The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Last Argument of Kings: “This Noble Business” and “The New Man”

You know what says Merry Christmas better than anything? Aggressive and awkward and angry sex. Yup. Thankfully, Joe Abercrombie delivers as we continue our reread of Last Argument of Kings. Ardee and Jezal are getting back together, folks, and that means good clean family fun…

Obviously that entire paragraph is full of shit. Except the part where Ardee and Jezal have sex. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that a sex scene in this series will be all kinds of hard to read.

In the meantime, I wish you, fair reader of this reread, a happy holiday season and a joyful New Year full of reading this reread. Because I’m sure that’s your New Year’s Resolution. Now on to this week’s business!

“This Noble Business”

Summary: Colonel West and Lieutenant Janelhorm enter Dunbrec side by side. The siege is ended with the Union victorious, thanks to the efforts of an enterprising sergeant. Corpses are piled high, both the pitiful bodies of the besieged Northmen and Union solders, some strung up to rot by the once occupiers.

Amid the dead are remnants of a ritual of some kind, a hope to summon something from below to aid the defense. Or so it seems. West, sickened by what he sees, flees the scene, knowing he will be back if only in his dreams.

Back at the command tent, West listens to Kroy and Poulder slap each other on the back in front of the much diminished Lord Marshal Burr. Despite his obvious illness, Burr continues to do his duty. With Dunbrec in Union hands the Closed Council is eager to take the fight into the North. It is time to put Bethod on his knees and Burr means to do it.

With Uffrith now under their control, thanks to the efforts of the Dogman’s crew (an appreciation grudgingly given by the Union generals), the effort will be greatly enhanced. Burr orders them to begin the campaign.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

A great circle had been chiselled from the rock, and other circles within it, strange marks and symbols laid out in an intricate design.

Ok, now I want to know who was doing this and why and how and if and when…. argh! Just tell me the damn magic system, Abercrombie!

‘…We must work together. This is not a competition gentlemen.’

The two generals immediately competed with each other to be the one to agree the most.

Poulder and Kroy would be so awesome in a film. I’m imaging Seth Rogen as Poulder and James Franco as Kroy. How good would that be? Slap fighting!

Analysis: Most boring chapter of the series? Quite possibly! What do we learn? Well, Dunbrec has been retaken. A bunch of people died. Burr is on death’s doorstep, but he’s a salty dog. Poulder and Kroy are incompetent. And the Closed Council wants to keep pushing North. Is there anything in there we didn’t already know? Well, kind of. The last piece is pretty damn important. Why? Because it doesn’t make any sense.

Bethod has been driven out of Angland and back into the North. Why pursue him? He’s beaten. The Union’s army is in absolute shambles led by a man about to die and his two generals are complete incompetents. Who is ordering them to stay North?

Well, in my mind it must be someone who doesn’t want the army interferring in who will become the next King. Right? Because that’s all anyone in Adua is concerned about. It can’t be an entirely military decision. It just doesn’t make sense.

So maybe someone’s pulling the strings, which, of course, we know someone is. With Burr looking increasingly infirm, what’s going to happen when he bites it? How can West keep Poulder and Kroy from eating one another like I’m eating these butter cookies piled high on my desk like the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Stay tuned.


“The New Man”

Summary: A ship returns to Adua, with Bayaz, Jezal, Logen, Ferro, Quai, and Longfoot ensconced. Their return brings the moment of parting and Logen recommits to returning North. What reason does he have to stay? Ferro makes it clear he has no reason at all.

Clearly hurt, Logen exchanges an overly long hug with Jezal, who will miss the savage. The parting between Ferro and Logen is decidedly shorter and compounded by so much stilted emotional availability. With Logen diverted, the rest find they have nowhere else to be and follow Bayaz into the city.

As they walk, Jezal finds himself uncomfortable. The crowds are overwhelming in their size and frivolity. Bayaz asks what Jezal’s plans are now, and he responds that he figures himself destined for war in the North. Bayaz nods and says he himself will stay in Adua for a bit to see how things turn out. The conversation is interrupted by a commotion involving a beggar and three members of the city’s guard abusing her.

