The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Fortunes of War” and “The Kingmaker”

Holy crap. Don’t do to Disney World if you want to come home refreshed and ready to write. Sweet baby Bayaz, I’m exhausted. I wasn’t aware that children under six had the potential to murder with enthusiasm. You learn something everyday!

In our chapters this week, there’s little enthusiasm. Two things Abercrombie has been setting up for the entire series finally go boom—Burr’s Burps and Bayaz’ machinations. While the former is likely solved for all time, the latter is just beginning its onion like revelations. Stay tuned.

“Fortunes of War”

Summary: Lord Marshal Burr and Colonel West make their final preparations before springing the Dogman’s trap. Bethod won’t know what hit him. Burr’s health is improved, but he remains weak and burps as frequently as a dog wags its tail.

West apologizes to the Marshal for failing to provide him with a surgeon during the last battle. Burr surprises him by agreeing with his actions. West demonstrated why he’s such a good officer—he does what needs doing. They go on to agree that instability in Adua is good for no one. Burr dismisses him with the words, ’I’ll see you at first light.’

Back in his camp, West plays cards with his old friends—Jalenhorm, Kaspa, and Brint. Jezal comes up, along with his recent heroics. West is worried about the newly minted Colonel’s proximity to his sister, but seems fatalistic about the fact that he may soon be taking orders for Jezal dan Luthar.

The next morning West returns to the Marshal’s tent to find him dead. His coffin is carried from the tent by six guardsman, with Generals Poulder and Kroy paying their respects. As West reflects on the Marshal’s impact on his life, the two Generals begin to plan for life after Burr. Of course, they cannot advance until a new King is elected and new orders are sent. West is horrified. If they don’t advance, the Northmen will be massacred and Bethod will be entrenched. Regrettable, both men say, but necessary.

West is helpless to change their minds.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘You have compassion in you, but you have iron too. One cannot be a great leader without a certain… ruthlessness.’

If only everyone knew how ruthless a certain leader of the Union can be….

‘The man inside had been like a father to him, or the closest he had ever come to having one. A mentor and protector, a patron and a teacher. An actual father, rather than the bullying, drunken worm that nature had cursed him with.

Does anyone else really not feel this? Abercrombie didn’t do a real good job of establishing how far back Burr and West go. To me, it feels like they only really became relevant to one another during this war. Based on this comment in West’s POV, that’s not the case. Or, West is really desperate for that father figure, and a few months is all it takes. Thoughts?

Analysis: Burr makes a comment about the elections in Adua. He says, that if West thinks the war in the north is violent, then he should imagine the goings in back in Adua will be twice as ugly. I think ol’ Marshal Burr very much likes to imagine his army as the meritocracy within the screwed up system it protects. West maintains no illusions of this, as he reflects that if Poulder or Kroy were in charge he’d quickly be swabbing latrines, not laying out battle plans. And all because of his birth.

So, of course, once Burr dies we’re left with the truth. Poulder and Kroy are more concerned with positioning themselves as the future Marshal, than with defeating the Union’s enemy. The Union has no version of meritocracy at all. It is truly a bankrupt society built around class. Looking back to Adua, West expresses no surprise whatsoever to learn the Jezal dan Luthar is rapidly climbing the ranks. For all Jezal’s incompetence, West has been preparing himself, for some time in fact, that he will one day be taking orders from his once student.

The last line is like a knife through the heart, ’A man should only make promises as he is sure he can keep.’ West is referencing that Poulder and Kroy will leave Dogman’s crew to die for their own selfish desires. And that’s surely the emotion Abercrombie wants us to feel. But, we know that Collem West has made many promises he couldn’t keep. Not the least of which was to look out for Ardee, who he has time and again let down. Poulder and Kroy are the bad guys here, but West is often happy to play powerless and let things take their course without him.

Except when he threw Prince Ladisla off a cliff. What path will our peasant Colonel take this time?

 

“The Kingmaker”

Summary: Jezal stands in the same spot he occupied when the Guild of Mercers was dissolved. The Lord’s Round is even more packed today than it was then, and twice as tense. He feels nerves at the thought of a new High King being chosen by open vote. From across the room, Glokta catches his eye and a new kind of nerves bubble up. Does the torturer know Jezal was with Ardee West last night?

Glokta has his own worries. Today’s outcome is unknown and it could end with him floating in the river. The Closed Council files in and only Bayaz looks confident, his smile out of place in a room full of solemnity. As the Closed Council takes their seats, Glokta surveys the crowd and counts the votes he bought. Will it be enough? Will they hold to their promises? Chamberlain Hoff begins the election.

Above it all, Ferro pushes her way to the front of the balcony. Below she sees Jezal and judges by the way he’s standing that he’s learned nothing at all about how to be a better man. She watches the Open Council members exchanging secrets signs with one another, lining up their votes with a twitch of the finger or wink of the eye. Hoff calls for votes to be cast for Lord Brock, but before the first one can be announced, Bayaz interrupts. He has something to say.

Bayaz declares that he hid a bastard child of King Gustav for decades. That man is none other than Jezal dan Luthar, recently promoted Colonel of the King’s Own and bonafide hero of the peasant rebellion. He proposes that Jezal be named King. From outside, the Open Council can hear the common people chanting his name.

While Ferro laughs uncontrollably from the balcony, Jezal is voted King. Glokta cannot believe the turn of events, but concedes the round to Bayaz. They were all outmaneuvered. Even Lord Brock, who leaves the room with a deadly frown on his face.

Quotes to Remember:

They have heard this tale before. Rumours, perhaps, but familiar ones. Familiar enough to make them listen. To make them judge whether it will be in their interest to believe.

Rumour has it! I love the uncertainty about the historical record.

Proof is boring. Proof is tiresome. Proof is an irrelevance. People would far rather be handed an easy lie than search for a different truth, especially if it suits their own purposes.

I feel like this is the point in the series where we’re starting to see Abercrombie come into his own as a wordsmith. We’re seeing a lot more of these kinds of passages, which are far more prevalent in subsequent volumes.

Analysis: FINALLY! How long have we been building to this? Nearly the entire series, I think. Bayaz has been grooming Jezal for something, certainly. The question was always, what? Now we know. He was groomed to be King. We have a new question now though, is Jezal actually the bastard son of the dead king or is he just the outcome of clever lie by the First of the Magi?

Jezal remembers a few facts as Bayaz announces his lineage. The first is that his father, at the Contest, seemed to recognize Bayaz and went pale at the sight of him. He recalls that when the King congratulated him on his victory that he mistook Jezal for his son. He did not look even look much like his family. Are these coincidences that Jezal is projecting causal relationships on to suit his own delusions of grandeur? I suspect we’ll never know. The mystery is part of the fun. I like to believe that Jezal is no more royal than Practical Frost. It makes the whole thing a lot more illicit.

Also, how great is Ferro’s reaction? She’s just cackling away in the balcony. If she had fruit, I’m sure she’d be throwing it. She also observers during the election that Jezal stands like a man who has learned nothing about the world. Where do we think Jezal stands? Has he grown into a better man or is he still the chump we saw back in The Blade Itself? I suspect I’ll be answering this question in future chapters.

Next Week: Logen continues to settle into his old mantle of the Bloody-Nine, while Jezal gets fitted for his new one.


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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