The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “Cold Comfort” and “The High Places”

Once Joe Abercrombie decided it was time for the sex he didn’t bandy about. He jumped right in. We saw this last week with the most deliciously awkward sex scene I’ve ever read. Naturally, once wasn’t enough, and this week’s chapters give us a sex scene each! It’s like we’re living in Van Nuys.

Where Logen and Ferro had their moment in private, the scenes this week are voyeuristic. Does that change things?

“Cold Comfort”

Summary: After weeks of trudging through the icy north, staying just ahead of Bethod’s forces, Colonel West, Dogman, and the rest, reach their goal. They find the main army’s camp. Figuring it would be a bad idea for a bunch of Northmen to trudge through camp, it’s agreed that West should be the one to find Marshall Burr. 

Skeptical of his appearance, which West knows to be ragged and savage looking, the pickets relent. Inside Burr’s tent, West now bathed and shaved, brings the grateful commander up to speed. Bethod’s forces will be there shortly. Burr takes the news with relief—finally some reliable intelligence. Since West and Lasisla took off, the generals have become increasingly intractable. West introduces “Seargent Pike” to the Marshall, claiming him as a member of the King’s Own. Burr accepts the story without question, all but awarding the man a medal. As they leave the Marshall’s tent pike swears himself to West. He is the Colonel’s man for life.

Standing outside his friends’ tent, West wonders how he’s changed. Is he still one of them or something else? Inside he finds Janelhorm alive. All of them seem more subdued than they once were. The talk turns to Luthar and his way with women. West thinks of Cathil. He realizes this isn’t where he needs to be and dashes out to find the woman for whom he killed his Prince.

At the Northmen’s camp things are not much different. Tul Duru is singing the tunes of the truly drunk. Threetrees struggles to stand upright. Dow is almost jovial. Dogman is nowhere to be seen. West asks after Cathil and is directed up the hill. Following the directions, West hears grunting and rustling. Fearing an animal he creeps closer where he finds Cathil and the Dogman mid-coitus. 

Equal parts hurt, angry, and aroused, West stumbles back as Dogman shouts after him thinking Dow has come for a peek.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Non-Logen grunting.

Quotes to Remember:

A hard man gazed back at him from the glass, and would not go away.

Doesn’t this seem very West? He doesn’t want to be the man he is. He wants to see something else in the mirror. He’s not deluding himself. Or is he? West feels fragile to me even when he looks hard. He seems ready to crack.

War killed a lot men, it seemed. But it gave a few a second chance.

This can be read a lot of ways. Is it by chance these people get second chances, or does war give the darkest souls a chance while the innocent are scythed?

Analysis: There’s a real charm to West’s encounter with the two camps—his old mates and his new. Not so different are they? The Union sit around playing cards, getting drunk, joking about women and war, while the Northerners sit around getting shitty drunk, singing badly, and actually fooling around with women. The camaraderie can almost be entirely transposed. We are not all so different in the end. 

And West is the link between them to show it. Do we really think anything about his time with the Northmen changed his nature? I don’t. The hard man he sees in the mirror was always there. He fled from battle once, leaving Glokta to martyr himself. He killed Ladisla because he was a buffoon slowing them down. I can’t see him any other way. He superbly self absorbed. He beats his sister because she doesn’t so what she’s told. All the evidence points to Collem West as Furious in truth, not a model officer in the King’s Own.

As for our second sex scene, Dogman and Cathil pair off. We get some solid “uh-uh-ing”, but overall it’s pretty tame. This notion of voyeurism though is intriguing as West’s reaction is so mixed. He has no context. Has Cathil resumed her activities as a paid companion or have she and Dogman found a connection? What will West assume?

Oh. And I guess Burr’s reaction is important too. He’s almost as eager to bring Bethod’s to battle as Ladisla was. I’m sure his indigestion is nothing big….suuuure.


