The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “No Good for Each Other” and “The Hero’s Welcome”

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived. Ferro and Logen get horizontal. If this surprises any first time readers it’s because there’s been almost nothing to suggest such a thing might happen. Our lovers aren’t exactly the flirtatious sort. In fact, they seem to mostly hate one another.

So in “No Good for Each Other” something happens we never expected to, while in “The Hero’s Welcome” the thing we expect to happen comes to naught. It’s like bizarro narrative!

Fair warning: onomatopoetic sex quotes to follow.

“No Good for Each Other”

Summary: Inside a channel of some kind, Logen and Ferro claw their way to freedom. Logen wants to stop, but Ferro pushes them on. He asks her what he did back there, in the under city. She says he did what he had to. He got them through. Nothing else matters.

When darkness entire falls, Ferro stops them in a ruin. Logen can hear her teeth chattering and peels off his filthy coat, offering her its warmth. She’s reluctant to accept his help, but takes it with thanks. He returns her thanks with his own for her help in the tunnels, guiding them out. Her response catches him off guard when she asks if he’d like to fuck.

Surprised by her offer, Logen sputters. But, before Ferro can rescind it, he recovers and suggests they get a little closer given that his equipment only reaches so far. Over the next few minutes they find uses for their hands, mouths, and other bits. Logen finishes prematurely, leaving Ferro a tad frustrated by the experience. Logen soon recovers though and makes an offer of his own for another round of horizontal boogieing.

The next morning Ferro wakes up with Logen’s arm around her. Not knowing where she is or what has her trapped she lashes out, cracking the Northman in the mouth with an elbow. Hurt, both physically and emotionally, Logen withdraws in kind. Ferro’s reaction is no better and the tenderness of the previous night is replaced by bitterness in equal measure.

Back at camp, Jezal waits with Bayaz, Quai, and Longfoot, wondering if Ferro and Logen survived. He finds it unlikely, an opinion shared by everyone but Bayaz. Perhaps the old man only assumes their survival because without it his plans are ruined. When Quai spots the duo in the distance, very much alive, Jezal finds himself grinning. Even with their differences he finds a kinship has developed, leaving his old friendships back in Adua pale in comparison.

Reunited, Bayaz puts them back on task. With a couple of their horses dead after the Shanka encounter, Logen rides on the cart beside Bayaz. Rather than ride double with Jezal, or cozy up with Logen on the cart, Ferro elects to walk. Not all is rosy in Aulcus.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Logen’s er… you know.

Quotes to Remember:

They were pressed against each other in the narrow space and she heard him grunting with effort, hear the rushing of her own breath, felt the ancient metal beginning to bend, squealing softly.

Stunningly, this sentence is well before Logen and Ferro have sex. It describes them tearing an old grate open to escape a tunnel. However, look at the words Abercrombie chooses. He’s almost sensualizing the moment. It’s great foreshadowing.

‘Ah.’

‘Urrrr.’

‘Ah.’

‘Urrrr.’

‘Ah—’

‘What?’

‘Er…’

‘You’re joking!’

‘Well…’

Joe Abercrombie sex scene, ladies and gentlemen!

Analysis: Joe Abercrombie does sex and intimacy, just like he does everything else, with a sense of absurdist honesty. By that I mean he portrays the most honest possible sex scene he can imagine. Ferro blurts out the proposition. Does someone with her experiences know any other way? Logen is freaked out by it. He hasn’t been intimate with someone in decades (?). She’s offended by his freak out, but they both manage to overcome their emotions because well… horny and/or craving some physical closeness with someone. Logen makes jokes that aren’t funny. They can’t get each other’s’ clothes off.

Then, they actually do the sex and Abercrombie doesn’t shy away from the fact that they’re filthy, greasy, and ripe. He actually describes the way their skin sticks together and peels apart. There is nothing glamorous or sexy about this liaison. And then, to top it all off, it ends after a mere handful of grunts. Once it’s over, the walls come back up and Ferro shuts Logen out. But, to quote… “The one advantage of having a long time without—the bucket fills up again quick.”

