The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Last Argument of Kings: “Honesty” and “Ghosts”

I told you we were back on schedule!

There are some interesting observations and opinions about Ardee’s character in last week’s comment thread. I’ll only say that I believe strongly that Ardee is one of the most important characters in the series and the ones I believe Abercrombie could execute far better now than he did then. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Ardee would have been a much more significant player had Abercrombie written this book in today’s climate and with his developing mastery as a writer.

Something to ask when it comes time for the Q&A!

“Honesty”

Summary: Jezal lays in bed watching Ardee at the window, his officer’s coat around her torso hides nothing below the waist. He asks her to come back to bed, professing his love. She remains skeptical, but seems willing to enjoy the benefits of their intimacy. Before they can finish the act, a knock at the door interrupts. Jezal is being summoned by Lord Marshal Varuz.

Unable to delay the meeting, Jezal breaks off the liaison. After a bit of cutesy banter, Jezal is away to meet in High Justice Marovia’s cavernous chambers. Before him sit the High Justice himself, Lord Chamberlain Hoff, and Lord Marshal Varuz. After some questions about his journey at the Edge of the World, Varuz announces that he is to be promoted to the rank of Colonel.

Stunned by the honor, Jezal stutters an acceptance, something he begins to regret as they explain the situation in the countryside. Tanner has led a revolt and Jezal is to be sent to put it down. Even more, he is to be joined by a representative of the Closed Council—none other than Bayaz himself. Jezal cringes as Bayaz appears.

On his way back to his quarters, in a hurry to prepare for his departure, Superior Glokta appears in the shadows and asks for a word. He demands that Jezal either marry Ardee or break it off entirely, else a third option will emerge that involves Glokta’s bag of tricks. Jezal responds with anger, turning the threat back around. Of course, Jezal has every intention of marrying Ardee West. Doesn’t he?

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

To rise two ranks in one afternoon was an unprecedented honour, especially when he had fought in no battle, carried out no recent deeds of valour, and made no ultimate sacrifices. Unless you counted leaving off the most recent bedding of his best friend’s sister halfway. A sacrifice, no doubt, but scarcely the kind that usually earned the King’s favour.

This is a three unnecessary ‘U’ paragraph! Honour! Valour! Favour! You don’t see that every day, right? A real achievement in the King’s English.

‘But following a demonstration near Keln a group of peasants encouraged by this Tanner armed themselves and refused to disband. They won a victory over the local landowner, and insurrection spread. Now we hear they crushed a significant force under Lord Finster yesterday, burn his manor house and hung three tax collectors. They are in the process of ravaging the countryside in the direction of Adua.’

FINALLY! Tanner pays off! This whole plot line has been on simmer for two books, proving once again that Abercrombie puts almost nothing in the book that isn’t important.

Analysis: SQUELCH. This might need an explanation for people to understand the mass amount of humor in this word. In the novel Best Served Cold, Abercrombie wrote a sex scene in which the majority of the action involved the word ‘squelch’. Over and over.

Sam Sykes and I frequently work the word squelch into any conversation in which Joe Abercrombie is also present. For example: Boy, Joe. You really squelched the hell out of that scotch. Now, Abercrombie is always quick to point out that the word squelch, for all the abuse he gets for it, was primarily in Best Served Cold and really just a one time thing. Well…

Not so. Jezal and Ardee do some squelching in “Honesty.” Thus, the good natured ribbing needs to commence.

As for the rest of the chapter, I think this is the chapter where it becomes clearer that strings are being pulled on a grand scale. Jezal is having stories spread about him, which he did not start. He’s being promoted for seemingly no good reason. A scenario that his new rank demands just pops up for him to solve (Tanner). And Bayaz is along for the ride to make sure it goes smoothly. I’m not sure yet if there’s enough information present to make the guess about where Jezal ultimately ends up, but the hints are definitely there.

