The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged: “A Fitting Punishment”

I’m writing this from a bus. Any typos are the failt [sic] of my zany driver Harvey. He’s got salt and pepper hair and a weird proclivity for loudly snorting to clear his nasal passages. All in all he seems like a swell fellow. The neon green vest he’s wearing is particularly charming. This is neither here nor there. Just trust me when I say you’re better off than I am right now.

You know who’s not better off? Everyone in Before They Are Hanged. We’ve got three chapters left, which for the sake of sanity, I’m breaking into one chapter this week and two next week. I apologize for the shorter post this week, but we’ll have a nice explosive finish coming up.

“A Fitting Punishment”

Summary: In the Square of Marshals, Glokta and Ardee await the execution of Tulkis, Gurkish Ambassador and supposed assassin of Crown Prince Reynault. The crowd is massive, which Glokta explains to Ardee is a function of the need for man to know that even someone is worse off than himself. 

Severard interrupts to bring Glokta up to speed on his investigations. Following Vitari home, he discovered she is a mother of three children. Undoubtedly the source of her desperation to return from Dagoska and to do Sult’s bidding. Glokta files it away as future leverage.

Severard also informs Glokta that the Prince’s guard cannot be found. He hasn’t been seen since the day before the Prince died, which is strange considering Glokta saw the guard grieving at his post the night of the murder. Glokta orders Severard to keep looking even though Arch Lector Sult surely wouldn’t approve.

Tulkis is escorted to the executioner and “emptied.” As he’s dying, Glokta admits to Ardee that Tulkis is not the murderer. She’s surprised and wonders who really did the deed.

Back at Ardee’s home, where Fallow has done his honest best to comport the home in a fashionable style, the pair dally back and forth with repartee. Ardee asks about the succession and Glokta replies that there will be a vote in Open Council, meaning a long period of back stabbing and deal making, the king’s death, and then a vote. Members of the Open Council from all over the Union are flocking to Adua to participate.

Ardee wonders who might be the favorite and offers up Lord Brock, then Heugen, Isher, and Skald. Glokta smiles at her knowledge and recognizes her accuracy. He offers though that a compromise candidate is possible, someone relatively unknown who all the factions won’t fear, or even a royal bastard.

A knock at the door interrupts their discussion. Mauthis from Valint & Balk is escorted in. He requests Glokta immediately terminate his investigation into the Crown Prince’s death. Taken aback, considering the banks previous interest in frustrating Gurkish efforts, Glokta queries Mauthis about the request. With fear in his eyes and no small amount of pleading, the man replies only by saying that Glokta does not want to find out what will happen if he denies the request.

Realizing he is bought and paid for, Glokta agrees to the bank’s demands.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Carmee dan Roth (rumored mother to a royal bastard)

Quotes to Remember:

He was naked aside from a cloth tied round his waist. To spare the delicate sensibilities of the ladies present. Watching a man’s entrails spilling out is excellent entertainment, but the sight of his cock, well, that would be obscene.

Fun real world commentary here, no? It’s a timeless observation. We’re about to execute a man, spilling his entrails everywhere, and we allow him modesty. Is the modesty for his benefit or for the audience? Glokta assumes the latter, but what if it’s the former? Almost equally absurd and disturbing.

Kindness, honesty, comfortable living rooms. . . Colonel Glokta would have known what to say, but I am a stranger here.

Gut punch. I can’t help but imagine all the men and women coming home from war today, trying to readjust to life back home. Looking across the dinner table at their loved ones and not knowing how to respond. Glokta’s been home for decades and yet he still can’t manage it. I think Abercrombie really captures the emotion well. It feels incredibly honest. 

Analysis: Initially I figured that “A Fitting Punishment” referred to Tulkis, but now I’m not so sure. Is it Glokta’s punishment for accepting Valint & Balk’s help in Dagoska? Not a really relevant discussion, but it interests me. More importantly…

Ardee’s back! We knew that Glokta had taken her under his wing, but it’s been a while since we had a chance to see the outcome. Her apartments are restored, courtesy of her once victimizer, and it appears that Glokta is either living there, or spends enough time there that Mauthis found him there and not at his home.

The reaction that Muathis has to Glokta’s initial reticence is interesting, isn’t it? He isn’t mad or entitled. He’s legitimately scared that Glokta won’t do as asked. To me that indicates that Mauthis is truly under the thumb of someone who demands results and will punish anyone associated with a failure. If Mauthis truly fears Glokta’s stubbornness, it leaves no question that Valint & Balk have embraced the Dark Side of the Force.

The exchanges here between Ardee and Glokta are some of my favorite in the series so far. She wants a drink. He says go for it. She reacts negatively and shoves the bottle back in the cabinet, asking if he’s HAPPY with the outcome. He could care less. He isn’t her brother. She gets even more mad. It’s such an incredible characertization. A perfect example of showing and not telling. We now know that Ardee’s behavior is at least partially tied to pushing her brother’s buttons or trying not to push them as the case may be. Of course at chapter’s end we see her leave the room with the bottle, so God knows.

We also see a burgeoning mutual respect between them. Glokta is kind to Ardee. He makes no demands on her other than friendship, and even that he hardly expects much. It seems Ardee has never had someone in her life with those expectations. Everyone has expected her to be something else. The quote above about Glokta’s inability to interact with her in a flirtatious manner is relavatory. Even with this level playing field between each other there’s no question Ardee is trying out the tricks she’s used to deploying. The lowering of the eyes, the suggestive tones. Glokta sees it and wants to react to it, but doesn’t know how. Is it possible the success of their relationship is predicated on the fact that Glokta’s confidence has been excised with his flesh?

I love these two.

Next week: Our final two chapters! Ferro is given the Seed and Dogman and crew mourn the dead.


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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