While these comedies of errors are ongoing it’s easy to overlook what’s actually happening to Ferro and Logen. Both of them have reached a breaking point in their lives. They are desperate to connect with someone. They’ve lived so long inside their own heads, without someone who understands them. Logen asks Ferro what he did as the Bloody-Nine and she simply says he “got them through.” She finds him the first person she can rely on to get her back in forever. And she’s the first to accept Logen for what he is, a brutish, violent, and oddly tender man.

It hurts to read at times, especially when after making the connection they fall back into old patterns, unable to grasp even a moment of happiness. These are the gut punch moments of the First Law Trilogy. Our characters want to change, but can they? Can anyone?

 

“The Hero’s Welcome”

Summary: Back in Adua, drenched with rain, Glokta pays a visit to Ardee West, prioritizing his promise to his (only) friend Collem West above his duties to the Inquisition. With no answer to his knocks at the West household, Glokta enters to finds the apartments devoid of property. Walking from room to room he finds nothing and no one, excepting Ardee sitting at a window in a simple dress.

Glokta asks what’s happened and Ardee recounts a tale of her father’s debts and a man named Fallow who came to collect on them. Glokta insists she come to his home for the night, but that tomorrow all will be returned to its former state. As Ardee heads to the street, Glokta motions Frost over and orders him to find Fallow and educate him on how to rectify the wrong.

With the first task of the day complete, Glokta heads to the House of Questions and his meeting with Arch Lector Sult. Having expected an angry, if not deadly, reception, Glokta is surprised to find Sult pleased with his work in Dagoska. In fact, Sult praises the Inquisitor’s work as his finest yet. Of course Dagoska was going to fall, but in delaying the inevitable for months, Sult was able to erode the Closed Council’s confidence in High Justice Marovia and increase the same in himself. Not to mention that word of Eider’s treachery has given Sult leave to dissolve the Guild of Spicers, adding their trade rights to the Inquisition’s holdings along with those previously confiscated from the Mercers. Sult sends Glokta home with his thanks.

Back at home, Glokta gives Ardee a chance to pay Fallow back for his aggressive debt collecting. She takes the opportunity to kick his face in, but is not willing to go so far as to have Glokta order his death. When they’re alone, Glokta asks after Collem. Ardee informs him that her brother was with Prince Ladisla when he was killed and is presumed dead himself.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Fallow

Quotes to Remember:

Except for the damn peasants making a nuisance of themselves, and Angland of course.

Lots of hints at future plot lines in this chapter. See next quote.

‘Raynault seems to be a different kind of a man. Sober, sensible. Do as he’s bloody told. Better all round. Providing he doesn’t go and get himself killed, of course, we’d be in a pickle then.’

I mean, it really doesn’t get much clearer, right? The royal line of the Union is in some trouble. There’s unrest in the countryside. They’re fighting a two front war. We’ve got a real powder keg on our hands.

Analysis: Once again we expect something, and it goes the other way. Last week I felt like the narrative shape demanded that Glokta return to Dagoska to save the day, but this week we learn that was never the point. Sult was playing a game of thrones (lulz) back in Adua and Glokta’s defense of Dagoska was a pawn. Where we thought Glokta failed, he succeeded beyond any expectation. It begs the question as to whether or not the central conflict of the novel is happening off screen entirely.

Is the political situation in the Union driving all the action? Think about it for a minute. We’ve got a two front war. Unrest in the countryside. A decrepyt king, a dead heir, and a younger son that everyone loves but is eminently easy to manipulate. Isn’t it likely that this is what’s informing all of the decisions that Bayaz is undertaking? This weakness is why Khalul and Bethod see opportunity. If Bethod wasn’t moving on the Union, would Bayaz even care about the Seed? I’m terribly curious about how the peasant uprising will play into things. It seems too juicy of a plot thread to fall by the wayside.

As for Ardee, doesn’t it seem that she and Glokta are kindred spirits? They both feel cast off by society. Glokta because of his disabilities. Ardee because she’s a woman without title or family to support her. Also, her willingness to do violence, to seek physical recompense for her treatment, seems quite in line with the ease at which Glokta repays his torture in kind. Is there romance in the future here? Given how honest Abercrombie has been with Ferro and Logen’s burgeoning love story, I can only imagine how screwed up and co-dependent an Ardee/Glokta pairing would be.

Next Week: Back to the North where rumors of Collem West’s demise have been greatly exaggerated!


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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