The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Last Argument of Kings: “Bad Debts” and “A Ragged Multitude”

I’ve got a lot going on: deadlines, manuscripts, kids, and golf (probably in that order right this second). The fact that I still get excited to sit down and read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy every Thursday night says a lot about how good it is. It’s a real challenge reading something the way I do, only once a week and only two chapters at a time, and still want to keep reading. What can I say? I’m a junkie.

In other news, a fan of the reread asked me on Twitter who my favorite fantasy author was. I said, other than Abercrombie? Well, probably Daniel Abraham, or Rebecca Levene, or Elizabeth Bear, or Daniel Polansky… In other words, there are a ton of people writing great stuff right now. If you’re in the market for something new, do check those four out. It’s worth your time to get away from the standard “huge names” that get thrown out in every recommendation thread in internet history.

“Bad Debts”

Summary: Standing in pig shit, Glokta looks for Harlen Morrow. The High Justice’s Secretary had requested a meeting and Glokta figures it’s worth a shot. He sees Morrow leaning on one of the pens. Morrow tries to compliment Glokta on their first exchange, but the Inquisitor cuts him off and demands they get down to business.

As they go back and forth, Morrow reveals that the meeting is a ruse to have Glokta removed from the board. Two men approach bearing concealed weapons. Morrow seems pleased with himself, while Glokta is almost disappointed. He wonders if Morrow really thought he would come to the meeting unprepared. A bow string twangs and one of the thugs drop. Vitari appears to kill the second. And Severard jumps from above, landing at Morrow’s feet.

The ruthless Practical stabs Morrow through the neck, getting blood all over Glokta. With resignation, Glokta orders his Practicals to prepare the bodies for the pigs. Apparently they’ll eat anything.

Returning to the Agriont to report, Glokta is abducted. A hood over his head, two men lift him on either side and lead him to rooms deep beneath the city. He wonders who could be after him. Marovia? One of the candidates for king? He is stunned to find Carlot dan Eider when the hood is removed.

Despite warning her never to return to Adua, Glokta isn’t terribly surprised when she informs him that her various business interests would not allow it. She informs Glokta that she pulled him off the street to settle the debt between them. She warns him that the Gurkish are coming, backed by a massive fleet. Glokta doubts her. She doesn’t care. She believes their debt settled.

Glotka asks if he can return to the surface. She agrees, but indicates that should anything happen to her a note will be delivered to Arch Lector Sult detailing her escape from Dagoska. Glokta grumbles about what a good deed has earned him. He leaves, bag on head once again.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Harlen Morrow (first/last in person appearance).

Quotes to Remember:

Glokta was not one to be put off by the noise, or the knives, or for that matter, an unpleasant odour. I spend my days wading through the metaphorical filth, after all. Why not the real thing?

This is a weird quote. Abercrombie has Glokta go into first person, but doesn’t notate it as a thought using italics or a quote. It might just be a copy editing mistake, or some relic of an old voice that was never removed from the text. Weird.

I did a good thing, and so, of course, there is a price to be paid.

No good deed goes unpunished! A clichéd phrase updated for Glokta’s voice. I love it.

Analysis: Harlen Morrow is quite the disappointment, isn’t he? Abercrombie seemed to be setting him up as this opponent that Glokta could respect and go wit-to-wit with. He turns out to be a joke. Someone playing at politicking and skullduggery. He’s way out of his depth, which Glokta proves by having him murdered and eaten by pigs. I suppose this speaks to the author constantly trying to keep us on our toes and off our game, but I’m not sure why he introduces Morrow at all. He doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. We know Glokta will kill at a moment’s notice. What does all this do for the plot? Maybe there’s a piece yet to be moved.

The more interesting part of the chapter comes on his return trip. Carlot dan Eider is back and she’s looking better than she did after a round in Glokta’s dungeon. She has business ventures in Adua, huh?

You’ll notice that when Glokta is captured he wonders who has taken him. One of those mentions is Valint and Balk. Carlot dan Eider sees business opportunities in Adua. The bank is everywhere. Is there a connection? There’s not really enough evidence to suggest there is, but it bears watching.