Abercrombie is laying the groundwork so that when it happens you’ll slap your forehead and say, of course! It becomes a surprising, yet inevitable, conclusion.

What do we think about Glokta intervening in the relationship between Jezal and Ardee? Is he genuinely doing it as a favor to West or is he developing feelings for Ardee? Is he enjoying playing house, so to speak?

 

“Ghosts”

Summary: Logen trudges into Uffrith. The place has seen change since he was last here. No longer do Bethod’s Carls wander the streets. Despite the Union presence it is no more organized. A Union officer directs him to a group of men heading to the front. He joins them. He’ll go anywhere if it means getting a chance to kill Bethod.

One night, around a fire, Logen gets to know the boys he’s traveling with. They fear him at first, but come around. Before they can get too close an arrow appears in one of their chests and another in a leg. Logen snatches his sword and pelts in the direction of the arrow flight. He cuts down the archer in the darkness and goes into stealth mode, tracking the rest of the ambush through the dark night.

Logen finds the ambush crew deeper in the forest where they are lamenting the interference of a big bastard. Among them is a man named Crow. A named man Logen remembers quite well, having fought besides him at Carleon. He waits for them to fall asleep before stalking into their midst and killing them in their sleep. Before he finishes his work, Crow wakes up and the pair face off against one another. Crow nearly pisses himself when he realizes who he faces.

Back at camp, the boys have dug in to protect against incoming arrows. Logen calls out so they won’t shoot and strides into camp with a sack of thumbs in his hand.

The crew arrives at the front soon after. Logen finds Collem West directing traffic. Logen hands him a letter from Hoff and West is glad to have him. He sends him on to join the three-hundred Northmen already fighting for the Union. He tells Logen to find their chief, the Dogman.

Stunned that his friend might be alive, Logen lights out for the Northern camp. As he approaches a huge man embrace him. Tul Duru has found Logen Ninefingers. Tul shoves him into the ring of men surrounding a fire. Dogman rises slowly and extends a hand. Logen takes it and it’s as though no time has passed between them. Grim grunts a welcome and Black Dow seems suspicious. They report Threetrees death and they mourn together.

The Dogman offers Logen the chief’s position and Ninefingers declines. It’s Dogman’s turn. Logen notices a lad staring at him and asks who it is. Dogman tells him it’s Shivers, Rattleneck’s son and brother to a man Logen mutilated and murdered. Dogman introduces them to one another and its clear Shivers possesses a level of animosity for Logen that will not go away. Logen can’t blame him one bit.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘I thought you all was killed,’ said Logen as he got his balance back. ’Guess there’s such a thing as being too realistic.’

What would his father say?!

You have to be realistic. No words could ever make right what he’d done.

Amazing how much we sympathize with such a hardened villain, eh?

Analysis: Geeze. That was a long chapter. I hadn’t noticed until I had to summarize it, which I suppose speaks quite highly of its quality. It’s the first time we see Logen in his element as the Bloody-Nine. We see the fear he engenders. I can’t say respect though, right? It doesn’t seem like anyone respects him. He is loathed, except by his crew, who seem to love him. Why is that?

I suppose it’s because we know that Logen is remorseful. We know that is a loyal friend who wants to do the right thing most of the time. Sure, lurking beneath the surface is an evil evil man who will cut the throats of men in their sleep, but it’s not his first choice. Or maybe it’s just because he gave his crew their lives back when he could have killed them.

The only one in the crew not obviously delighted to see Logen is Black Dow. I’ve speculated before that Dow seems to be changing his personality some without Logen around to check him. Perhaps he won’t like going back to the way things were before.

And finally, Shivers. Oh, Shivers. I know what’s in store for you over the next few books and it breaks my heart. This encounter with Logen is such an important point in his life knowing what I know about the future. It did not seem nearly so momentous the first time I read this passage six years ago.

Next Week: Glokta converses with Harlan Morrow and meets up with an old friend. Meanwhile, Jezal goes to “war.”


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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