“The High Places”

Summary: The end of the journey seems near to Jezal as they reach the foot of the Broken Mountains. Weeks of watching the mountains grow on the horizon is vindicated now as Bayaz as orders them to cut the horses loose. It’s walking now. As Logen shoulders the box taken from the Maker’s House, Ferro stuns everyone by decapitating a horse. She isn’t wasting a chance at a full belly out of some sentimental nonsense.

Later in the day, Jezal and Logen stop at an overlook. It’s beautiful they both agree. It reminds Logen of home, a home he no longer has. Jezal admits he wants to go home, to find Ardee, and to marry her. Logen approves in the way only a savage can, with a slap on the back and ribald joke. 

But then Logen’s mind is rather one track for the moment, tracking every movement of Ferro arse as she climbs the mountain in front of him. They stop at a stream, Logen flirting with a boyish charm. He hops into a pond full of fish and starts catching them bare handed. Jezal takes the rest to ask why in the world the item they seek is at the edge of the world?

Bayaz, becoming the wisended magi, recounts the tale of Juvens and Kanedias fearing what the other could do with Glustrod’s seed. Although Kanedias wanted to study it, they agreed to take it somewhere no one would stumble across it, to put it far enough even from their reach that to seek it would be woefully inconvenient. Bedesh bound the Seed to the earth, with the only key to be Juvens’ staff, which Bayaz carries now.

Logen, oblivious to the discussion, tosses another fish on to the bank. The next one though sends him into the water, his balanced in flight. Bayaz jokes that perhaps the great Ninefingers has met his match.

That night Jezal awakes to tussling beside him. Logen and Ferro play together beneath the blankets. Jezal feels anger and revulsion at their lack of decorum, but realizes it’s his own loneliness that cramps his heart.

Important Characters Introduced:

Minor Characters Introduced: Ferro’s posterior.

Quotes to Remember:

A child’s vertiginous notion of what a mountain should be.

Really dude? Vertiginous? Easily the oddest word choice I’m the book so far. It’s like China Mieville invaded.

’[The mountains] always win though. This Empire’s come and gone, and here they still are, looking down on it all. Here they’ll still be, long after all of us have gone back to the mud. They looked down on my home.’ He gave a long snort, then spat phlegm over the edge of the valley. ’Now they look down on nothing.’

You won’t need another passage to better capture the wistful nature of Logen’s dreams. The things he want he can never, ever, get back.

Analysis: Before I get into some interesting character stuff, let’s review what we learned in this chapter about THE WORLD.

  • Bayaz recognizes a building that predates the Empire, which itself has been dead 1000 years. I still don’t feel like Bayaz’s personality reflects someone that old. His perspectives seem out of whack.
  • Kanedias studied the Seed for years before distrust led to its removal to the Edge of the World.
  • Bedesh, along with his brothers, committed to binding it to Juvens’ staff. Without the staff, the Seed can’t be uncovered. Why would Kanedias agree to this? The distrust was mutual and yet only Juvens had the power to use the Seed? Either this is a continuity error by Abercrombie or Bayaz is lying. It doesn’t make sense.
  • Juvens staff is super boring. What kind of demi-gods are these? I’m very disappointed.
  • Now, on to Logen and Ferro and Jezal. Logen is coming on strong and Ferro is playing hard to get, at least emotionally. But, we see her facade cracking. Not only is she attracted to Logen, she’s coming to see him as an actual partner. As Bayaz comments at the end about the fish being a match for Logen, I couldn’t help but see the endeavor as a metaphor. 

The fish, to everyone else in the group, should be impossible to pull from the pond by hand. But, not Logen. In much the same way no one has been able to get through to Ferro. But, Logen is. He’s reaching into Ferro and plucking out the fish because he doesn’t know any better. In the end though, Logen ends up soaking wet. Foreshadowing?

And, of course, the chapter closes just like the previous one, with Jezal watching someone else find intimacy he craves. Where West reacts with horror and flight, Jezal finds tears. He’s become honest with himself. He is no longer an impervious dilletant. There’s symmetry here that reflects an impressive bit of writing.

Next week: We meet Caul Shivers!!!

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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