The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “Scars” and “Furious”

This week’s chapters hold more stuff than usual, stuffed full of world building in “Scars” and laden with a most intriguing character shift in “Furious.” Remember, this reread does not contain spoilers in the text itself, but I strongly encourage them in the comments. Go nuts.

This week in particular I’d love to see some speculation on Tolomei. What do folks think her story is? Are there any details I’ve missed so far? Educate me rereaders!

 On to this week’s chapters!

Gideon Smith amazon buy link“Scars”

Summary: Ferro gently removes Luthar’s stitches, leaving Logen amazed at the skill of it. He often found himself doing similar work, but never so well. Logen compliments her and asks where she learned. From a man named Aruf, she replies, admitting she had to fuck him first, a fact she didn’t regret as the same man taught her how to kill.

With the wind taken out of his sails, Logen turns to Luthar, who has become much more tractable since the injury. Logen admits the injury isn’t pretty, but it could be far worse. Luthar takes it in stride. Logen appreciates the changes in the boy and wishes he could see similar changes in Ferro who is all too like Black Dow in her desire to walk alone.

Around the fire Logen listens in to Bayaz lecturing Quai about his role as apprentice. Quai asks if Bayaz has never made a mistake, and perhaps Bayaz could relate his mistakes so that Quai might learn from them. Bayaz obliges, recounting the story of his errors with Juvens and Kanedias.

He was Juvens first apprentice, but soon after Juvens took a second—Khalul. From the beginning they argued, too proud and jealous of one another. Juvens took twelve apprentices in all, but after the war with Glustrod things changed. The rivalry became a feud, which became hatred. Had not Juvens interceded and sent them away, Bayaz to the north and Khalul to the south, they would have killed each other. Juvens hoped it would cool their tempers, but it only made it worse and they plotted revenge. Desperate for more power, Bayaz sought another master—Kanedias.

Bayaz’ skill in the High Art was useful to Kanedias, but the Maker was far more jealous of his secrets than Juvens had been. Bitter at what the Maker would not teach him, Bayaz hunted for them on his own, where he found the Maker’s greatest secret—his daughter Tolomei. She was alone, having never spoken to another person. She was created for the task of helping her father handle materials only his blood could touch. She was beautiful too and Bayaz fell in love.

She told him the Maker’s plan. He had gathered items from far and wide, fragments from the world below, left over from the time of demons. He wanted to tap that power and fold it into his machines. He was breaking the First Law and found some success. After the ruin of Glustrod, Bayaz felt compelled to stop him. He resolved to tell Juven, but fear for Tolomei delayed him. The Maker found them together and Bayaz barely escaped with his life. He fled to Juvens.

Juvens would not turn him away despite his betrayal. Kanedias followed and the brothers fought. When Bayaz returned, Juvens was dead. Swearing vengeance, Bayaz gathered the Magi from across the world and made war on the Maker. All of them, but Khalul.

His story done, Bayaz pulls down his robe and shows a scar across his neck, where the Maker nearly claimed his life. It pains him still. Longfoot, never one to pass up a chance to talk, shows a scar of his own where a fish had him for a snack. Luthar scoffs and seems sure Logen has worse yet.

Hesitant to tell his story, Logen tries to demure, but realizes he cannot. He tells them how he lost his finger outside Carleon. He remembers how a boulder was dropped on him at the siege of Uffrith and how Harding Grim put a spear through his gut, which he didn’t realize until the fight was done. Logen remembers many times in his life where he can’t recall what happened in a fight. When he was fourteen it happened for the first time. A friend hit him and then Logen was looking at his hands. A dead friend sat at his feet. Years later he tried to stab his father while they were eating. He had no idea why. Bethod found him soon after.

The others around the fire find Logen’s revelations disturbing, but Ferro silences them. Bayaz asks about her scars. Ferro tells her story openly. She was sold to a man called Susman at twelve years old. He trained girls and then sold them at a profit. She was there two years before she stole a knife and cut herself right to the bone. She cut her price down a quarter before he took the blade away.

Silence descends over camp.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

He was getting on alright with Luthar now. It was a harsh lesson, but a broken face had done that boy a power of good. It had taught him some respect, and a lot quicker than any amount of talk. It had taught him to be realistic, and that had to be a good thing.

Will it last? I have my suspicions.

I loved to sit at the top of the fire, to look at men and see their fear, to have no man dare to meet my eye, but it got worse. And worse.

This is chilling. I think our cuddly Logen had a lot more Black Dow in him than anyone would like to admit.

Analysis: Holy info-dump, Batman! Allow me to reenact this entire chapter for you.

Bayaz: Stop being a dick, Quai.

Quai: Why don’t you tell me how you stopped being a dick in way more detail than anyone would offer based on my casual question?

Bayaz: You bet I will!

