The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “Small Crimes” and “Rain”

There seems to be some debate in the comments the last few weeks about whether or not Logen is a devil, or half-devil, or whatever. I’m not really convinced either way. However, there’s no question Logen is capable of touching the Other Side. He talks to spirits. This is magical. All magic comes from the Other Side, per Bayaz. Bayaz also demonstrates the First Law is inherently a contradiction as all magic involves touching the Other Side. I don’t believe the spirits are demons, but they’re not benign either. As for whether that makes Logen part-devil, well…

Euz was half-devil. One of his sons received inherited a gift from him to talk to spirits. We aren’t aware of anyone else in the world who can talk to spirits. Thus, it’s at least a reasonable inference that Logen has inherited something from Euz. Can he carry the seed like Ferro? Maybe not. But, he’s something more than human and I don’t really think it’s terribly debatable.

“Small Crimes”

Summary: Colonel West and Crown Prince Ladisla inspect the men of their detachment. Although the Prince finds them fit and ready, West sees a stark contrast between the King’s Own and the levies from the countryside who are ‘too ill or too old for marching, let alone battle.’ The Prince’s delusions seem to know no limits.

The subject turns to West’s own history as a war hero and his association with the surely deceased Sand dan Glokta. West informs the Prince that Glokta is not dead, but rather otherwise disposed in the Inquisitions, and that war is an altogether troublesome business. West manages to make his escape and runs into Jalenhorm, his old buddy from Adua. Jalenhorm informs him of the dire lack of blacksmiths in the camp. West resolves to fix the problem by press ganging a bunch of criminals from a nearby prison.

At the prison, run by the Inquisition, West demands prisoners be put into his care for the benefit of the army. The Inquisitor resists, but eventually caves to West’s demands. He does not, however, allow West to condemn him for the condition of his camp. Prisons serve a purpose, regardless of how cruel imprisonment may be, it is the Inquisition who provides, not West and his lofty ideals.

The first to step forward to volunteer is Pike, a half burned gristle of a man who identifies other capable smiths. He asks that his daughter be taken as well. Her name is Cathil, and she speaks well, with a gaze that reminds the Colonel of his sister and the guilt he carries with him. Unhappy with the girl’s selection, the Inquisitor makes threats that Colonel West may find this situation soon reversed.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Pike, Cathil

Quotes to Remember:

The Crown Prince and the real world, as Lord Marshal Burr had observed, were entire strangers to one another.

We’ve already observed this phenomenon quite a bit, but it’s really stark in this chapter. Ladisla declares Glokta’s death. West corrects him. They discuss it, briefly. And then, before they part ways, Ladisla laments Glokta’s death again. Bizarre and scary for a man leading an army.

‘No one likes to shake hands with the man who empties the latrine pits either, but pits have to be emptied all the same. Otherwise the world fills up with shit. You can have your dozen smiths, but don’t try to take the high ground with me. There is no high ground here.’

Abercrombie loves these little moralistic back and forths. Thrown into this chapter between a nobody character and West, it’s a great example of the axiom that nothing in life is absolutely one thing. It all depends on where you’re sitting.

Analysis: Collem West is one screwed up dude. He sure seems normal at first, doesn’t he? But after all that stuff with Ardee, and watching him get maneuvered into taking Calith with him, it’s pretty clear he’s got some serious issues with women. Hilarious looking back and realizing the first time we’re introduced to West the chapter title was “The Good Man.”

And yet, at the same time, isn’t he still the good man? He’s the voice of reason in an army gone mad. He’s a commoner trying to survive in a world of the aristocracy. He’s a good friend and a reliable soldier. The conflicts! This is why the conversation between him and Inquisitor Lorsen is so cool, right? Because it speaks to the very nature of West’s character. Is Lorsen a horrible human being because he runs a forced labor camp? Or is he a good person because he manages to keep these people alive in a world they’d otherwise have been summarily killed?

It’s really clear that Pike and Calith are going to be important. West’s reaction to the woman is pretty creepy when you read through it and understand where West is coming form as a character. He responds, actually, in a way not dissimilar from Jezal. He recognizes her educated accent. Her figure. Her similarities to Ardee. Her lifeless eyes. He wants to rescue her, to take her away from her horrible life. Sound familiar?


Summary: Jezal doesn’t like the rain. He’s upset that his stylish choice of coat turns out to be useless at keeping him dry. He hates that there are no women scurrying for shelter with clothes clinging to their skin. In other words, Bayaz’s excursion into the Old Empire is miserable. Expressing his concerns to Bayaz results in another lecture about the nature of leadership. Great leaders don’t complain, yadda-yadda.

Meanwhile Logen laughs at the rain. Stripped to his skivvies, he seems to enjoy the cleansing downpour. Jezal insults the Northman under his breath, and Quai lectures him on the Bloody-Nine’s history. Then Quai suggests Jezal is a worthless sack of… well, you know. Rather than continuing to argue, he thinks of Ardee.

Finally the rain stops as the group comes across a smattering of corpses, recent by Ferro’s examination. Jezal’s gorge rises and his puke covers the ground. Logen treats his weakness kindly, which only makes it worse as far as Jezal is concerned.

Bayaz announces that rather than continue on Darmium, they’ll divert and cross the river Aos at another junction. Longfoot is puzzled at the limited options for a crossing. Bayaz declares they’re going to Aulcus. No one is amused.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

If he was told to be realistic one more time he would stab Ninefingers with his short steel.

This is Abercrombie being self aware about how often he uses this phrase. I love it. People use the same phrase constantly in actual dialogue. Mark Lawrence has a character in his books that does this too. In the public speaking biz we call these “comfort phrases.” Big fan of how Abercrombie uses them.

She looks like a mean-tempered cat dunked unexpectedly in a pond, its body suddenly seeming a quarter of the size it had been, stripped of all its air of menace.

Just a fun image, right?

Analysis: I’m not sure how many more chapters I need of Jezal complaining before I reach into the page and stab him myself. Maybe one or two more. Seriously. As I was reading “Rain” I kept hoping he would melt like the Wicked Witch and then Logen and Quai and Ferro would prance around his puddle chanting the little punk is dead. I need someone to illustrate this for me. Any takers? I may need to get A.R.R.R. Roberts to write a First Law parody and this can be the cover.

Anyway, there are really only two items to discuss in this chapter. First, Quai acts really different. Up until now Quai has been acting withdrawn and sickly, but we haven’t witnessed a total personality change. Now, I think, we have. Quai confidently tells Jezal off. He threatens him. Add that to the subtle hints at a possible shapechangers on the gameboard and the evidence is mounting that something is rotten in the State of Quai-mark.

Second, it turns out Bayaz never had any intention of crossing the river Aos at any other location the Aulcus. You may recall that Aulcus is the location of the nuclear occult bomb that Glustrod set off in Juvens’ empire. It’s a wasteland, a poisoned landscape that has been left untouched since the war between the sons of Euz. Not only does Bayaz not want to avoid it, he wants to spend some time there!


Next Week: Back on the road again with Black Dow’s smiling face.

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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