The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Prepared for the Worst” and “The Habit of Command”

Well, last week I lamented Ferro’s absence and although we don’t see her this week, we get some suggestion that she will soon be back on screen. So, with that in mind, take the following statement for what it’s worth: I really can’t help but be frustrated by the lack of Hulk Hogan in Last Argument of Kings.

Alright? Everyone see what I did there? Let’s see how powerful this reread really is. In the meantime, I wrote up some chapters.

 

“Prepared for the Worst”

Summary: Glokta sits at his dining table, playing with jewels. No, not those jewels. The jewels from Valint and Bilk, which he recognizes may cost him his life if anyone knew the deal he made. A pounding at the door startles the torturer. He scrambles to hide the evidence just before the door explodes open to reveal a half dozen practicals and one very agitated Arch Lector.

Sult follows his flunkies into the room, disappointed not to find Glokta in a compromising situation. Glokta worries that perhaps he’s been discovered, but Sult quickly begins opining Bayaz’ influence on the court. Now on solid footing, Glokta attempts to appease Sult. The leader of the Inquisition is having none of it and demands results. He orders Glokta to look into Carmee dan Roth and whether or not she truly had a bastard.

Later that night, Glokta walks through the House of Questions, where many of Lord Brock’s more militant supporters are being ’questioned’. He meets Severard and discusses where they might find more information about Bayaz. The Navigator is useless. The Northman is gone. Jezal is untouchable. Only Ferro remains. Glokta orders Severard to follow her. The Practical is leery, but obeys.

Glokta’s last meeting of the day is even later in the night. In a seedy bar on the wrong side of Adua, he makes a rendezvous with Nicomo Cosca, who despite all odds managed to survive the fall of Dagoska. A diamond buys the man, something Glokta is all too happy to offer. Cosca needs find some bad men and wait. The Gurkish are coming and Glokta intends to be ready.

Important Characters Introduced: None. But Cosca lives!!!

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘If I wished to attend to every detail myself I would have no need of your services. Get out there and get it done!’

Do you know who said this? Both Sult and Glokta, the former to the latter and the latter to Severard. I love the symmetry of that. Shit rolls down hill, so the saying goes, and it’s quite evident here. Will Severard now lean on someone else for results?

’They say that luck is a woman. She’s drawn to those that least deserve her.’

Ardee West in a nutshell. I am loathe to let this sentence slide without pointing out how reductive it is. Women, to those who would use this phrase, are foolish. He is suggesting that women lack the ability to make good choices. It feels all a bit like casual sexism. Hardly malicious, but worth pointing out when it occurs.

Analysis: I almost expected this chapter to begin with a dream again. Glokta sitting alone somewhere. Banging at the door. Sult showing up to threaten him. Abercrombie has used that format a lot with Glokta, which is an interesting discussion in and of itself. I often wonder whether that means Glokta has been influenced in someway by the Magi. Regardless, I was surprised when Sult actually showed up and actually threatened Glokta.

Also, we finally begin to see Glokta becoming a true believer in Bayaz as First of the Magi. Sult believes Bayaz is still some charlatan. Glokta no longer needs convincing. He sees the man for what he is and recognizes that crossing him will be dangerous. It’s no wonder then when Sult asks him to begin a line of questioning that would lead to upsetting Jezal’s legitimacy to the crown that Glokta’s reaction is less than sublime. If it turns out dan Roth is not Jezal’s mother, then the very underpinnings of his Kingship fall apart. More worrisome, if Bayaz realizes Glokta is looking that direction, would the torturer survive? I think we all know the answer to that.

I’m a little confused about what following Ferro will accomplish though. Sure, it may give them some insight into what Bayaz did at the Edge of the World, but don’t they already know that? What will they learn about Carmee dan Roth from her? What will they learn about what Bayaz is planning? It seems to me a specious reason to bring Ferro back into a plot that left her behind. Perhaps because there might be a devil relic that needs picking up before this story is done.

Finally, the return of Nicomo Cosca is a bright spot. He is terribly funny and he and Glokta’s senses of humor play off one another perfectly. At first I was wondering if Glokta was planning a coup when he tossed the diamond across the table. Then, it seems he is just hoping to have an army to keep the Gurkish out of Adua. I’m not sure what I think.

How about you?

 

“The Habit of Command”

Summary: Colonel West sits in the Lord Marshal’s tent, stuck between Generals Kroy and Poulder, who could not be more different. They are gathered to hear the news of who the Closed Council has named the next Lord Marshal. The Knight Herald bursts into the tent. Kroy and Poulder jockey over who should read the missive, when it is handed to Colonel West. He reads and can hardly stop himself from giggling.

Jezal dan Luthar is new King of the Union. And, much to West’s surprise, he is Lord Marshal. Over a sputtering Kroy and Poulder, the Knight Herald bows to West and departs.

An hour later, West is alone in Burr’s tent. He laughs, but cuts it short. The duty weighs on him and his Northern allies will die if he doesn’t act soon. Before he departs though, he must put Kroy and Poulder in check.

First, he tells Kroy that he finds his approach to his job reprehensible and that Poulder is the quintessential soldier. He orders Kroy to clear the road to Carleon, while West and Poulder proceed to relieve the Northmen. Kroy reels from West’s position, but does as commanded. To Poulder, West repeats much the same, calling Kroy the finest example of a Union man. Poulder will accompany the army North under West’s careful supervision. Poulder is dismissed.

With them both gone West relaxes and remarks to Pike that he finds himself warming to the work. He walks to the map and looks to where the Northmen were heading. Would they get there in time? It is impossible to say.

Important Characters Introduced: Collem West’s Cleverness

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

A commoner, who had been scorned, and bullied, and patronised his entire life. How could it possibly have happened? Not through merit, certainly. Not through any action or inaction his part. Through pure chance. A chance friendship with a man who, in many ways, he did not particularly like, and had certainly never expected to do him any favours. A man who, in a stroke of fortune that could only be described as a miracle, had now ascended to the throne of the Union.

God I love this. Meritocracies don’t exist. This is the message Abercrombie is sending us throughout this chapter. Sure, West is a good officer. He deserves to be promoted, to be given responsibility. He’ll surely be better at the Marshal job than either Poulder or Kroy given the situation. However, he didn’t get the job because of that. He got the job because Jezal was petulant and sick of being railroaded by his Closed Council. And now, here we are. Meritocracies are a myth.

West rose and walked to the largest-scale of the maps, stood before it, his hands clasped behind his back. In just the way that Marshal Burr would have done, he realised.

Imitation is the finest form of flattery, no? It also demonstrates, I think, that West is quite unsure of how to behave. He is quite unsure whether he can do the job. And why should it be any other way?

Analysis: The chapters begins with Kroy and Poulder contrasted. It’s almost cartoonish, isn’t it? One is a buttoned up neat freak and the other is a brash cock of the walk. It’s almost too stark to be believable. It feels a bit contrived. Fun. But contrived.

Ultimately, what do we learn in this chapter:

  1. West will go to Logen and Dogman’s aid.
  2. He isn’t sure if they’ll make it time now.
  3. Poulder and Kroy are being set against one another to maintain the status quo. If they’re fighting they can’t fight West.
  4. West is uncomfortable in his new role, but willing to take it on.

That about sums it up. It’s a phenomenal chapter from the perspective of showing us the kind of officer West can be, but does very little otherwise.

 

Next Week: Logen goes to war and Jezal learns more about what it means to be King.


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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