Logen: Can I tell you how I used to be a dick too?

Bayaz/Quai: Yay!

Ferro: Shut up. All of you.

In other words, this is a pretty silly chapter from a writing perspective. It’s “as you know Bob” covered up with Lethal Weapon scar one-upsmanship.

However, it’s also a hugely important chapter for the world building and what Abercrombie will ultimately try to do with his plot. We learn, in no particular order, that Quai is changing and Bayaz sees it, Luther has stopped being an ass, Logen has been going into blind rages for decades, Bayaz ditched Juvens for the Maker, then ditched the Maker for Juvens, and got them both killed. We still have no idea what happened to Tolomei.

What did we learn here that’s actually new?

First, Logen has been suffering rages since he was fourteen. It happened throughout his teenage years and got worse when he went to work for Bethod. This is probably the strongest “evidence” we’ve seen that Logen’s other personality is more likely a mental health issue than demonic possession. I wish it weren’t so. I very much want it to be demonic possession. I’m not sure why.

Second, Tolomei was born to carry/hold/manipulate things from the world below. Sounds an awful lot like Ferro doesn’t it? Is Ferro a descendent of Tolomei? The Maker? Or just some demon spawn a hundred times removed? I’m not sure it really matters, but it’s clear to me that Ferro is being used in the same way Tolomei once was. She’s going to carry the Seed. What role did Tolomei and the Maker play with the Seed? More to come, I’m sure.

 

“Furious”

Summary: Colonel West is freezing. The unrelenting weather of the North, combined with the pace set by Threetrees, is making him crazy. Pike approaches West, confiding in him that the Northmen are making decisions without them. Again. Barely able to stand, West struggles over to the huddle. Before he can demand anything, Threetrees steps away from the group and informs West that Dogman has spotted Bethod’s scouts—a dozen of them.

West prefers to go around them, but the Northmen make the decision to fight. The weapons, food, and gear of a dozen men will go far in helping them survive the days ahead. Everyone will fight except Cathil and Ladisla, the latter at the request of West who cannot put the Prince at risk. Of course, everyone knows he’d just get in the way.

Threetrees lays out the plan. West is assigned to Black Dow. Fear seeping into his gut, West stumbles after Dow, barely able to draw his sword and hold it. Combined with the cold, West’s fear overwhelms him, making his teeth chatter. Dow won’t have it. He slaps West again and again, screaming at him, “Use it!” As West begins to rage at Dow’s treatment the signal is given and both of them are off like a shot.

In the heat of battle, West kills. When a man grabs him, trying to squeeze the life from him, West bites his nose, ripping and tearing at his attacker’s face. When the battle ends, West is covered in blood and the Northmen name him. Furious. Coming back to himself, the Colonel remembers the Prince and sprints to where they left him.

West hears a woman’s scream and fears he’s too late. As he breaks into the open area atop the cliff he sees Ladisla pinning Cathil to the ground, her trousers around her ankles. Without any rage, just a cold calculating will, West throws Ladisla off the cliff to his death. Black Dow claps him the on shoulder and says, “I’m getting to like you, boy.”

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘You would be a great asset, your Highness, but I am afraid it is quite out of the question. You are the hair to the throne. We cannot afford to put you in harm’s way.’

Hard to imagine West goes from that, to this…

Monster he might be, but, out here in the frozen wilderness of Angland, the rules were different. Monsters were in the majority.

Welcome to the Dark Side, West. Or rather, welcome to embracing the Dark Side that we knew was under the surface all along. The Good Man… right?

Analysis: So completes the emotional journey of Colonel Collem West. Our once “Good Man” is now a hardened Named Man of the North. Furious is his name, given to him by Black Dow after chewing off a man’s face and beating his head into the ground. And, after returning to camp and murdering would be rapist Ladisla, Black Dow congratulates him and offers his approval.

What to make of that? Do we credit West for killing the would-be-rapist Prince? Or do we condemn him for failing to do his duty?

I think it’s absolutely fascinating how Abercrombie handles this scene. Most fantasists would lionize the moment. The evil Prince is slain by his once protector for finally going too far in his madness. Ladisla tries to force himself onto an unwilling woman. West is the righteous angel of death. But, rather than allowing Cathil to thank him (she’s stunned), Abercrombie has the blackest of the black condone the action, immediately calling it into question with the reader as to whether or not West did the right thing. We are simultaneously emboldened and horrified by the same act. After the previous chapter which I found so clumsily constructed, what Abercrombie accomplishes in “Furious” is nothing short of a master piece of writing.

Where does West go from here? Can he return to the army? Will Cathil and the Northmen protect his secret? Collem West is in for some serious life changes it seems.

Next Week: Glokta and Vitari bump heads and Bayaz and crew get closer to their goal. Stay tuned.


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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