The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Reading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, The Last Argument of Kings: “Too Many Knives” and “Best of Enemies”

I’m going to Disney World today, so thankfully, there isn’t much butchery in this week’s chapters. There’s something incompatible about meat cleavers and the Magic Kingdom. I mean, there is certainly some gruesome bits, per our favorite Inquisitor, but no one gets stabbed! Or slashed! Or burned! It’s almost like a Carebear episode.

Kind of…not really. There is that toe crushing hammer to contend with.

“Too Many Knives”

Summary: Logan sits on a rock on the right flank, watching for Bethod’s boys creeping up on them. It was the task Dogman assigned and it was fine by Logen. The column moves beside him, toward the High Places where Crummock-i-Phail’s plan guides them. A man breaks away from the others and walks toward Logen with a grin on his face. His name is Red Hat. Logan doesn’t know or trust him.

Red Hat takes the distrust in stride and tells Logen he used to fight for Old Man Yawl and Littlebone. The former was a man Logen respects, the latter not so much. Red Hat agrees, which is why he left Bethod’s side to fight with the Union. He reckons Dogman is a good chief and he’s glad Logen is with him. Logan is surprised by the good will, accepting it while never letting go of a knife behind his back. Trust doesn’t come easy to the Bloody-Nine.

Tul Duru appears out of the woods. He notices Logen’s tension around Red Hat and asks if Logen wishes he’d never come back at all. Their names weigh heavy on all of them, and Tul knows Logen’s must weigh heaviest of all. The pair exchange apologies for allowing circumstances to separate them for so long. Tul offers to be an ear for Logen any time. Logan watches him go, appreciative.

He looks back to the men and sees Shivers there, watching him with eyes that whisper death.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Red Hat.

Quotes to Remember:

You can never have too many knives, his father had told him, and that was strong advice.

Am I the only one who would read the shit out of a story about Logen’s dad? Come on! This guy would make Tam al’Thor look like a wuss!

Logan would have liked to look away, but looking away wasn’t something the Bloody-Nine could do.

Just a great line. It says so much about the character in such a tight manner.

Analysis: This whole chapter I’m thinking to myself, when do Linux and FreeBSD show up? IT joke! You get it? Because Red Hat is a company that develops Linux. Funny, right? ….right?

Anyway, this chapter feels pointless, but it really starts to setup how self destructive Logen really is. He didn’t have to come back North. He had a chance to either stay with Ferro, leave with Ferro, or go somewhere completely new and unconnected to his previous life. Why come back? Why face Bethod?

I would argue because Logen doesn’t want to be happy. He’s punishing himself for all the horrible things he’s done. At the same time, he doesn’t want to die. He’s a walking contradiction. It’s what makes him so authentic. This is how real people act.

I’ve pointed out before how Jezal and Glokta’s journeys are kind of mirroring one another. Although we don’t see it in this series, I feel like a similar comparison takes place between Logen and Shivers. For those who’ve read all the books, what do you think about that?

Also, this whole interaction with Red Hat, and then Tul, feels like Logen in transition. We see him kind of re-embracing the man he was. He doesn’t want to, but as he gets closer to Bethod, and the Feared, it’s almost like he’s preparing himself to become the Bloody-Nine. Anyone else getting that feeling?

 

“Best of Enemies”

Summary: Glokta dreams of Valint and Balk, and the Seed, and Bayaz, and Eaters. He jerks awake, not knowing where he is. A breeze blows in and clears his thoughts. He’s home in his new apartments. And the King is dead.

The next morning, Glokta and Sult stare at their vote board, counting how many they control relative to the leading contenders for the crown and High Justice Marovia. They don’t have enough without aligning with another faction.

Glokta wonders if its all for naught given the information provided by Carlot dan Eider. The Gurkish are coming while the Union squabbles over scraps. Glokta reveals the rumor to Sult, who, rightly, mocks it. Glokta is unwilling to share the source of the information, and thus is judged unreliable on the subject. Feeling his advantage with Sult slipping, Glokta proposes a radical plan—to throw their votes in with Marovia. Sult sees the necessity of it and sends Glokta to meet with him.

In Marovia’s private office, Glokta makes an offer. Sult and Marovia will combine their votes to put a marionette on the throne. It’s the best thing for members of the closed council. After a great deal of verbal combat, the pair agree. If a suitable candidate presents themselves, the votes of Marovia and Sult will be combined.

Back on the torturing ponderosa, Glokta puts Brother Longfoot to the question. The Inquisition needs to know what Bayaz is after, and Longfoot is the only one that won’t be missed. Hammer. Toes. Anvil. Longfoot knows nothing interesting, except that Mamum, a Gurkish Priest, demanded to know when Bayaz asked for a Navigator.

Glokta believes him. Unfortunately, belief is not enough to buy Longfoot’s freedom.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

One would almost suppose that he knows something we do not. One might also suppose that he already has a plan in mind.

This felt like a weird line. I actually don’t remember if Marovia had a plan or foreknowledge. I’ll find out like everyone else next chapters I guess. It just makes me assume he’s in cahoots with Bayaz.

‘Then the rules of this game are simple. I ask a question, and you answer precisely, correctly, and, above all, briefly. Do I make myself clear?’

Someone finally shut Brother Longfoot up. Where do I pin the medal?

Analysis: Biggest news in this chapter is that the Eaters had a mole in Bayaz’s group via Longfoot. They know that Bayaz didn’t get the Seed, which in turn might explain why they’re willing to invade. Bayaz doesn’t have the power to stop them. Will Glokta make that connection? Probably not. But, I think we, the readers, are.

As for the kingmaking, it’s pretty clear that Isher and Brock won’t be king. Marovia and Sult have enough votes to swing this thing now. Who will be this suitable candidate? And what does Marovia know about it that Sult may not? I think based on the foreshadowing we’ve seen with Jezal and Bayaz the answers to these questions are pretty obvious. This is a transitional chapter that gets us from “Jezal is a hero” to the voting room.

I described above how Logen is transitioning in preparation for a big showdown with Bethod. Once again Abercrombie demonstrates this keen symmetry where our characters are undergoing similar experiences. It makes for such a smooth reading experience. You just don’t want to put the book down.

 

Next Week: Things come to a head with Marshal Burr’s health. And it does not bode well for the Northmen.


Justin Landon used to run Staffer’s Book Review. Now he kinda blogs atjustlandon.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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