The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “The First Day” and “Such Sweet Sorrow”

Welcome back to our reread of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy! This week, Logen goes to war and Jezal learns more about what it means to be King.

“The First Day”

Summary: Logen and Crummock watch the sunrise from their newly restored wall. Crummock remarks that if they win, they’ll not only have won a great victory, but built him a most excellent wall. Still, there are weak points, most noticeably near the gate, where Black Dow works vigorously to reinforce.

Across the fort, Logen finds Dogman, Grim, and Tul. They haven’t seen Bethod yet, and hope they won’t. A moment later Grim grunts. Wandering into the valley are Bethod’s men. Before they know it the banners have been erected. It’s just a matter of time now. They are outnumbered ten to one.

From the pack emerge a few men, led by White-Eye Hansul, a Thane well known for speaking when Bethod cannot. He offers a deal to Dogman’s crew, leave the wall, turn over your weapons, and you’re free to go. They know a lie when they hear one, and say so. When Hansul sees Logen among the crowd, he pales visibly. He knows this can go no other way now. It’s to be blood.

With the talking done, Bethod sends in the Shanka, who have never fought at the command of men, but do so now. They repel the wild beasts, but not without some loss. In the aftermath, they reckon the Shanka must be under Bethod’s witch. No other explanation makes sense. With the sun setting on the day, Logen and Dogman wonder where the Union might be. Without them, the Northmen will only hold out so long. Defeat is inevitable.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Whitesides, Goring, Pale-as-Snow.

Quotes to Remember:

It reminded Logen of his youth, climbing up in the high places, alone. Days at a time, testing himself against the mountains. Before his was a name that anyone had heard of. Before he married, or had children, and before his wife and children went back to the mud. The happy valleys of the past.

See below.

Logen closes his eyes, and tipped his face back, and he felt the hot sun and the cool breeze of the High Places on his skin. All as quiet as if he’d been alone, and there were no ten thousand men about him eager to set to killing one another. So still, and calm, he almost smiled. Was this was life would have been, if he’d never held a blade?

See below.

Analysis: Read those two quotes I just stuck above. Logen Ninefingers is spending some pretty serious time contemplating his place in the world. He regrets the thing he’s become. And yet, when push comes to shove, and he’s threatened by Bethod and White-Eye Hansul, Logen is frothing at the mouth to carve out his pound of flesh. He’s screams at his allies who are weak. When the battle begins, Logen disappears and what’s left is something dark and angry. Once it’s over, Logen returns, exhausted and deflated, just happy to be alive. I don’t know if there’s ever been a better character than Logen Ninefingers. He is so honestly believable in everything he does.

Couple of fun things I really enjoyed in this chapter. First, Hansul’s reaction to Logen. You could almost hear the piss running down his leg when he sees the Bloody-Nine. Second, I get endless pleasure out of watching Shivers and Logen interact. Logen is so paranoid, and we really have no idea what’s going on in Shivers’ head.

Third, and it’s so good it gets its own paragraph, the speculation about Bethod’s witch controlling the Shanka. Do you remember last week when I wondered if it was possible that Bayaz is controlling Jezal in some way? Well, what if Caurib is controlling the Shanka? And, if Caurib can control the Shanka, wouldn’t it be an easy thing for Bayaz to control Jezal? It would even explain why Jezal isn’t as entirely pliable as Bayaz might like. I imagine it would be a magnitude harder to control something intelligent. Well… quasi-intelligent.

Am I on to something here or not?

 

“Such Sweet Sorrow”

Summary: Jezal sits at court listening to the Ambassador of Ospria go on about how eager the Grand Duke is to resume good relations with the Union. The only thing that stirs Jezal from his reverie is mention of his forthcoming marriage to Princess Terez, the Jewel of Talins. Jezal simply doesn’t know how to feel about it.

With the audience at an end, the King behaves petulantly and throws his trappings to the floor, before storming out. Bayaz chides him for his behavior. After a significant pause, Bayaz suggests Jezal try harder. The King apologizes and asks for some privacy, rubbing at his aching temples. Now wandering the halls to relax, Jezal spies Bremer dan Gorst, now a Knight of the Body after his service with Lord Brock came to an end. Jezal begs a favor from him.

Later, in his rooms, Jezal is surprised by the knock at the door. A moment later Gorst steps in, leading a hooded figure behind him. He withdraws and the hooded figure reveals itself to be Ardee West. Jezal rushes to her, but Ardee is cold and angry. She believes Jezal thinks nothing of her. He proves it by asking her to be his mistress, since surely she cannot be his queen. Ardee rejects him. She won’t be his whore.

Jezal barks at Gorst to escort her out.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘That was not gracious,’ said Bayaz. ‘Rare rages render a man frightening. Common ones render him ridiculous.’

Rare things always have more impact than common things, but I think this is the kind of statement that highlights why Logen is so very fearsome. Everything about him hinges on that moment where the kind hearted farmer disappears and is replaced by a rampaging monster. Dow is fearsome, but he does not make grown men piss themselves because he is always Black.

‘I don’t blame you. I blame myself. I used to think I had bad luck, but my brother was right. I make bad choices.’

Well, crap. Abercrombie seems to absolutely capture the battered psyche of an abused woman. Does he actually? I have no idea. It rings true to me. That said, for a book with only two prominent women in it, I really both of them didn’t have to be victims of such brutal abuse.

Analysis: Alright man, I don’t have a lot to say here that I haven’t already said. But, there’s a couple things, some of which I referenced in the previous chapter. Is Bayaz doing some “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” business on Jezal? I have to say yes. If we accept that it’s possible using magic to control minds, then he’s doing it. Jezal gets headaches when Bayaz leans on him. This is thin proof I know, but I feel it in my bones. Either that, or it’s about to rain.

Also, Gorst is back! Huzzah! To anyone who has read The Heroes, we know why he left Lord Brock’s service. And it’s the same thing that ends him disgraced going into The Heroes. I find myself watching him like a hawk every time he’s on screen. Another absolutely brilliant character, in my opinion.

I want to talk more about Ardee, but I think I’m going to save it for my final series wrap up post. Be patient with me.

 

Next Week: Ferro! And another chapter called ‘Questions’. When will the questions end, Abercrombie?


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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