The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “The Rest is Wasted Breath” and “A Matter of Time”

Good news reread fans! I have it on good authority that Joe Abercrombie would like to come join us for a reread (and otherwise) Q&A session. Does that sound good? I thought so. It would be quite embarrassing though if I was the only one asking questions, so this is my warning to you! Start preparing your questions in your mind! I am currently working with the production staff here and Mr. Abercrombie himself to find a suitable day and time, but suffice to say it will be soon.

In more immediate news, we have two chapters for your rereading pleasure. “The Gideon Smith amazon buy linkRest is Wasted Breath” features the brief reuniting of Bayaz and Zacharus from Ferro’s point of view. Meanwhile, “A Matter of Time” shows Glokta coming to grips with the soon-to-come victory of the Gurkish and his captured Eater’s proclivities.

“The Rest is Wasted Breath”

Summary: Ferro rides toward Aulcus, with Logen at her side. Despite every effort to the contrary, she’s starting to like him. He does what he says, which is something she finds incredibly rare among men. She finds it hard to reconcile that with the fact he’s dangerous and, apparently, has a death sentence in his homeland. Ferro would fight back, where Logen has learned that fighting gets you nothing but more fighting.

As they ride, a battlefield rises around them, littered with dead bodies so mangled its impossible to know who fought on which side. Appearing from nowhere, Zacharus strides toward them, claiming the dead are the work of Goltus. Here he captured his brother Scario. Even now is on his way to Darmium to end Cabrian’s mad reign. In other words, Goltus will soon be Emperor with no rivals.

Zacharus asks about Khalul, a subject that engenders no amount of vitriol from the First of the Magi. Khalul wishes to conquer. But, Khalul is to the South and Bayaz travels westward. Zacharus tries to deter Bayaz from his course. He offers to come back with Bayaz, to face Khalul at his side with Yulwei, as it was before—the Magi united. Bayaz rejects his offer and points out that the rest of the Magi cannot be reformed. It is the Seed or nothing. Zacharus fears the outcome. He hopes they fail.

Bayaz remarks hope rarely comes to anything.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Leru, Karnault, Anselmi, Brokentooth, Cawneil

Quotes to Remember:

Fighting? Hah! The better you are at it, the worse off it leaves you.

Uh, except… alive? Logen participates in his own denial. He vilifies fighting, and yet it’s entirely responsible for his continued habit of breathing. Is he saying he’d be better off dead? Well, maybe he is, but I doubt he actually believes it. Say one thing about Logen, he survives.

Silence was dull, but it was honest.

I like this line. It says so much about Ferro’s character in such a short sentence.

Analysis: Zacharus! Yay! So much delicious world building in this chapter! So many hints for the future!

First up, Malacus Quai and Zacharus’s reaction to him. The magus asks, how did Bayaz teach Quai to be quiet? It’s been quite a personality shift for the young-man. Bayaz responds that he didn’t, frowning. It’s as though Bayaz hasn’t noticed the change(s) in Quai until another points it out. Odd that.

During Bayaz’s chat with Zacharus it becomes very clear that, even though they never mention it by name, Zacharus knows exactly why they’re traveling to Aulcus. He knows and he doesn’t like it. In offering to take the place of the Seed, Zacharus demonstrates his fear of what Bayaz might do to the world if he goes through with this plan. He asks if Bayaz can do, “what Glustrod, and Kanedeis, and Juvens himself could not?” What role did the Seed play in the fall of these near-gods? Has Bayaz now placed himself on the same level as his masters? It seems so.

In fact, Zacharus goes on to mention that Bayaz, who was once first apprentice, left Juvens for Kanedias to learn his secrets too. Such secrets included Tolomei, the Makers’ daughter, a relationship that we’ve yet to get a clear picture of.

Rejecting Zacharus’s offer, Bayaz rattles off a boatload of information. He denies that Zacharus, Yulwei, and himself would be enough to defeat Khalul and his horde of Eaters. Given how large his army has become, it seems accurate. He asks if Zacharus could produce the rest of their ranks. Cawneil is in perpetual study. Leru has been hidden for centuries. Karnault has gone across the ocean. Ansemli and Brokentooth are dead. How could the Magi ever reunite? Bayaz seeks another path. It’s a path that might destroy everyone on it, and maybe everyone else too. Does anyone else get the impression Bayaz really doesn’t give a shit?

 

“A Matter of Time”

Summary: Breaches appear in the outer walls of Dagoska. Although the defenders are able to repeal the invading force, the erosion of the trench and integrity of the defensive perimeter leaves Glokta short on options for survival. General Vissbruck makes the judgement that survival is impossible if they remain. He urges flight for all the Union nobles and merchants left in the city, the native population be damned.

