence means, but I like the idea that if you’re going to run away from everything you have to do it on your own. It seems to reinforce the notion of loneliness that pervades the lives of Ferro and Logen.

Trust was a word for fools. It was a word people used when they meant to betray you.

The First Law Trilogy is just sunshine and roses, ain’t it?

Analysis: Ferro’s pointed questions gives us a chance to get a little more world building information. First up, the First Law is clearly-ish defined.

‘A stricture that Euz placed on his sons, the first rule made after the chaos of ancient days. It is forbidden to touch the Other Side direct. Forbidden to communicate with the world below, forbidden to summon demons, forbidden to open gates to hell. Such is the First Law, the guiding principle of all magic.’

Seems pretty clear that Logen has broken the First Law up one side and down the other, a fact that bothered Quai in the first book. Knowing what we know, the fact that Bayaz reacted negatively not at all to Logen’s actions calls into question whether Bayaz takes his old boss’s edicts all that seriously.

Second, Khalul is revealed.

‘Khalul was one of the order of Magi,’ growled Bayaz. ‘One of my order. The second of Juvens’ twelve apprentices. He was always jealous of my place, always thirsty for power. He broke the Second Law to get it. He ate the flesh of men, and persuaded other to do the same. He made of himself a false prophet, tricked the Gurkish into serving him. That is Khalul. Your enemy, and mine.’

Bayaz has made comments before admonishing about how bad eating people is, but once again I’m getting the impression he’s a lot more pissed off that Khalul tried to usurp him than he is about any law breaking. There’s a quote from Ferro’s narration early in the chapter that I think sums up my feelings on Bayaz quite well.

Bald bastard, with his thick neck and his wooden pole, acting as if he had done nothing but good in his life, as if he would not know where to begin at making a man explode.

Of course, the main thrust of this chapter has nothing to do with Bayaz and has everything to do with the similarities between Ferro and Logen. I’ve talked a lot about them as broken people that follow Bayaz because its the only path left that doesn’t leave them powered only by rage. Both have lost everything and as a result both have nothing to lose. The quote above summarizes that perfectly. If neither are ever willing to let someone into their lives they’ll become shells. In “The Thing About Trust” Logen is saying let’s give this another try. And by this he means, quite generally, living.

Next Week: Glokta tries to placate the native population of Dagoska. Glokta placating, what could go wrong?

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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