The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “Luck” and “Beneath the Ruins”

This week’s chapters are mostly action. Bayaz and the gang being attacked by the Shanka to be precise. They get separated. Bayaz does some magic. Jezal feels better about his messed up body. Quai and Longfoot are afterthoughts. However…

It’s also foreplay. Trust me. As you read these two chapters pay special attention to how Logen and Ferro interact with one another. I won’t be discussing it much in my analysis, but it’s there. It should be observed as we move into the more intimate portion of the pair’s relationship. I say intimate, but if this is actually a reread you know that intimacy is something a little foreign to Ferro and Logen.


Summary: Logen prods Jezal awake. The nobleman struggles to take control of his injured body as he comes to awareness but eventually he stands. For the first time in his life, Jezal relishes the simple pleasures of simply standing on his own feet. Logen assures him the feeling won’t last. Jezal is sure it will. Logen asks him to come see something. At the window, spread out before them, Aulcus sparkles in the morning light. Brother Longfoot calls it the most beautiful site he’s ever seen. Ferro finds it a useless bunch of buildings and demands they get moving.

Later in the morning they come upon a square, filled with statues whose faces have been scrubbed and their torsos defaced with scrawled messages. Bayaz describes they were once statutes of Juvens, but Glustrod destroyed them in his anger and wrote curses on them. The Magi guides them further on to a massive domed structure, the Imperial Senate of Aulcus. A place of memory for him, Bayaz recounts several conflicts that occurred here.

As they explore Jezal smells something, a rankness of rot. Logen smells it too and rips his sword from its scabbard, recognizing the stink of the Shanka. A flathead leaps from the shadows and flees deeper in the building. Logen, knowing where there is one there is many, demands flight.

Reunited with the group outside, Ferro scoffs at their situation. Fools make their own luck. As they ride she sees the Shanka emerging from the shadows. Sending an arrow into any of them is pointless. Their numbers are too great. Suddenly Logen is falling, a spear protruding from his horse. About to be overwhelmed, Bayaz reaches to the other side and does something that rends the stone around them.

As the earth rumbles, Logen and Ferro cling to one another. When it ends, they are inside a rent in the earth, centimeters from falling to their death. Jezal, not quite dead yet, tries to pull them to safety with the length of his jacket, but it tears, sending Logen and Ferro both into the pit. This is not how stories are supposed to end, Jezal thinks.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Character (re)Introduced: Shanka!

Quotes to Remember:

‘There can be a greater power in words than in all the steel within the Circle of the World.’

‘A blade in your ear still hurts more than a word in it, though.’

Bayaz says the first and Logen responds. Both are true. I’m a sucker for playing with the pen is mightier than the sword cliché. I suppose its a relic of the fact that I write a lot and like to pretend it has some measure of significance.

There was no such thing as luck. Luck was a word idiots used to explain the consequences of their own rashness, and selfishness, and stupidity. More often than not bad luck meant bad plans.

Ferro is being awful practical here, right? Later on in the chapter she says, ’Have to be realistic.’ I think our Northern lug is wearing off on her a bit.

Analysis: There goes Bayaz again, rippling and shimmering the air around him. This time though we have no idea what he actually did, right? The section is written without a lot of clarity. Did he tear down the columns and throw stone at the Shanka? Did he widen the hole in the earth? Did he make it rain stone chips? Or did he just make the earth shake and let the ruins do the rest? It’s very unclear and it bugs me. I want to know what happened!

Prior to that though is the most intriguing part of the chapter—Bayaz remembering the actions of the Aulcus’ Senate. It’s doesn’t pique the interest because of the facts so much as how Bayaz reacts. He seems genuinely alive. I find that Bayaz seems more vivid when he’s remembering the past, as though the current world is somehow diminished. Or perhaps, Bayaz is diminished from what he once was. What do we think about that?


“Beneath the Ruins”

Summary: Logen and Ferro come to far beneath where the fell. A ledge of the temple beneath the upper city arrested their fall before they plunging into the chasm’s depths. A little worse for wear, Logen follows Ferro at her urging into the dark. Although Logen cannot see and fears it, Ferro seems unconcerned. The fear only grows for Logen and he finds himself holding her hand, a fact that his old crew would find rather funny.

The darkness slowly eases and Logen can see again. He’s greeted with the sight of three Shanka around a fire, eating human remains. They realize that the bodies are actually the ancient residents of Aulcus, who do not rot due to some trick of Glustrod’s magic. Ferro takes them down with her bow with accuracy that stuns Logen. Now dead, Ferro retrieves her arrows and asks Logen what the Shanka are. He explains they are a creation of Kanedias.

Later they come across a massive cavern, lit by hundreds of fires and molten crucibles of metal. The space is full of Shanka, working at the forges. Logen compares it to walking into the forge of hell. Perhaps Glustrod opened a gate to hell after all. Before Logen can stop himself his breathing changes. His rage grows. He orders Ferro behind him. And then there is nothing but the Bloody-Nine.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Now that his hand was gone she almost missed it.

I mentioned above I wasn’t going to go into much detail on the burgeoning relationship between Ferro and Logen, but here’s a hint. Logen has long expressed a non romantic interest in improving his relationship with Ferro. She’s been unwilling until now. Is that thawing? It seems so.

The Shanka might be ever so full of mad fury, but even they had to fear him. Everything did. Even the dead, who felt no pain. Even the cold stone, which did not dream. Even the molten iron feared the Bloody-Nine. Even the darkness.

For some reason quotes about the Bloody-Nine just make me pump my fist.

Analysis: One of the things I love most about Logen is how honest he is about his fear. He doesn’t just feel it, but he shows it and he’s seemingly comfortable with it. How often do we let men show emotion in hero fantasies? Particularly, when those emotions are often a sign of weakness in modern western culture. I don’t feel like it happens very often.

Although Logen is in many ways the stereotypical bad ass of cartoonish proportions he’s also this other thing. Much of that is reflected in his split personality. Here we see the Bloody-Nine again get loose and reign terror. And once again, he’s barely able to restrain himself from killing Ferro. Or, perhaps more true, she gets lucky that Logen’s rage peters out before he can get his hands on her.

Did anyone else catch the scene where Abercrombie is describing the Shanka’s pit? Doesn’t it remind you an awful lot of the scenes from the Orcs in Lord of the Rings or the Trollocs in Wheel of Time? It’s fascinating to watch Abercrombie play to those expectations and undermine them. The Shanka are not a prominent villain by any means despite this brief scuffle. I still have no idea what their end game is six books through the Circle of the World. Anyone have a better idea?

Next Week: *cue Marvin Gay* Let’s get it on….

Justin Landon runs Staffer’s Book Review, where his posts are less on-color. Find him onTwitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.


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