The only retreat though is to the sea, where Yulwei warned that the Gurkish lay in wait. Not to mention the Arch Lector has been very clear that flight is not an option. They are to hold until they are relieved. Glokta asks Vissbruck where they should go? They would not receive a heroes’ welcome in Adua. Do they flee to far off lands like Suljuk? There is no retreat. He tells Vissbruck to prepare to withdraw to the Upper City, ceding the docks to the Gurkish and cutting off all hope of escape for the Union personnel.

Beneath the palace, Glokta observes his Practicals torturing Shickel, the captured Eater. Even under their most dedicated ministrations, Shickel doesn’t break. In fact, she feels no pain, smiling all through their destruction of her body. She doesn’t even bleed. Although the torture has done nothing to encourage Shickel to talk, she begins when Glokta arrives, choosing to tell her story.

She admits to being an Eater, forced to become one when Khalul’s priests made her eat her mother. Disgusted with herself, she can’t stop. She wishes to die, knows she deserves it. But, she keeps eating because she has to, it’s inevitable like Khalul’s will. Oddly, her self loathing does not get passed on to Khalul. Shickel believes him the voice of God.

Khalul has many Eaters. None are the same, each bestowed different gifts by consuming flesh. Some have strength and speed, others endurance beyond limit, others still the ability to take forms, or trick the eye, or use the Art as Bayaz does. The slaves captured by the Gurkish army are used to feed the Eater host, to keep them strong and create new ones. As she finishes her story, Glokta leaves and orders them to burn Shickel. If she wants to die, Glokta is happy to oblige.

Back outside, Glokta meets with Cosca. The Inquisitor acknowledges the situation they’re in and passes on the order to withdraw into the Upper City at the first sign the Lower City will fall. Cosca asks when they will be reinforced with Union troops. Glokta merely shakes his head. Cosca, much like Vissbruck, suggests withdrawal. The King’s honor won’t allow it, Glokta is saddened to say. Cosca shrugs, happy to do what Glokta asks. It’s all the same to him.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Vitari’s shirt was soaked right through and stuck to her shoulders, furious creases cut into her face. Severard was stripped to the waist, gasping for breath, muffled through his mask, lank hair flapping with sweat. Frost was as wet as if he had stood out in the rain, fat drops running down his pale skin, jaw muscles locked and bulging. The only one in the room who showed no sign of discomfort was Shickel. The girl had an ecstatic smile across her face as Vitari ground the sizzling iron into her chest.

Doesn’t this paragraph really demonstrate how the torture of someone does more damage to the torturer than it does to the tortured? It’s kind of an absurd notion, but it seems to me that even when the victim feels no pain and suffers no lasting damage (assuming she can find a flesh snack), the torturers are exhausted, drained, and wounded. Interesting that.

‘Honour, eh? What the hell is that anyway? Every man thinks it’s something different. You can’t drink it. You can’t fuck it. The more of it you have the less good it does you, and if you’ve got none at all you don’t miss it.’ He shook is head. ‘But some men think it’s the best thing in the world.’

Classic Cosca. It’s, frankly, a bit of a boring quote, insofar as it’s an often repeated axiom in the anti-hero mythos. But, I think it’s well spoken here and speaks to a lot of the sentiments that Abercrombie’s characters embody. Honor, on its own, is as ephemeral and worthless as a pile of rabbit droppings.

Analysis: Most of what’s worth discussing is stated pretty explicitly in the summary. We learn a lot about the Eaters, how they’re made and how their power manifests. I remember speculating some time ago about the difference in power between Yulwei and Bayaz. Odd, isn’t it? Is it possible that the Art itself manifests differently or is the fact that Yulwei is capable of things Bayaz is not implying he has eaten? His powers seem more similar to what we’ve seen from Eaters than what we’ve seen from Bayaz. There’s several explanations here that are possible.

As for the nature of Eaters, I presume there must be some inherent ability to touch the other side required before the consumption of human flesh imbues power. It’s not stated, but it seems reasonable. Without that caveat we’d have random cannibals running around kicking ass. I mean, maybe.

The most interesting discussion going on in the book right now is the back and forth about narrative. Bayaz believes Khalul is a betrayer. Khalul, via Shickel, believes the reverse. She sees Bayaz as a murderer of Juvens, and Khalul as the avenger. Zacharus seems to see it his own way, condoning neither behavior, but seeing Bayaz in the superior moral position, relatively speaking. The truth, insofar as anything of historical record can ever be true, is a complete mystery. Was Juvens betrayed? Were Bayaz and the other Magi right to execute that betrayal? Or was Khalul justified in his response, even in breaking the second law?

Next week: Bayaz’s crew goes all Lethal Weapon and starts showing off their scars. And a certain annoying someone gets what’s coming to him.


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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