The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “The Trap” and “Horrible Old Man”

Where is Ferro? Are we going to see any more of her? At this point in the story it feels like we’ve really lost one of our primary characters. Last seen laughing at Jezal’s coronation, she doesn’t seem to have any further role to play. The Seed was never found, Logen has gone North, Bayaz told her to stay close, but for what?

She feels like a dangling loose end as we catapult toward a climax to the First Law Trilogy. I trust she’ll show back up and be significant. I think.

“The Trap”

Summary: Coming to the high places reminds Logen of home. Behind him are four hundred Carls, more or less, and as many hillmen. Eight hundred men to face Bethod, and one girl, who Logen watches drag her father’s hammer through the dirt. She reminds Logen of his own daughter.

Crummock announces they’ve arrived at their destination. Logen boggles, as do the other men of his crew, because the fortress Crummock promised is hardly that, just a dilapidated wall and a stone hut. Crummock argues that the wall doesn’t matter. They will win because they are of the moon.

Dogman doesn’t share Crummock’s rosy outlook, but he begins to make a plan all the same. Archers, boulder throwers, men to watch the wall, and men in reserve to charge, he lays out the strategy. The only problem with it is any ability to retreat. They all agree to the plan.

At night, Logen walks through the fires looking for Dogman. He finds Crummock instead, who is telling his children of his prowess on the battle field. His youngest, the daughter Logen observed earlier in the day, points to Logen and shouts that her father could take him. Crummock laughs and cautions her, for the only man who Crummock fears is the Bloody-Nine.

He tells of Logen’s prowess, of his skill with murder. Logen wishes he could contradict the man, but he cannot. One of the Crummock’s sons ask if the Bloody-Nine could kill the Feared, and that is something even Crummock cannot predict, but the moon would very much love to see it.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Isern (Crummock’s daughter).

Quotes to Remember:

Logen’s own daughter would have been older than that, by now. If she hadn’t been killed by the Shanka, along with her mother and her brothers. That thought gave Logen a hollow, guilty feeling. A bad one.

I find Logen’s lack of thought about his family strange. It only pops up every so often. We rarely get him really reflecting on what it’s done to him. What would Logen be like if the Shanka never came to his home? Would the Bloody-Nine still exist?

‘And there’s a lesson for all three of you. Not looking much, not saying much, not seeming much, that’s a good first step in begin dangerous, eh, Ninefingers? Then when you let the devil go free it’s twice the shock for whatever poor bastard’s on the end of it.’

SEE?!?! DEVIL! Crummock sees what we cannot! There’s a devil inside Logen Ninefingers! I knew it! Ok, maybe Crummock isn’t the most reliable source.

Analysis: We knew the Union wasn’t going to come to the aid of the Northmen putting their lives on the line to stop Bethod. Now we know that it may not matter if they had because Crummock’s idea of a secure high place is a crumbling wall and a little tower. Eight hundred men against the power of Bethod’s army seems silly now. Nevertheless, in true Northern form, Dogman and Logen will do the best they can.

The most interesting thing, for me, in this chapter is Crummock’s faith in the moon. He references it constantly. The moon this, the moon that, the moon favors Logen above all others. Who the hell is the moon? Up until Crummock’s introduction, we’ve had what amounts to atheist fantasy. There is no god mentioned to any significant degree.

Sure, we have Euz, a half demon from long ago, but he is mortal. Even the hint of an actual mythology has me grasping at it. As a long time reader of epic fantasy, I’m programmed to do just that. What’s even more interesting, is that everyone around Crummock completely ignores his meanderings about the moon. They don’t believe in the moon’s power. They seem confused even by the mere idea of it.

Pretty cool to know that in the First Law Trilogy, everyone is responsible for their own deeds, their own demons, their own mistakes. No one on high is pulling anyone’s bacon out of the fryer. I love that.

 

“Horrible Old Men”

Summary: Jezal stares at himself while Union tailors poke and prod at him. He is king and his wardrobe must suit his new station. With every request, Jezal apologizes for not being in the right pose. He begins to realize that as King he should not be apologizing. He can hardly help himself. Bayaz ushers them out and declares the King has business with the Closed Council.

