The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Last Argument of Kings: “Feeding Time” and “So Much in Common”

Happy New Year! It is 2015 and I have not written a reread for several weeks. It was the holidays people! Would you want to read the First Law Trilogy while you’re bouncing your children on your knee and roasting chestnuts and chugging champagne like it’s Yoohoo? Well, you’re weird. I was, instead, reading several books on how to improve my golf swing. Because, what’s weird about that? I’ll tell you. Nothing.

However, I play golf like Logen Ninefingers and Ferro do relationships. My heart is in the right place. I can really swing for the fences. But I usually screw it all up with immense anger to follow. Unfortunately, my love for the game of golf is just beginning. Say one thing for Justin Landon, he’s not a quitter.

I’m sure you’re also thinking, the holiday excuse would have worked a couple weeks ago, Justin, but it’s almost February. See, after the holidays I had to do a convention. You know who was at that convention? You guessed it, Joe Abercrombie. Proof!

So forgive me fair reader. I was with our champion in frigid Detroit, Michigan. Anyway, on to this week’s chapters’ which contain 110% more politicking for your reading pleasure.

“Feeding Time”

Summary: Glokta sits on a bench beside a duck pond like an old man well past his prime. Beside him sits Lord Wetterlant, a conniving old man with bills to pay and no shortage of open council votes to sell to the highest bidder. Tearing off bread to feed the ducks, Wetterlant asks for Glokta’s offer, he does, after all, have a family to feed and it’s growing by the year.

With four votes to sell, Glokta offers him 15,000 marks. Of course, Lord Barezin has already offered him 18,000 and an excellent stretch of hunting land. And, Lord Brock has upped the ante to 20,000 and a suitable match for his eldest son. And then, High Justice Marovia, via Harlen Morrow, offered 25,000. Glokta, almost choking with frustration, offers to match the High Justice, but needs to get back to Lord Wetterlant about further compensation.

Glokta takes his leave with the high man smirking at his ducks.

Back to Ardee’s apartments, Glokta encounters a rougher Jezal dan Luthar than he remembers. They participate in an awkward exchange that leaves Glokta frowning. Inside, Ardee is drinking. She flirts with Glokta, assuming it’s Luthar returning, but sobers when she realizes who it is.

Glokta emphasizes how foolish dalliances with Jezal are, but Ardee snaps back that no one cares what a common woman gets up to. And certainly Glokta was not concerned with a lady’s virtue when he was young, hale, and womanizing. Glokta absorbs the punishment and acknowledges its voracity.

Off-hand, he asks where Jezal has been. Ardee remarks that he has been in the Old Empire with Logen and Bayaz. Glokta twitches at the names and hopes that the latter has no intention of tinkering in the election.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

A mob of self-important ducks had already gathered, and now they fussed at each other furiously in their efforts to get at the crumbs while the old nobleman watched them, his lined face a slack and emotionless mask.

This is a classic movie scene from any spy film. Abercrombie the film editor may have gotten a little too cute and referential here. It’s still quite fun, isn’t it?

‘Your bed, your business, I suppose, as they say in Styria.’

I include this only because it’s an interesting cultural anecdote. The Union is rather stuffy about sex. Styria maybe not so much? I’ll note that we have a Styrian princess that was a possible marriage match for Ladisla. Will she return for a new King?

Analysis: I find this chapter one of the most stark when it comes to the foil relationship between Glokta and Jezal. We begin the series with Jezal being the man Glokta once was—brash, arrogant, capable. His life is defined by sexual conquest and making other around him feel as inferior as possible. Inversely, Glokta begins as the thing Jezal fears most—weak, unattractive, insightful.

But, increasingly toward the end of the Before They Are Hanged, Jezal is becoming the man Glokta would have had he not had an unfortunate encounter with Gurkish torturers. Glokta is watching him evolve and can’t help but feel remorse for the loss. Meanwhile, Jezal sees Glokta more for what the Inquisitor actually is and begins to respect his rigor. It’s all an incredibly artful dance Abercrombie has created that only deepens with each reading.

