The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “Allies” and “Campfire Politics”

In last week’s comments an astute commenter quoted a passage from “The Thing About Trust” that describes Logen from Ferro’s point of view. I want to quote it again here:

You would have had to look far and wide to find anyone less beautiful than the big nine-fingered bastard. He sat in his saddle slumped over like some great sack of rice. Slow-moving, scratching, sniffing, chewing like a big cow. Trying to look like he had no killing in him, no mad fury, no devil. She knew better. He nodded to her and she scowled back. He was a devil wearing a cow’s skin, and she was not fooled.

Notice the word “devil.” As we continue through this week’s chapters, keep this in mind. I’ve asked questions at times about Logen’s nature, his ability to tap into the Other Side. Although Ferro has no knowledge of it, I can’t help but think the words Abercrombie chooses to use here are absolutely intentional.

“Allies”

Summary: Glokta, with Practical Frost in tow, pays a visit to Kahdia’s home. As representative to the people of Dagoska on the ruling council, the Inquisitor is struck by the humble trappings of the man’s home. Kahdia argues that the least a leader can do is share the burdens of his people. Glokta asks what became of Superior Davoust. In a rare show of honesty among the ruling council, Kahdia hopes Davoust died in great pain. He was a wicked tyrant who murdered the native population of the city indiscriminately. But, no Dagoskan would betray the city to the Gurkish after Khalul swore to destroy them.

Knowing he can’t hold the city without Kahdia’s help, Glokta offers him concessions in exchange for troops and workers. He offers to open the Upper City to them, to turn out the Spicer’s Guild from the Great Temple, and to treat then Dagoskans like true citizens of the Union. Kahdia doesn’t trust him, but knows he won’t get a better deal from Gurkish. They agree.

Glokta next meeting is with Magister Eider, who lives in unmatched luxury. In his mind, Glokta calls her the Queen of merchants, radiant and brilliant. Wealthier than the Governor and with more troops than Vissbruck, he recognizes her as the true power in Dagoska. Digging for information about Davoust, Eider reveals he believed there was a conspiracy on the ruling council to give the city to the Gurkish. She has nothing to gain by that arrangement given the life she enjoys within the Union. Recognizing that’s probably true, Glokta tests that resolve by asking for a hundred thousand marks and the Great Temple emptied. She hedges on the former, but agrees to the latter.

Their verbal jousting continues into the night.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘That must have been hard. To come back, after all that time in the darkness, and to find that your friends had no use for you. To see in their faces only guilt, and pity, and disgust. To find yourself alone.’

We only have to remember the chapter from The Blade Itself where Glokta and Major West recount the days after Glokta’s release. Magister Eider is right on the money, isn’t she?

‘On the contrary, nothing could be more natural. In my experience, people do as they are done to. You were sold by your father and bought by your husband, and yet you choose to buy and sell.’

Well, if Eider is going to dig at Glokta’s underbelly, he’ll give as well as he gets. Eider tells the story of how she became Magister, relating that it was her father who married her to the Magister. He fell ill and she managed his business while he was incapacitated. After his death she found herself elected to the position. Glokta couching that story in his own terms seems to have quite the impact on the woman.

Analysis: In my summary above, I left out two scenes entirely. The first is an interaction with Shickel, the girl Glokta rescues from Harker’s torture cell. She advises him of an invitation from Magister Eider. The second scene is Glokta torturing Harker for information about Davoust. All we learn is that Davoust had been extorting money from the native population through his office. After his disappearance, Harker took that money and spent it. I’m not sure where either of these scenes lead (and little happens), but I didn’t want to not mention them entirely.

Glokta’s interaction with Eider is very interesting, isn’t it? On the surface Glokta is this ugly broken thing who tortures people. Meanwhile, we have Eider who is beautiful and refined. But, it turns out neither has had an easy road of it. They’re both self-made in their current professions. And, they’re both willing to compromise themselves to get things done. Something to pay attention to, I think, as their relationship develops.

As the chapter progressed I kept thinking—say one thing for Sand dan Glokta, he just wants to get the job done. It’s a Logen affectation to use that phraseology, but it fits here too. To get this job done, Glokta has to do the right thing. He needs to end the Dagoskan oppression. So, the question becomes, is Glokta a good man or an opportunist whose goals happen to be aided by doing the right thing? Is that distinction even important? Does intent mean something or is it only the result that matters? I think these are some of the questions Abercrombie is asking throughout the trilogy. I have my opinion, but I’d love to hear yours!

“Campfire Politics”

Summary: Logen shifts uncomfortably on his horse as his new crew crosses a great plain on their way to the Edge of the World. The lack of camaraderie weighs heavily on the Northman as he remembers the years on the road with Threetrees, Dogman, Harding Grim, Tul Duru, Black Dow, and even Bethod. Grumbling out loud, Logen laments the lack of meat. Ferro brings down a trio of birds in flight with her bow, stunning Logen with her ability. Bayaz explains her acumen by informing the group that Ferro is a descendent of Euz, with devil blood in her veins.