As they walk Bayaz tells him of some agreements that were made to put Jezal on the throne. Lord Isher was promised his two brothers would be Chamberlain and Chancellor on the Closed Council, a boon Jezal should never grant. He must also embrace his enemies like Heugen, Barezin, Skald, Meed, and others, but never Lord Brock who came far too close to being King.

As Jezel enters he hears them arguing about whether or not peasants have rights. The argument halts as Jezal enters and everyone falls over themselves to welcome him. He begs them to continue as they were, and they resume debate over the condition of the peasant in Adua. Jezal makes some suggestions that are shot down, mostly by Torlichorm who seems to think his majesty is not as well informed as he need be.

Jezal relents and the conversation continues down other avenues. Most of it flies by him without notice until the discussion of who will assume command with Marshal Burr dead. Sult’s faction backs Poulder, while Marovia’s backs Kroy. Jezal, frustrated by being ignored, demands that Colonel West be promoted to Lord Masrhal. The Closed Council pushes back, but Jezal erupts. He demands that he be respected as King.

Bayaz quickly clears the room and congratulates Jezal on taking matters into his own hands. Jezal becomes angry with Bayaz as well, which Bayaz recommends he stop immediately. The Magi suggests that Jezal soon take a bride. His authority must be secured with a strategic marriage. Jezal resists, given his love for Ardee, but Bayaz persists and Jezal relents.

After all, how could Ardee West be Queen? Surely she is much better suited to be the Kings’s mistress.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Lord Chancellor Halleck, High Consul Torlichorm, Lord Admiral Reutzer.

Quotes to Remember:

Jezal dan Luthar, once widely celebrated for his towering ignorance, would be sharing a room with the twelve most powerful men in the Union.

S0metimes I’m left wondering whether Jezal is really screwed up in the head, or if he’s inconsistently characterized. We see him one minute being very self-aware and in the next becoming the most pompous deluded ass hat the next. I prefer to think it’s the former. What do you think?

‘Upon achieving power, one should immediately distance oneself from all allies. They will feel they own your victory, and no rewards will ever satisfy them. You should elevate your enemies instead. They will gush over small tokens, knowing they do not deserve them.’

This advice feels disturbingly good, doesn’t it? I mean given Jezal’s lack of political acumen, letting Lord Isher into his inner circle would probably really weaken his position. And, of course, we know it would weaken Bayaz’, which is the only point Bayaz cares about.

Analysis: Jezal has finally made it. All his dreams have come true. He is lauded above all men. He can have any woman. He is rich beyond belief. And yet, he doesn’t seem quite happy, does he? He seems trapped. Can you remember the last time Jezal seemed happy? I can. It was when he came back from the Edge of the World, scarred and broken, and tried to love Ardee West. He was bad at it, of course, but he seemed to be finding his own place, rather than the place someone else set for him.

Jezal, from birth, has lacked any sense of agency. His future has been guided by Bayaz at every step. (I’m coming around to the idea that Jezal is actually Gustav’s bastard, as it were.) This lack of agency explains why Jezal is unhappy.

Does he want to be a great swordsman? We know he didn’t enjoy it. Did we want to be in the army? Not really. He found much more satisfaction in card games. Does he want to have any woman? Often it seems like he only wants Ardee. And yet, he gets none of these things because Bayaz convinces him otherwise, either directly or through his adoptive father (who Bayaz has been paying for decades to raise a future King). And sadly, Jezal is weak minded enough to take the suggestions time and again.

This is compounded by the glimpses we see. Jezal tries to break out in this chapter, offering up suggestions of what he knows to be right. Equal taxation! West as Lord Marshal. And, generally, he takes the suggestions from others over his own. He gets his way with West, but only because Bayaz agrees with him. Once he tries to get Bayaz to recognize his authority he is quickly put in his place. I can’t help but wonder if Bayaz is using magic to keep Jezal’s personality under control, or whether he is really this weak. What do you think? I prefer to think it’s the latter. It makes things a lot more interesting, no?

 

Next Week: Glokta gets an impossible order and West learns he has to start giving them.


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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