The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Reading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Last Argument of Kings: “Beloved of the Moon” and “Flowers and Plaudits”

Something Joe Abercrombie is so good at is putting a gun on the mantle and making sure it gets fired. Last week it was the pigs. As soon as we saw two people, with cause to murder, meeting in a pig pen, we knew someone was getting fed to the pigs. Probably in little pieces.

In this week’s chapters we finally see the culmination of Bayaz’ preparations come to fruition. And the payoff is fantastic. It is impossible that Jezal would rise to prominence and yet, as we see here, it was actually inevitable. After this chapter, I find it unlikely anyone won’t guess what’s in store for our cowardly hero…

“Beloved of the Moon”

Summary: The Dogman watches the Union troops shuffle by. They had lost a few skirmishes with Bethod, probing for a way through his line to Carleon. Colonel West catches Dogman’s eye, the look on the man’s face telling the story. There would be no passage through those hills. West asks Dogman to take his crew North and find a weakness.

Striding back to his camp, Dogman accepts the calls of chief as he walks. The band seems happy enough, but he guesses they always do until they start losing. Around the fire sits his old crew, excepting Logen. Dogman recounts their orders and Dow lets go his anger. Who are they to follow Furious’ orders? If they get to Carleon, the Union will win and leave the North and all the Northmen will have to contend with Bethod on their own. Again.

Dogman suggests things will be better with Logen back. Dow disagrees, because when has Logen ever meant anything but death? Logen hears and takes exception. He gets in Dow’s face and challenges him. Dow quiets down, but hardly seems beaten. With Dow gone, Logen admits to Dogman that he was scared. Dogman admits he is too.

Creeping North, following West’s orders, Dogman smells something on the wind when an arrow thunks into the tree beside him. A shout asks if they are Bethod’s men. Dogman confirms they are not and learns neither are the warriors in the trees. A man named Crummock-i-Phail emerges from the shadows, ringed by three children, each carrying a weapon larger than the other. Black Dow calls him a hillman and damned crazy.

Turns out Crummock-i-Phail is searching for Logen Ninefingers, who he saw kill Shama Heartless. Crummock believes Logen is beloved of the moon. He wants to join them and has a plan to catch Bethod out. Using the hate Bethod has for Logen, Crummock, and the men around them, they will lure him out for revenge. They don’t like the plan, but can’t think of any better. They’ll take it to Furious and Burr and let them sort it out.

Important Characters Introduced: Crummock-i-Phail.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘Hah! Just when did the Bloody-Nine bring anything but death along with him?’

Black Dow laying the groundwork to excuse his eventual betrayal?

‘Bethod hates me, and the feeling’s mutual, but he hates you more. Because you’ve stood against him, and you’re living proof a man of the North can be his own man, without bending on his knee and tonguing the arse of that golden-hat bastard and his two fat sons and his witch.’

YEAH! Crummock-i-Phail is awesome.

Analysis: This is easily one of the funniest chapters in the First Law Trilogy. The image of shin kicking kids toting around giant weapons is phenomenal. Abercrombie initially makes us think we’re seeing a Final Fantasy style encounter, with kids holding giant weapons, but then undermines it with humor.

Where does Crummock-i-Phail come from? What does it mean to be beloved of the moon? Does Crummock worship the moon? Are those beloved of the moon from demon blood? Or does it mean ’lucky’? It’s definitely interesting. Just another tidbit of world building that Abercrombie only hints at. Either way, Crummock’s reputation rides ahead of him because Black Dow is familiar. This is par for the course in the North where a man’s name means something. It carries with it a measure of respect for past deeds. But, Black Dow, with Crummock, who he calls crazy, and with Logen, who he doubts, seems be eroding that social contract. He seems to be arguing that past deeds don’t matter. Logen doesn’t deserve to lead and Crummock shouldn’t be trusted. As Black Dow continues to assert himself, it seems worth considering what change he wants to bring with him. Perhaps he’s an advocate for a true meritocracy? I wonder.

In terms of the themes that run through the entire series, the frank admittance of fear by both Logen and Dogman is surprising. Logen confronts Dow because he feels he must, not because he really believes the shit he spews. He does it out of fear. He does it because if he doesn’t, then Black Dow will actually follow through on his threats. It’s all backwards and all laden with truth.

 

“Flowers and Plaudits”

Summary: Jezal, dressed to the nines, rides into Adua at the head of his command. Next to him rides Bayaz, intent on continuing the didactic story of rulers long dead. Jezal thinks of Ardee, of how they would marry, and how it might impact his reputation. Sure she’s witty and attractive, but she’s dangerous. Love may not be enough in the world they live in. He has standards to uphold.

As they near the city center, a huge number of people clog the lanes. Some throw flowers at him; all celebrate his return. The name ’Luthar’ is on everyone’s lips. Jezal wonders at it all. He did nothing. Bayaz shrugs and argues that the crowd disagrees. As the ride continues, Jezal becomes more comfortable with accolades.

Inside the Agriont, Jezal remembers the victory parade for Marshal Varuz when he defeated the Gurkish. It seems strange that he should gain similar plaudits for such a smaller achievement. It is an emotion he overcomes quickly as he approaches the king and the closed council. The king is slumped over, unaware of the proceedings. Chamberlain Hoff nudges the king, prompting him to address the procession. At the nudge, the king falls from his throne, dead as a doornail and soiled with the last release of his bowels.

What now?

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

One should treat other the way one would want to be treated, he supposed, just as Ninefingers had once said. But it certainly was a damned inconvenience.

The truth of this kind of statement is the core of what Abercrombie tries to do with each and every one of his sentences.

With each street Jezal passed down he relaxed a little more. He slowly began to feel as if he must indeed have achieved something worthy of the honour. To wonder if he might, in fact, have been a dauntless commander, a masterful negotiator. If the people of the city wished to support him as their help, he began to suppose it would be churlish to refuse.

Recidivism!

Analysis: I returned from a work conference this week and felt like Jezal. I was the conquering hero who accomplished a mission. The difference is that I expected the lauding from my colleagues and, surely, I received none. Jezal, by contrast, expects nothing and receives a multitude. He is at a loss for it, attributing it to chance it seems even as the reader has come to realize that it is entirely at Bayaz’s bidding that the cards have fallen in Jezal’s favor.

Unfortunately, the praise appears to be having a negative impact on Jezal’s self improvement. Where before he was beginning to realize the world didn’t revolve around him, he is so eager to accept the praise that he begins to see it as his due. All in the space of a few hours.

Carrying that through to his relationship with Ardee, it becomes apparent that marrying her is more challenging today than it was yesterday. In fact, he sees Glokta’s threat as an actual threat now as marriage to someone of Ardee’s stature is a near impossibility.

With the king’s death, the pieces fall into place. Jezal is Caesar. He is the conquering hero returning to a home that lacks a vision as much as it lacks a leader. Unlike Caesar, Jezal has no vision of his own, only the one fed to him the First of the Magi. We also come to realize that not only will Bayaz’s ambitions change the course of the Union, he may be destroying Jezal’s last chance to become a great man.

After all, Jezal’s only reaction, to the death of his king, is a recognition that the cheers for his victory have stopped.

 

Next Week: Logen and Shivers have a staring contest.


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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