At night, the group camps inside a crumbling deserted town. Around the campfire Logen observes how impersonal they are with each other. In hopes of inspiring some interaction, he offers to sing some songs. Bayaz squashes the idea and volunteers Quai in his place to tell a tale of the history of the Old Empire. As the story ends, Ferro moves closer to the fire and Bayaz tells Jezal to do the dishes. Logen smiles at what he’s wrought.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

His apprentice too seemed changed since they left Adua. Quiet, hard, watchful.

Throughout the chapter we get these little bits that Quai is changed. In the history of the Old Empire there’s a section on shifters, devils that assume the shape of man. Quai seems particularly snide about these shifters. Something is afoot!

‘Very good Master Quai,’ cut in Bayaz, sternly. ‘Your grip on the histories seems much improved. Let us not tarry on the details, however. We can leave Glustrod’s diggings for another day.’

Was Glustrod digging for the Seed, perhaps? It would explain why Bayaz is uninterested in having that part of the story voiced aloud.

Analysis: Brief summary for “Campfire Politics” because trying to summarize all the history that Quai recounts would have required me to almost retype half the chapter. So, instead, I figured I’d run through it all here. Because, honestly, the rest of the chapter is Logen trying to find companionship. And he’s finding it, to some degree, with Ferro, while continuing to alienate Jezal, who’s about as likeable as a tiger at a butcher shop. Now, let’s talk about what I know you’ve all been dying to dig into! The Circle of the World’s mythology!

So, once the world was joined, this side with the Other Side and demons walked the land. Created by the unholy union between demon and human, devil-bloods were born. Euz was one such. He saved humanity by splitting the world and sealing the gates between. He then established the First Law. Leave the Other Side alone or else. But, Euz himself was ’of the Other Side’, as were his sons Juvens, Kanedias, Glustrod, and Bedesh.

Euz gave Juvens High Art (magic), Kanedias got the gift of making, and Bedesh was bestowed the talent to speak with spirits and bind them to his will. Glustrod got nothing as the youngest because the fourth gift, communing with the Other Side, was forbidden by the First Law. Nothing screws an Empire up more than stiffing one of the heirs, right?

I’ll make a note here that while Bayaz admits Ferro has devil-blood which gives her certain abilities, he makes no note of Logen’s ability to speak with spirits. It’s stated explicitly here that this is an ability granted by Euz to one of his sons. It is of the Other Side! And Bayaz, likewise admits that “From the start the First Law was filled with contradictions. All magic comes from the Other Side, falling upon the land as the light falls from the sun.” So, Logen is also part-devil. He must be.

Anyway, back to the history. So, Glustrod got screwed out of daddy’s inheritance. Meanwhile, the three blessed sons were tasked with bringing order to the world Euz created. And they did. Juven’s favored the city of Aos and gave them skills to conquer their neighbors, founding an Empire that stretched to Isparda, to Aconus, to the Circle Sea (so, er… big… I guess?). But, Glustrod wasn’t real happy with being left out. And his brothers’ wouldn’t share their secrets. So, Glustrod found his own by listening to the whispers of the devils calling from the Other Side. They told him to eat the flesh of men, which he did, and so he commanded their power. He formed an army and led it against Juvens’ Empire when the favored son of Euz was away. Some stole the face of men, and Glustrod summons demons from beyond, and the Empire was shattered.

Another note here about Logen. Given that communing with the Other Side is also a thing, and Gludstrod heard voices, isn’t it possible that perhaps the Bloody-Nine is actually something from the Other Side reaching through Logen into the world?

Juvens and Bedesh, with Kanedias refusing to get involved, raised an army and took the fight to Gludstrod. They were eventually victorious, but in a last moment Gludstrod tried to throw open the gates to the Other Side. He made a grave error and the gathered power was unleashed on the Empire and laid waste to it forever. Such is the fate of the sons of Euz and the Old Empire.

There’s a ton to dig into there as we progress through the series, but let’s talk about the shape changers for a second. Logen makes note of it, remembering the figure of his wife that visited him during their stay in Adua. You’ll remember the next morning Glokta found a mangled body outside the window. And now, Quai is acting different and offering a “sickly grin” when the topic of shape changers is discussed. Is Quai someone in disguise?

Other questions: Is Logen half-devil? Why hasn’t Bayaz admitted as much to him? Was Bayaz around for this war between the sons of Euz? Or did Juvens form his cabal of apprentices later? If Glustrod ate the flesh of men is he the one who perverted Khalul?

Lots of questions! Hopefully, we get some answers soon because I’m freaking excited! The trilogy is hitting its stride now, don’t you think?

Next Week: Back to the North with Major West trying to hold together the Union forces. And then Jezal whining.


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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