The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Picked Up a Shadow” and “Questions”

Welcome back to our reread of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy!

This week, Ferro beats someone up in both chapters! Meanwhile, Glokta learns more about the challenges ahead.

“Picked Up a Shadow”

Summary: Ferro sits on a warehouse watching the docks. She’s waiting for Yulwei. He’s the only one that get her back to Kanta, where she can take her revenge on the Gurkish. She wants to pray to God for him to come, but never listens.

She laughs imaging what Logen would think of Jezal as king. It makes her smile, which she promptly cuts short. Bayaz promised her vengeance and gave her nothing. She has nothing to smile about. As the sun begins to set, Ferro resigns herself to the fact that Yulwei will not come today. She leaves her perch and heads ’home’.

As she walks she feels a shadow. She is being followed by a Practical. She leads him around for a while, then lays a trap. The man walks right into it and Ferro quickly has him beaten, a knife to his throat. She learns he was sent by someone named Glokta. Despite her anger, she lets him live. The man claims to have birds to care for and, for reasons Ferro barely understands, she thinks this enough to warrant his continued existence.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Strange, the things that people have to live for.


Mercy was always a mistake, in her experience.

More depressing.

Analysis: Isn’t it interesting that Ferro, despite being an incredibly active character, relies entirely on others to accomplish her goals? First, it’s Bayaz who will lead her to vengeance. Now, it’s Yulwei who will help her back to where she can hurt the Gurkish. She is appears to have agency, but in reality has almost none. She’s completely unable/unwilling to take her destiny into her own hands, which, in my opinion, is an enormous failure of her character.

Why, you ask? Because I don’t think Abercrombie meant to write her that way. I think she’s supposed to be the anti-Ardee. She’s supposed to be the “strong female” archetype. But, she’s actually quite weak. She kicks ass in a fight, but she’s totally unwilling to do protagonist stuff. Maybe this is all intentional. Maybe he’s undermining the strong female character by making her appear strong, but not. I’m not convinced. I feel like Ferro (and Ardee) are such huge missed opportunities in the series.

That aside, do we think the Practical following Ferro is Severard or not? If so, his responses seem to be mismatched to what we know about him. Birds? Was that a lie, then? Did he read something in Ferro and try to exploit it to survive? Or was this just some flunky? Color me curious.



Summary: Glokta dreams of dancing with Ardee West, while Adeptus Kandelau examines the remains of a foot. The dream suggests that Glokta go the University and ask for advice, to ask about the Seed.

The next day, Glokta lurches through the University’s halls. Nothing has changed much here since his last visit. Sitting a stained desk is the Adeptus Historical, minus his now dead crow. He remembers Glokta and his questions about Bayaz. Glokta cuts him off. He’s here to talk about the Seed.

The scholar knows very little, chalking it up to metaphor. Glokta tells him he believes and the scholar teases, but goes on to say that he once read about rocks that fell out of the sky, fragments of stars, or somesuch. He recounts the legend of Euz, which Glokta has heard before. He admits he’s no expert, but there once were many books in the library from that era, but they have been missing for some years. Glokta asks who took them, and the man wonders why, Glokta of all people, would ask that.

Before the conversation can go any further, they are interrupted with a command. Silber, the University Administrator, is at the foot of the stairs, accompanied by Superior Goyle and a cadre of Practicals. Glokta considers resisting Goyle’s command to leave, but Vitari dissuades him. As he leaves, he watches Goyle begin to take apart the University, piece by piece.

Outside, he’s quickly beaten and nabbed by an unseen figure. Taken into a bathroom, the figure dunks Glokta underwater. It’s Ferro, and she wants to know why Glokta has been having her watched. He explains he’s after Bayaz, not her. After some amount of posturing, they agree to exchange questions. Glokta asks her about the Seed. She asks him about why he cares. He asks what Bayaz is trying to accomplish. She asks about Eaters. In the end they learn little and Glokta fears his life will soon end. Ferro surprises him by leaving him alive. He wonders if he prefers it that way or not.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

’I read once that rocks sometimes fall out of the sky. Some say they are fragments of the stars. Some say they are splinters, flung out from the chaos of hell. Dangerous to touch. Terribly cold.’

Some more theology here it feels like. Oddly, things falling from the sky might be splinters from hell? That’s quite the reverse paradigm of your traditional religious frame.

It is not how you die, but how you lived, that counts.

Thank you, William Wallace!

Analysis: Questions! Questions! Questions! I wonder… does every chapter titled “Questions” start with a dream? And how many of Glokta’s dreams are about guiding him toward a discovery? And where are these dreams coming from?

If we agree, and I’m not saying we do, that Jezal is being “influenced” by Bayaz and Caurib is influencing the Shanka, is it possible someone is feeding Glokta information? I think it’s quite likely, but whom? And how is it connected to the dead body that Glokta found outside the Agriont the night of Logen’s visitor? Questions! Questions!

Couple of interesting tidbits in this chapter:

  1. The Seed might be a rock that fell from the sky, which is cold to the touch and dangerous.
  2. There once were many books on these legends, but no longer.
  3. These books were taken by the Inquisition.
  4. When Glokta gets close to discovering this, Goyle shows up with the Inquisition to clean house.

What does all that mean? Well, at least on the surface, it makes me think Arch Lector Sult knows a lot more than he’s letting on. Or, Arch Lector Sult isn’t as in control of the Inquisition as Glokta or Sult think he is.

We shall see.

Next Week: The battle continues in the North and Jezal gets married.

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