What do we make the of the announcement that the Gurkish are coming? Furthermore, how would Carlot know? Someone is feeding her the information. Valint and Balk comes to mind again. There’s a twisty web going on around Glokta and he seems to be the pivot point.

 

“A Ragged Multitude”

Summary: From Jezal’s command post he can see the entirety of Tanner’s rag-tag army, which isn’t nearly as rag-tag as he was led to believe. Organized into neat rows with messengers moving quickly between them indicates a level of expertise that would not go unnoticed even in a Union camp.

One of the Jezal’s officers asks him how the men should be deployed. He stutters a bit, stumbling through a solution when Bayaz interrupts and orders the men deployed in a fashion that Jezal would not have considered. Three dots detach themselves from the mob and ride toward the Union troops under a flag of parlay. Bayaz tells Jezal not to worry. He is confident it will not come to battle.

Inside Jezal’s tent, the newly minted Colonel is surprised to find Tanner to be unexceptional in every way. His two generals, so to speak, Goodman Hood and Cotter Holst, are a bit more impressive. Jezal announces they are here to negotiate or fight, depending on whether or not the mob will agree to their terms. He hands a scroll over and waits.

Goodman Hood declares it an insult. Fewer concessions are made in this document than they were offered before the battle with Lord Finster. Before he can continue his rant, Tanner declares they will accept the terms. Hood declares the revolt betrayed and all that. Tanner merely shrugs, and Holst joins him in indifference. Tanner leaves, but not before he meets Bayaz’ eye for a long moment.

Bayaz reminds Jezal that the negotiation was long and arduous and only succeeded due to the Colonel’s firm hand. Jezal is simply perplexed.

Important Characters Introduced: Tanner (first on screen appearance!)

Minor Characters Introduced: Goodman Hood, Cotter Holst

Quotes to Remember:

It was plain, even to Jezal’s unpracticed eye, that this was as much an army as a mob, and that someone down there knew his business. A great deal better than he did, most likely.

The old Jezal would have assumed they were rabble because they looked like rabble. Really a fantastic writing moment here. We learn that Jezal has grown because of how he acts, not because Abercrombie tells us.

‘Don’t worry, my boy, we are well prepared for violence. But I feel confident it will not come to that.’ He grinned down at the vast mass of men below. ‘Very confident.’

Does anyone else get the feeling that Bayaz is like Mick from Rocky III? He’s protecting the champ! He’s bought out all the competition.

Analysis: Well, crap. I think I just figured out the point of Harlen Morrow. Remember how I’ve been comparing Jezal and Glokta to one another? Look at these two chapters.

In the first, Glokta discovers that Morrow isn’t nearly the opponent he seems. We, the reader, learn that there’s something like a hidden hand feeding Carlot dan Eider information. In “A Ragged Multitude”, Jezal discovers that the Tanner isn’t so scary and we, the reader, see a connection between Bayaz and Tanner that indicates something afoot. They are undergoing the same stages of realization that their actions are having little impact on the outcome of events around them. That continuing symmetry kind of blows my mind. Maybe I’m imagining it.

As for Tanner, what the hell? This guy has to be one of Bayaz’ apprentices in disguise, no? He’s so indifferent. He doesn’t even try to sell it to his minions. It’s clear the whole game was to wait for Bayaz to show up with Jezal (or someone else?) and establish them as heroes. Bayaz is building a narrative for Jezal and Tanner was the tool that makes him savior of the Adua from the rabble. Jezal is already establish as a warrior via the contest and the journey to the Edge of the World. But now, he’s established as a man who can lead and be counted on.

It’s becoming pretty obvious that we’re going to get a new player in the game to become King. Bayaz’ player.

 

Next Week: Things get testy with Logen’s old crew and Jezal gets his just rewards.


Justin Landon used to run Staffer’s Book Review. Now he kinda blogs at justlandon.com. 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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