Recognizing he would never have done this before, Jezal intercedes on the woman’s behalf. He threatens the guards and they retreat. As they do so, Bayaz proclaims Jezal dan Luthar’s intervention by name to all who witnessed his act. Jezal reprimands Bayaz for surely the story will be on everyone’s lips now. Bayaz just smiles. The pair part ways, with Bayaz assuring Jezal they’ll work together again.

Returning to the barracks, Jezal marvels at his once obsession with things that don’t matter. Standing in front of the mirror he realizes that the man who looks back at him is entirely unrecognizable. The trappings of his once life no longer belong to him. He should seek out Varuz to report for duty, but instead he goes to see Ardee, his gilt dress sword left sitting where it belongs—kicked under the bed.

Outside Ardee’s home Jezal paces back and forth working up the courage to knock. After some confidence calisthenics he does so and is greeted by a servant. Stunned the servant’s presence, Jezal stutters through an introduction, but at mention of his name her eyes grow big and she disappears to summon her mistress. His nerves build as he waits for her appearance, and when she does appear he’s barely able to form sentences. Once he can speak he falls immediately into apologizing, a behavior she seems to find unsatisfactory.

After a fair bit of exchanging thoughts about the tension between them and recent news around the world, Ardee pushes herself into Jezal’s space and takes command of the situation. Although he’s uncomfortable with her level of intoxication and sexual brashness, he participates in sexual congress. Despite the rough nature of the encounter, it continues to a logical conclusion. At which point, it ends awkwardly and Ardee begins to cry because no one cares about her.

Jezal says he loves her. He wants to mean it, but it seems obvious he doesn’t.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘Sometimes a difficult journey does not deliver its full benefit until long after one returns. The trials are brief, but the wisdom gained lasts a lifetime!’

Puke. God damn, Longfoot.

He had already walked past the house once in each direction, and dared not do so again for fear that Ardee would see him through a window, recognise him, and wonder what the hell he was up to.

We’ve all been there, right? I have immense sympathy for Jezal. Crap. Am I actually starting to like him?

Analysis: Well this was quite a long chapter, wasn’t it? And unlike the previous one, incredibly compelling and interesting! Jezal has changed. Furthermore, we start to see that Bayaz has planned this change. In fact, he’s quite obviously got something up his sleeve in promoting Jezal as some kind of hero. Let’s review.

  1. Bayaz teaches Jezal about what good leaders do.
  2. When confronted with injustice on his return, Jezal does the right thing. When he drives off the bad guys he notices the looks on their face as though they were complicit in provoking him.
  3. Bayaz publicly proclaims his rightness. Funny how well rehearsed it all seemed, no?
  4. When Jezal goes to Ardee’s she has already heard of his return and quite a bit about his actions at the Edge of the World. Actions that seem slightly more impressive than they were.
  5. Ardee’s made seems to consider Jezal as a famous figure. A great man.

What does all this portend? Well, clearly Bayaz has something in mind for Jezal and he’s building grassroots support for it. Everyone else is campaigning in the halls of power. Bayaz campaigns among the people. Interesting that.

I can’t recall if in my first reading of the series if I picked up on what was happening or not. Did I know where Jezal would end up? I suspect I did not. What about you?

Meanwhile with all this going on we get a renuion between Ardee and Jezal and it got weird quick. She gets her head slammed on a table. She’s biting his lips (mind you biting in this series usually leads to some creepy canibalism, but whatever). They have sex even though neither of them really want it. I’m still feeling a little icky about the whole thing.

The lies people tell each other. We’ve got Ardee and Jezal together even though neither wants it really at the same time we’ve got Logen and Ferro leaving each other even though they both want to be together. Can nothing go right?


Next week: A reunion of sorts as Glokta and Jezal run into one another.

Justin Landon writes. 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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