Ardee in “Feeding Time” is on the cusp of something really revolutionary. She is a woman who is rejecting her place in society and attempting to take control. Unfortunately, Abercrombie keeps shying away from really embracing that idea. She expresses how awful society is to women (particularly women of common birth), but can’t seem to really break away to do her own thing. She still allows herself to be hemmed in by alcohol and men.

How great would this narrative have become if Ardee had played more of a role in shaping the politics of Adua? She clearly understands them. Oh, well. I guess a bunch of old men will keep on making decisions in fantasy land. For such a subversive text in so many ways, The First Law Trilogy misses the boat on this.


“So Much in Common”

Summary: Ferro stalks the room and scowls, as she does. She hates the Union, and the city of Adua in particular. And the Agriont even more, with Bayaz at the center of it all. During her pacing, Malacus Quai tells her she should go back to the South. Bayaz cannot give her what needs. He cannot be trusted.

Ferro asks why Quai stays then. He replies, vengeance. Before Ferro can learn more, Bayaz appears, a teacup in hand. He offers her tea, which he knows she loathes. She tells him she is done here and will go back to the South. Bayaz informs her that no ships will sail to Kanta at present and may not for some time. But, if she wishes to fight the Gurkish, he still has use for her talents.

Distracted by a view of the House of the Maker, she asks Bayaz about it. He tells her in no uncertain terms it is none of her business. She snaps back that he lived there, served Kanedias, and betrayed him and Tolomei both. The arrival of Yoru Sulfur interrupts their exchange.

Not one of the original twelve, but a former apprentice to Bayaz himself, Sulfur presents an old book, well worn to the First of the Magi. Glustrod’s book he names it. Bayaz tells him to keep it for now, as the Seed did not make the trip back from the Old Empire. He bows and tells Bayaz Lord Isher is on his way.

Bayaz dismisses Ferro, who leaves with anger. She is not a slave.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘Bayaz will bring you nothing you need. He cannot be trusted. I found out too late, but you still have time. You should find another master.’

Well, crap. Either Quai has been someone else from the beginning or Quai got replaced somewhere along the line.

Ferro knew little about beauty and cared less, but that building was a beautiful thing to her mind. There was no softness, no indulgence in that mountain of naked stone. There was a brutal honesty in its shape. A merciless precision in its sharp, black angles. Something about it fascinated her.

Ferro describes the House of the Maker. I love the term merciless precision. What does it say about the maker that all of his creations that we’ve seen get to the “core” of a thing? There’s nothing extra. There’s no beauty.

Analysis: Ok. Quai is finally showing his true colors. He’s got a lot more history with Bayaz than was originally indicated. Or, the Quai we see now is not the Quai who shivered beside a fire with Logen Ninefingers way back at the Great Northern Library. But then things get a little wonky when Quai claims to be seeking vengeance. Vengeance for what? If it’s vengeance against Bayaz then why is Bayaz still alive? Quai had Bayaz catonic during the journey to the Edge of the World and yet he’s still walking around. So there’s another thing at play here depending on who Quai actually is or was or will be.

I am, however, starting to find Ferro’s motivations a little stale. Like Ardee she keeps coming close to taking control of things, but ends up falling back into a pattern of behavior defined by others. Yes she was a slave and yes she’s angry, but she keeps wanting to leave and Bayaz sucks her back in on the promise of a chance to avenge herself. It feels too convenient unless there’s some subtle manipulation going on that we’re not aware of.

Yoru Sulfur’s return is fun. He seems the most solid of Bayaz’s allies that we’ve encountered thus far. He seems the perfect servant. Too perfect for someone who commands the kind of power that the magi do. Even still, he is visibly relieved when he discovers that Bayaz did not recover the Seed and thus has no use for Glustrod’s book. What the hell does the Seed do? It scares everyone.


Next Week: More coupling from Jezal and Ardee, with double the awkward love talk. And Logen returns to the North (squeeeeee!)

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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