The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “One Hundred Words” and “The Blind Lead the Blind”

Fans of Joe Abercrombie can rejoice by listening to his interview on the Tor.com podcast this week. I had a nice chat with him on Rocket Talk, covering a host of issues from his new novel Half a King, to the World Cup, to whether or not Logen Ninefingers is half-devil or crazy. I hope you’ll check it out. If not, well, Abercrombie will write the death of many characters with your lack of listening in mind. He’s remorseless.

You know who else isn’t remorseless? The characters in the First Law Trilogy. Sure, they do bad things, but they feel really bad about it mostly. Not like the author, not at all. Onward…

“One Hundred Words”

Summary: Glokta dreams his colleagues in Dagoska are eating him one piece at a time. He wakes to a presence in the room. Illuminated by the lightning outside, Glokta sees an old black man with long hair. The man is Yulwei.

Wondering how the man got in, Glokta blanches at Yulwei’s claim to be a magus and fourth of Juvens’ twelve apprentices. He brings news of the Gurkish troops. The Emperor has put together a host as large as any the world has seen. And he has a navy, upsetting the balance of power that Union has exploited to survive. Behind it all marches Mamun, first apprentice of Khalul, with the Hundred Words, Eaters bred for this purpose.

Skepticism is deeply ingrained the in the Inquisitor. Yulwei continues by declaring there is an Eater in Dagoska who has already killed one Superior to protect the identity of the traitor. Yulwei disappears without another word. He is proved right the next morning when five banners arrive at the Dagoskan gates ready for war. Seeing Yulwei in a different light, Glokta orders a wall built at the docks.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘I have been watching the Gurkish, as I have these many years. That is my allotted task. My penance, for the part I played in the schism that has split my order.’

Schism. Do we know what the schism is? I can’t remember! I suspect it has something to do with the Eaters. If so, given the opening dream in the chapter, is it possible that Yulwei was once an Eater? We’ve seen him fight and his powers are more similar to the Eaters than the things we’ve seen Bayaz do.

‘The world changes, and you must change with it or be swept aside.’

Just a good quote. One of the short truisms that Abercrombie loves to pepper his dialogue with.

Analysis: Lordie! The dream sequence that opens this chapter is disgusting. Stomach churning actually. Then the last line, ‘just a little to the left…’ Was that really necessary? Yuck. And ouch. When Glokta wakes up and finds Yulwei in his room, I feel like it’s a little too coincidental. Is it an overt comment on Yulwei being an Eater or a premonition that an Eater is present? I don’t know!

Regardless, Yulwei’s presence reveals an Eater is at work in Dagoska. Given that we are aware of shape changing, it really could be anyone, right? Suspects? If Abercrombie were into foreshadowing it would be one of the council that ate a piece of Glokta during the dream. Given that, my favorite candidate is Vissbruck. The others seem too easy. Vissbruck isn’t threatening or really even combative, but he’s the General. What do you think?

“The Blind Lead the Blind”

Summary: Bayaz, first of the Magi, lies unconscious, wedged between a water barrel and a sack of horse feed on the back of a wagon. Logen wonders at his condition. Quai explains that using the Art is always a risk, and Bayaz will recover… probably.

Although he has no wish to lead, knowing such decisions usually result in death, Logen steps up and offers some direction to the wayward party. He insists they continue on to Aulcus as Bayaz wanted. Longfoot tries to dissuade him, but Logen insists. Ferro and Jezal give him surprising little resistance, accepting his leadership casually.

They head to the bridge in Aulcus, with Bayaz in tow.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘Just think,’ whispered the apprentices. ‘The First of the Magi himself, helpless as a baby.’ He laid his hand gently on Bayaz’s chest. ‘He clings on to life by a thread. I could reach out now, with this weak hand… and kill him.’

Quai continues his descent into not-wussy-apprentice. Quai’s whole demeanor in this chapter is bordering on scary. He overtly threatens Bayaz’ life here, but then essentially tells Logen he cannot even consider turning back.

‘Course. Doing better next time. That’s what life is.’

Truism!

Analysis: Easily one of the shortest chapters in the book, “The Blind Lead the Blind” begins Logen’s ascent to a leadership position with his new crew. He rebels against the role, remembering how “Men had put their faith in him, and he’d led them by a painful and a bloody route straight back to the mud.” It’s an interesting character reflection reinforced by his chat with Jezal at the end of the chapter.

Jezal laments in inability to fight, to which Logen points out that killing should never be easy. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for Logen. When he says life is about doing better next time, I can’t help but think he’s saying it to himself as much as to Jezal. Where Jezal hopes to fight better next time, Logen hopes to fight never again.

That aside, the most interesting piece in this chapter is a single paragraph from Quai about Bayaz’ condition. It’s a brief comment, but confirms that using the Art requires touching the Other Side. Using the Art is inherently risky, as when you touch the world below you leave a piece of yourself behind. Perhaps this explains why Bayaz chooses to use his power infrequently. Also, you’ll remember that before Yulwei left Ferro in Bayaz’ hands, he warned the First of the Magi not to overuse his power. He warned that using the Art has Bayaz does risks too a high price. Interesting…

Regardless, Quai’s attitude is getting weird.

Next Week: West gets a little frisky. Glokta gets to negotiate the Gurkish Emperor.


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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